Southeast Asia is a growing market for gaming and digital consumption but, despite its appetite for all things tech, the region’s companies have yet to make a mark on the global scene. Bangkok-based Sandbox Global is one startup that’s emerging with the potential to do so, and that was underlined as Stylista — its fashion-themed Facebook game for girls– became the first game from the region to pass 1 million monthly active users.

The game clocked up 1,080,361 users over the past month, as of 27 January. The most recent data shows that almost 500,000 of its gamers spending time in the title on a weekly basis, and more than 100,000 play each day.

stylsita 520x432 Sandbox Global puts Southeast Asia on the gaming map as Stylista passes 1m monthly users

“This is a significant milestone in Southeast Asia’s social gaming industry as our game was built in Thailand,” Sandbox Global founder and CEO Ferdinand Gutierrez, who left his job at Singapore-based Ogilvy Neo to start the company in July 2010, tells TNW. “Why can’t the region have its own Zynga or DeNA?” he adds.

Stylista is a high-end fashion game that’s set across a number of global landmarks where players adopt avatars and play out a number of story lines. As you’d expect for a Facebook game, it’s highly social and encourages friends to play together, while customization is a key part. Users can buy all manner of virtual items to outfit their characters with the latest fashion items and clothes, decorate their houses and more.

In combining these elements, Gutierrez says that Stylista is a platform for self-expression. He stresses that keeping the game relevant and focused on shopping — a classic female hot-button — is also central to its appeal.

stylista1 520x451 Sandbox Global puts Southeast Asia on the gaming map as Stylista passes 1m monthly users

Unlike other games firms in Asia, which typically crank out large volumes of inexpensive games in the hope that one or more may gain popularity, Sparx Ventures-backed SandBox Global has only one title, though it runs deep. Stylista includes a range of local language support, tie-ins with brands and is continually seeing new story lines, items, cities, shops and other elements added to retain it freshness.

Initially the title was trialed in Thailand, and it had a modest 57,000 monthly gamers as of May 2012 — that number has increased massively. As engagement rises so does income and, while Gutierrez declined to reveal specific figures, he says that last Sunday (January 27) was its biggest day of revenue to date.

Virtual goods are a proven model for many games developers, but Sandbox Global is seeing a particular growth in ‘have it now’ payments. They allow a user to pay a premium to get a feature or goal earlier than usual. Traditionally they’re used in games where items are grown or built, and spending a virtual dollar accelerates the process.

“We’ve experimented and found that time versus opportunity features work. Many users want to save time and get things quickly, and they’re happy to pay for that,” Gutierrez explains.

Unsurprisingly, the company has found that ‘green cash’ (virtual money that’s earned inside of games) is more popular than ‘gold cash’ (money bought by real-world currency). That figures since the former costs nothing, but green cash can bring in real currency. It encourages a higher level of user engagement since gamers must perform certain tasks and pass landmarks to earn their virtual money. In the world of social games, increased activity usually brings more users, some of whom will invest in gold cash using real-world money.

stylista2 520x476 Sandbox Global puts Southeast Asia on the gaming map as Stylista passes 1m monthly users

Sandbox Global’s home market of Thailand is its second largest market on revenues, behind only the US, and that’s testament to the local language, game customization and viral marketing activities that have been executed. The startup is actively localizing the title for other markets, and sees Brazil and Turkey as major focuses, while neighboring Malaysia is seeing traction and Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines are growing too.

While the US is the top market, it’s interesting to note that there has been no marketing push in the country. Its growth there has been entirely organic and forthcoming without spending a dime.

Sandbox Global is in the process of pre-production for its next title, which will be a tower defense-style game likely out by mid-2013, but Gutierrez believes that — as we’ve noted in China — the girl gaming genre is a hugely lucrative segment.

“Girl games can be popular for longer periods than other titles. They have more stickiness with players, who are more inclined to play, more social.”

Even after the launch, the startup will continue its focus on Stylista. Already at one million users, it will be interesting to see how much further it can grow before the game and Sandbox Global are being talked about in more global circles, and inspiring others in Southeast Asia.

Related: How CocoaChina proved it’s possible to make money on Android in China (to the tune of $2m a month)

Headline image Mike Laptev / Shutterstock