We adopt a game theory approach that considers democratization as the result of strategic interactions between government and non-government actors in East and Southeast Asia, and test the implications systematically with data from South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. This makes three contributions to scholarship. First, the synergy of a game theory framework based on area studies information draws attention to the conditions under which players threats or actions are credible, to support inclusive theory-building. Second, the consistent findings across East and Southeast Asian countries often cited as critical cases on opposite sides of larger debates in the discipline, and across different operationalizations of democratization, support the idea that democratization occurs under weak economic conditions. Third, our rigorous tests beyond regime change-over, and across empirically derived heuristics of time span, fill theoretical and empirical lapses in order to adjudicate democratization in the region and provide a clear theoretical and empirical lens for current and future analyses.