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Western gaming companies unlock new levels of growth in Asia

Kabam co-founder Holly Liu

Holly Liu, co-founder of Kabam, and Khaled Helioui, CEO of Bigpoint, are looking to level up Asia, where the video game market is bigger and faster growing than anywhere else.

     The global gaming market has been expanding steadily, with revenue estimated to reach nearly $100 billion by 2019. According to Helioui, the Asian and Western gaming markets are quite different and their interaction unique.

     His company, Hamburg-based Bigpoint, has become a major player in the gaming industry, with over 380 million registered players spanning more than 200 countries. Helioui said the defining moment in the life of his company was a "strategic shift to a product-driven and player-centric approach refocusing talent on fewer, higher-quality titles." This retooled approach has bagged the company a number of industry awards.

     And video games mean more than just entertainment.

     "Gaming is a driving force for change across tech," according to Helioui. "Concepts like AI, data mining and real-time analytics were adopted in gaming years before they would be used in some of the more renowned industries."

Bigpoint CEO Khaled Helioui

     Kabam, a San Francisco-based company, was founded in 2006 and joined the "unicorn" club -- startups valued at $1 billion or more -- in 2014, having logged annual revenue growth of $400 million. Liu, who co-founded the company, has seen the size of its workforce grow 500% in three years. She emphasized "how crucial it is to find product-market fit and the appropriate corporate culture."

    In 2014, China's Alibaba Group Holding invested $120 million in Kabam. The two companies partnered to distribute the gaming label's mobile games through Alibaba's apps, including Mobile Taobao and the Laiwang messaging app. Liu, who is, as of recently, based in Beijing, said that "building a global culture was crucial for Kabam to succeed in global expansion" and that all of its nearly 1,000 employees "need to share the company's core values."

     Bigpoint is also looking eastward. Helioui led the company's expansion in Asia, setting up local publishing offices in Turkey and South Korea, and introducing the first Bigpoint game in China in collaboration with Tencent. He admits that entering Asian markets is not easy but said going in the opposite direction is actually harder, as even Asia's gaming giants often struggle to create a local presence in the West.

     Liu's advice for these big Asian players is the same approach taken by Kabam: "If you want to go global, you need to go local."

Nikola Pavesic of Pioneers Asia contributed to this article.

Nikkei and Vienna-based Pioneers will host the Pioneers Asia startup event in Tokyo on March 23 to give promising entrepreneurs the chance to turn their vision into reality. Participating startups will be chosen from among hundreds of applicants worldwide. This is the third in a series featuring finalists of the main competition, as well as key speakers and other attendees.

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