Bangkok-based gaming company Sandbox Global recently launched Stylista, the first major Facebook social game developed entirely in Thailand, with the ambitious goal of attaining one million users by Q3 2012. This is a lofty goal for the company, which is led by founder and CEO Ferdinand Gutierrez. But it’s a target that’s been backed up with real cash from people, who know their way around the gaming industry.
Stylista is a high end fashion game, targeted at women similar to “It Girl” or “Mall World,” where players “discover the world of fashion with friends through compelling personal and professional stories wrapped around staying in trend through shopping across the globe,” according to Sandbox’s website.
Currently, there are three famous fashion locations in the game: Soho in New York, Bond Street in London, and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But plans are already underway to launch Siam Square in Bangkok, Omotesando in Tokyo, and Champs-Élysées in Paris.
As the alpha version made its way around, interest from both investors and publishers started to gain momentum. Talks are currently underway with leading social game publishers from Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan.
Monetization plans for Stylista include the sale of virtual goods (purses, shoes, etc.) as well as in-game advertising and sponsorships.
“The game was built to be very marketing friendly. Brands could even have their own virtual store inside Stylista. However, our first priority is to create a great game experience and then start approaching them,” says Gutierrez.
Motivated by the growth of the large gaming companies like Zynga and regional players like Vostu Games in Brazil and Peak Games in Turkey, Gutierrez left his day job as Managing Director of Neo@ Ogilvy Singapore to form Sandbox Global in July 2010. “Why can’t Southeast Asia have its own Zynga?” he says.
Currently, Stylista is only in Thai language. English will be launched in a few weeks, with Bahasa Indonesia and Vietnamese to follow.
Sandbox is utilizing Thailand as a test market before expanding the game across Southeast Asia and going global – in the process of doing so, they hope to create gaming talent and know-how in Southeast Asia.
“The game has a great mix of international art direction and localized content. It addressed a large segment of our members, the so-called ‘non-gamers,’ females between the age of 18-30,” said Oh Thongsrinoon, former Head of Social Media and Online Gaming for Sanook.com, Thailand’s #1 Web portal.
“As far as we know, we’re the only company in Southeast Asia making Top Tier social games, probably because you need a host of different skill sets and a lot of capital to make them. Our goal is to bring these resources into Southeast Asia and world-class games to the region and then the world,” says Gutierrez.
Sandbox recently closed a second round of investment from IDM Venture Capital, a Russian venture capital firm incorporated in Singapore looking for promising investments in Southeast Asia, and Jeff Lapin, former CEO of Atari and “Grand Theft Auto” developers Take Two.
“We made this investment because we believe in Sandbox’s vision to deliver exciting games in South East Asia and are thrilled to be a part of this venture,” said Roderick Chia, General Partner and Managing Director of IDM Venture Capital. “We look forward to taking an active role in supporting the company’s expansion.”
“It’s a great team that understands game development. The company is based in Thailand with an efficient cost structure, and the multi-cultural team understands the needs of both Western and Eastern gamers,” Lapin said on Angel.co.
The new cash infusion will allow Sandbox to invest in critical hires, infrastructure and a huge Facebook marketing push for Stylista – and bring them closer to their goal of establishing a hold as the premiere gaming company in Southeast Asia.