Siem Reap brothers Visal and Rothana Chhourm have been playing video games since they were kids – which wasn’t that long ago. Now, only 19 and 24 years old respectively, they’re making their own.
Visal and Rothana, together with their friend Roeun Malis, are the engines behind a small Siem Reap tech company, DirexPlay, which last month released Wrath of Fighters, a multiplayer fighting mobile phone game in which players can customise their characters, available on the Google Play Store.
The company is starting to make a splash with gamers in Cambodia with their slick, cartoony games, but their success hasn’t exactly been immediate.
The friends released their first game three years ago, a puzzle game inspired by Angry Birds called Hungry ObOb. The result wasn’t what they might have dreamed of.
“We pulled it,” said Visal. “We didn’t have any experience with game development, so it was buggy and not user-friendly at all. We learned a hard lesson. But we didn’t feel discouraged. Our parents also supported us to carry on with what we were doing.”
So they went back to the drawing board, each with their own different role — Visal as the programmer, Rothana as artist and Malis as designer — and started again.
Many different elements go into creating a mobile game, from the technical mechanics to the rules, the characters, sounds and so much more including, of course, the goal. The creation process can last from three to six months. Wrath of Fighters took less than 100 days, a record for the team.
“First we try to think of many different ideas and note them down,” explained Visal. “Then we start brainstorming about those ideas to see which one is the best and most fun. Once we find it, we start prototyping and testing to see if the idea really works.
“If it doesn’t work, we go back to the first step, and if it does, then we start production.”
It was their third foray that has brought the most success so far. Sok and Sao’s Adventure launched in late 2014, and has since been downloaded between 50,000 and 100,000 times.
Inspired by Contra, a Nintendo game released in the 1980s, Sok and Sao’s Adventure takes players on a quest to defeat dengue fever, which is represented by giant mosquitoes.
But it runs deeper than that.
“The game was made to show many cultures from different countries, like Thailand, Cambodia and Brazil. We wanted to show our culture, and to get others to see their cultures in the game,” said Visal.
“So we included things like buildings, temples, animals and mystic creatures that are unique to the different countries.”
While most of the downloads have been in Cambodia, the second-most popular destination for Sok and Sao’s Adventure is Brazil. While it hasn’t seen the same success, Chasing Zombies, released last year, has still seen more than 10,000 installs, and garnered a 4½ star (out of 5) rating from reviewers.
Currently, they’re fixing up Wrath of Fighters based on the feedback from users. In a few short weeks, the game has already seen more than 5,000 installs. For the future, they’re still listening to their users before deciding what they’ll work on next.
Notwithstanding their success here and abroad, it’s still been difficult to make a living from their games. “It’s really difficult, but we still love doing it,” said Visal, explaining how cheap advertising in Cambodia makes it difficult to pull in a revenue stream.
“We still don’t know how to make an addictive game yet, and we’re still searching ourselves. But the feedback from players is important for our next game improvements.”