Making games is no easy feat- just ask Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, Head of PlayStation Studios Malaysia, the Malaysian branch of PlayStation’s award-winning game development arm.
We caught up with him and talked about the goals of the new studio, who haven’t announced exactly what they’re working on quite yet.
“Doing things in the COVID Pandemic is not easy. I would say I’ve been really grateful that we’ve been quite lucky. I joined PlayStation as the head of the studio in October 2020. In reality we hit the ground running in January 2021 when I had the head of HR join us and also our senior system administrator join us too. IT & HR. So these are really important to us and our organization here. We need to build processes here, all these things that if want to recruit anybody we need to know what to do”, he says.
That being said, they’ve already started filling out various key positions. Hasnul sat us down to talk about just how far he’s come in filling out the new team.
“When we started in January it took us a bit of time to find the core team around us. I would say right between January and June has been a slow growth, because we had to bring in the Seniors and more of the leads into the organization and sort of the core team which we had the head of production coming in”, he says.
Team PlayStation Studios Malaysia saying Hi to you. (L-R) Daniel is our IT whiz kid. Sueki is our HR head. Illy is our amazing recruiter. Say hello! 👋 #PSMY #PlayHasNoLimits pic.twitter.com/GfZIDNnlZA
— Hasnul Hadi 💙 (@mistahasnul) January 4, 2021
“There’s already the Head of Animation from San Diego, we already had a Head of Art in Singapore, but we need to find Head of Production, Head of Technology, also outreach and training, also recruiters to come in”, he continues. “So it took us a bit of time for that to happen. Starting from July and August that’s started to ramp up. Now that we have the seniors we can start looking at the production, we need juniors and mids to come in”.
“I would say that I’ve been really really grateful that I’ve found team members that believe in the aspiration of building a great studio in Malaysia and SEA”.
Of course, a team needs to be fully staffed to start working on dream projects. Hasnul also described his ideal team size for PlayStation Studios Malaysia, which while a fair bit bigger than a handful of leads, was also a decently modest size in the grand scheme of things.
“Right now we’re thinking about 150 [people]. It’s not a big studio, and there’s a reason for that “, he says. “We wanna make sure that we have a SWAT team. The best of the best, we train people to become the best of the best. If we go too big too fast we’ll probably not be able to do it. So that’s why we’ve been very picky with how we get people into the studio. It’s not easy also because we’re doing it under COVID situations and the pandemic so everything is still work from home”
Hasnul Hadi Explains PlayStation Studios Malaysia’s Core Values
But what would you even do with all those bright and talented souls? Hasnul described the goals of the studio, befitting of a member of the PlayStation family.
“Our purpose was really to advance gaming and the positive impact it has on people’s lives. So there are like 4 main values we aspire to. Because we’re new, we’re like the start up in PlayStation Studios.”, he says.
— Hasnul Hadi 💙 (@mistahasnul) September 14, 2021
“We are able to be a bit more nimble and also aspire to the values we have as an organization. So one of them is Better Together, so that we are a great group that collaborates as a team”, he explains. “The other is Fiercely Daring, so we’re always being bold all the time, pushing the bar. Some of the things are like, ‘I’d rather get a slap on the wrist than not get to take those risks and make sure that we hit certain goals in the future’ “.
He also explained the studio’s commitment to both diversity and excellence, describing them as important to the studio’s culture.
“We’re Proudly Different”, Hasnul says. “In this era of diversity, equity and inclusion, we’re celebrating the diversity within the organization, especially within Malaysia right, I think that’s something that we talk about a lot in Malaysia but do we see it but we want to see it within PlayStation Malaysia. It’s something really important for us”.
“Last but not least its ‘Always Striving'”, he adds. “So we know it’s not gonna be easy. We have to push really hard to make sure that we’re always pushing the bar, making sure we hit what we wanna hit into the future”.
“Better Together, Fiercely Daring, Proudly Different, Always Striving”, he wraps up. “These are our core values and the purpose of PS Studios and PS Studios Malaysia as a whole”.
Working With Local Talent
“One of the reasons PlayStation studios chose Malaysia is because they saw the propensity and also the passion of the talent not just in Malaysia but also in the region”, Hasnul says.
According to him, local talent is made up of a great recipe for long-term success. He describes it as both young and hungry, which is a great mix for if you want to create the next lifetime award recipients in the industry.
“Specific to Malaysian talents we’ve been working with some of the institutions of higher learning, we’ve been talking to Dasein, Clazroom, we have a partnership with The One Academy, we’re talking to UITM”, Hasnul says.
It’s not just about future veterans though- according to Hasnul they’re also working with people who are already big industry names.
“On the 1st we had a character artist who’s also lecturing in UITM. He was working for Hasbro, and EA and Florida. He’s a great character artist, his name is Muhammad Aiman, and he’s joined us. He’ll be working with us a couple of days then he’ll be going back to lecture”.
According to Hasnul, it’s not just about elevating PlayStation Studios Malaysia- hiring local talent is good for the industry as a whole, because you’re signalling that these talents matter even if they’re not based in SoCal.
“So this is the kind of things that we’re doing to help elevate the local industry because I think it’s really important. It’s not just about us it’s about the whole ecosystem. It’s not just about PlayStation It’s also about Lemon Sky, it’s also about Bandai Namco, it’s also about Passion Republic. It’s an ecosystem and we want to be something like Montreal or Vancouver in Canada”, Hasnul says. “We wanna be a place where Malaysia is known to be a Game Development industry. We want to be a part of that and we want to make that happen”.
Hasnul also talked a bit about the talent they’re already working with to make great games. One of these was Bazil Akmal Bidin, AKA Buzz:
“I’d say he’s the grand uncle of games in Malaysia”, Hasnul laughs. “If you ask him any question about the game industry he knows it becuase he was first a game developer, then he taught games, and then he also helped game companies become game companies. So the last thing that he did at MDEC was to run the Level Up incubator”
“We thought that we’d bring someone like him into the studio to help with outreach and training and helping us with the academia. But interesting fact about him and part of that team is that his reason for being is because he loved Crash Bandicoot”, Hasnul explains.
“He’ll tell you this, it’s his dream to be in PlayStation because of that. Funny story was that a couple of friends were playing Crash Bandicoot at.. he’s from Terengganu,”, he narrates. “They were playing and they couldn’t pass one level or boss or something, it took them time to do it. And he was just watching it and he goes ‘I can do that any time’, right? and then they said ‘Yeah, show show’. And he actually did it”.
“From that day on he decided that’s a vocation or something like that. Now he’s helping us build talent and also to coordinate”, he says.
He also introduced us to Kenneth McDonald, the team’s Senior Animation Manager. According to Hasnul, McDonald has 30 years of industry experience, ranging from movies to games. Suffice to say, he’s been around.
“He was an animation supervisor on Beowulf, you can do a google on him. He’s an animation supervisor on The Last of Us Part 2, recently that came out. He worked on Hitman, just so many projects”, Hasnul explains.
“Now he’s helping us build our animation team in Malaysia. We have team members that came from Flame Story in London. So it’s really a global teamthat we’re building here and hopefully at the same time sort of work and create opportunities within Malaysia and the region to be part of PlayStation Malaysia to get involved with the great game that PlayStation Studios is working on”.
Of Interns And Graduates
Hasnul also elaborated more about internship programs, which see chances for younger graduates to come help work on some of the industry’s leading games.
“We have to work very closely with the local talent. Interestingly enough we have dabbled with internship programs, we’re piloting at the moment. More public information will come out early part of next year”, Hasnul teased.
“We’ve piloted an internship program with the partners that we have like One Academy and Dasein and the rest, where we brought animators and artists to come on board and sort of go through the process of training and also hopefully later if they’re good enough they can come on and be part of the team”, he adds.
Of course, it’s not about getting people who work for cheap- Hasnul says promise is rewarded accordingly at PlayStation Studios, too.
“In that process of identifying some of our candidates for internships, some of our managers are like ‘hey, they dont even have to be an intern, they can come in as a junior artist already’ so that gave me a ‘oh this is great, this feels good’ to see some of the talent pool that’s been trained by our great local institutions are good enough to become junior artists already without going through the internship program”, he explains.
“We still think the internship program is important, we still think that having that group be interested and passionate about being able to join our organization. This gives confidence to me as a Malaysian that we are able to create a talent pool but we think that as an organization that PS can do and can offer and that means we’re working together with the local organization to give their students more exposure”.
The New HQ
One story that’s been abuzz is exactly where the PlayStation Studios Malaysia team intends to put down its roots. While they’re temporarily set up at Komune, Hasnul has been tight-lipped on where exactly the permanent location is going to be.
“Komune is our temporary office space, we have determined a permanent space. We are building the studio now and hopefully before the first half of next year we will be going into our new studio. Just watch this space and we’ll probably be telling you where it is exactly, but just as a clue, its the best place for Nasi Lemak and Hokkien Mee. If you can find out where that is”, he teases.
‘It’s Not Just A Malaysian Endeavour’
Hasnul also talked about the impact of one of the world’s largest game brands setting up shop in Malaysia via PlayStation Studios Malaysia. According to him, it’s about Malaysians being seen in places they wouldn’t have expected to be seen otherwise.
“When you look at it,when I was first announced as the head of the studio in Malaysia, I never guessed that I would be on Gamesindustry.Biz. They actually talked about ‘Hasnul being the head of the studio’ “, he says.
“That kind of awareness that not many within Malaysia or the region would have is now apparent. This has probably given a lot of eyeballs and awareness to what Malaysia can do”, he continues. “In early days when I was still with MDEC we tried very hard to bring eyeballs into Malaysia either by getting PS to invest in Malaysia or studios like Larian, Bandai Namco, even local studios being propped up like Magnus Games and also Metronomik. You know, making sure that studios like Lemon Sky, Passion Republic, PlayStation for that matter are being acknowledged being part of the ecosystem of Triple-A game development and production”.
According to Hasnul, even within PlayStation Studios itself, the announcement of a Malaysian Studio has drummed up excitement at the thought of working with Malaysian talent. It’s not totally uncharted territory though, since many local studios have been supporting triple-A games for years.
“Some of the studios have already been working with Malaysia like Naughty Dog, Insomniac have been working with Lemon Sky and Passion Republic”, Hasnul says. “I think more and more, as we become more successful, become the studio that has a lot of people in it, there will be a lot more questions, what is Malaysia doing and what is Malaysia capable to do?”
Given the international composition of the studio’s leadership, it’s about a lot more than just elevating Malaysians. Hasnul says as Malaysia goes up the ranks, so too does the South East Asian region with it.
“I would always say that this is not just a Malaysian endeavor, Malaysia is just a hub for it. This is a South East Asian endeavor and we’re very cognizant about that. The people that we have in our leadership, they come from New Zealand, Nepal, the US, Canada. This is a global team that’s building something that we feel will be great”, he says.
He also says the Malaysian government has been instrumental in helping them recruit the bests talent in Asia to work with them.
“I think the most important support is that as a government if you comparatively see what’s happening across the region we are a country that supports the game dev industry. You guys are also involved with it with MYDCF and Level Up KL, its been around for quite some time”, he says. “Even creating some of that awareness and making game development industry a mainstream industry in a place where games are sometimes seen as something that’s negative really helps the industry”.
“It’s also our job as ecosystem partners to work with the government to give opportunities to whoever we talk to be it parents of our employees or students that we talk to that the games industry is not just people who play games but they’re creating, marketing, doing finances, they’re doing QA”, Hasnul continues.
“There’s so many different types of work within the industry. It is an industry, it is a business. This is something that we’re working together with the govt to realize even further”.
Of course, he also stressed the importance of the government in helping them build their international team. As PlayStation has experts all over the globe, there’s a lot of paperwork with moving such talents around, after all.
“One thing great that we get in terms of support is that as I said, we’re global organization. We have a lot of individuals that come from different countries. We have people from China, India, Nepal, New Zealand, US, Canada, I think now we’re talking to someone from Yemen if I’m not mistaken. And also Pakistan”, Hasnul explains.
“All these people that come in, we need the support of the government to be able to get the work permits and we’re grateful to the likes of MIDA (Malaysian Investment Development Authority) and also MDEC the Malaysian Development Economy Corporation for assisting us”, he says. “Really it has helped us a lot especially during this COVID situation there were times where it was really crazy for us, we’d talked to some individuals from India and they couldnt come in. It took almost 6-7 months for that to happe nbut with MDECs help and MIDAs help it accelerated that and allowed us to bring these great talents to come to Malaysia and work with our own local talent”.
While there’s no details on the game Hasnul’s team is working on just yet, it’s exciting to see the international recognition for the SEA region’s talents in game development.
While things like what exactly they’re working on are still a mystery, one thing’s for sure- Hasnul and the rest of the team over at PlayStation Studios Malaysia are hard at work, with a team that loves their craft more than anything else.
Our thanks again to PlayStation Asia for setting up the interview, and Hasnul himself for taking the time to answer our questions.