10 Arab Gaming Startups to Watch

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This week we highlight some of MENA’s most creative gaming startups. These innovative ventures transport players into new worlds to overcome daring challenges.

Against staunch international competition, MENA’s gaming startups are showing off the region’s technical and artistic design skills through creative storylines, bold innovations, and stimulating gameplay that often involve themes reflecting local culture. The below startups are listed in alphabetical order.

1) Falafel Games

Created in 2008, by co-founders Radwan Kasmiya and Vince Ghossoub, Falafel Games decided to address the deficit in grassroots local Arab game development to create games that act as cultural “ambassadors” for the Arab world. Falafel Games has developed hit MMORPG titles including Quraish and Under Siege to provide an Arab point of view on gameplay. The creators of Falafel Games were tired of playing games as a “U.S. Marine fighting his way through war-torn Beirut,” and decided that the MENA region needs its own action games “by and for Arabs.” Falafel Games are browser-based, making them accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection.

2) Game Cooks

Founders Lebnan and Arz Nader, half of the original Birdy Nam Nam development team, launched Game Cooks earlier this year. Based in Beirut, Game Cooks is a mobile game development studio that is crafting a unique and diverse set of mobile apps for casual gamers. Following their MENA-based title “Run for Peace” launched earlier this year, the studio is working to redefine the region’s mobile gaming to show a global audience the potential of MENA design. Their most recent memory game, Deja Vu, has hit #1 around the globe and continues to rise in popularity. 

3) Maysalward

Jordan-based game developer Maysalward was founded in 2003 by Nour Khrais to bring a fresh outlook to gaming in Jordan and the region. Internally, Maysalward has developed a culture of autonomy and collaboration, using Google's ideas of giving on-staff developers a chance to work on creative or independent projects,  empowering employees to create when they are most productive. They focus on simple and casual online multiplayer games and interactive social apps, such as card or board games. After their initial success with Trix, they developed several popular titles including Cocktail Mania and Dominoes. Maysalward was one of the first game developers to really take off in MENA and present a good model for developing a strong internal culture.

4) Nezal Entertainment

Founded in 2010 by Egyptian Muhammad Ali, Nezal Entertainment is working to fuse gaming with real life. Their most popular creation is social game Crowds: Voices of Tahrir, set in the backdrop of Egypt’s revolution. The game allows players to move through and experience the 18-day series of events on their Facebook platform. The Nezal team seeks to develop games that are culturally relevant to MENA gamers, and used their experience in Egypt during the revolution as inspiration for the game. Building on this topical approach to games, Nezal seeks to expand its portfolio to include other points of regional significance and spread a gaming culture throughout the region while not sacrificing gameplay for message.

5) Piranha Byte

Piranha Byte recently launched their first mobile game Peek! Although they are relatively young in the space, they have the potential to really take off with simple multiplayer mobile games. Based in Dubai, Piranha Byte launched around a year ago and was co-founded by a group of enthusiastic game lovers from across MENA and the world (Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, India, and London). Their freemium gaming model offers in-app purchases targeted at casual gamers. With a current focus on wordplay, Piranha Byte’s look is simple and sleek, offering a few clever surprises.

6) QuirKat

QuirKat’s Jordanian co-founders, Mahmoud Khasawneh and Candide Kirk, left their stable government jobs to start their own game development studio in 2004. The duo develops MENA-specific games on multiple consoles and channels, including several titles for Sony’s PlayStation Minis series, mobile apps, social gaming on Facebook, in-browser titles, and downloadable computer games. Now headquarters in the UAE with development studios in Amman, Quirkat has developed a few well-known hits including Arabian Lords, MENA Speed, and Zonkt!.

7) Tahadi Games

Tahadi Games, launched in the UAE in 2008, is publishing stylish new MMORPGs and web-based games targeted toward MENA gamers. They are promoting and publishing games created by global developers, including popular releases Point Blank and Runes of Might, as well as recently launched mythical adventure Age of Titans, and PVP battleground Knight Online. With MENA-specific titles, Tahadi Games seeks to spread gaming across the region, challenging the hegemony of other international gaming giants. Their recent releases show an understanding of the gaps in the MENA gaming market, offering free-to-play platforms designed to bring the region’s social gaming to a new level.

8) TakTek Games

Launched in 2011 in Jordan, TakTek develops every stage of their games in-house. Brothers and co-founders Gaith and Yazan Kawar initially created web-based games and have since branched into the mobile gaming realm, solidifying their leadership role in the region. Their most popular title, My Marbles, is a sleek and user-friendly game based off of months of market research. The Kawar brothers spent two years just researching the market before they launched. Their next creation, Replanet, is set to engage and fascinate mobile gamers upon release, offering a unique and intuitive interface.

9) Wixel Studios

Started by Ziad Feghali, Reine Abbas, and Karim Abi Saleh in 2007, Wixel Studios was one of the first companies to appear on the Lebanese gaming scene. With their cheeky release, My Balls, earlier this year, Wixel diverged from their regular gaming themes, which are generally more topical. Previous titles have poked fun at Lebanese politicians or even taken on the Egyptian elections. Their games are focused heavily on Arab consumers and those in the diaspora, addressing and paying tribute to trends and themes in Arab societies. With several new Arabic-based games in the works, Wixel is poised to attract even more Arab gamers in the region.

10) Wizards Productions

Jordan-based game development studio Wizards Productions was established in late 2008 by co-founders Sohaib Thaib and Hussam Hammo. The startup seeks to address the gap in Arab online social gaming providers and is one of the gaming industry’s fastest growing startups. Working across platforms, Wizards has a track record of successfully developing free-to-play, Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) and social games for the Arab world. Earlier this year, Wizards pivoted towards mobile gaming with new game Aqua Jam and are seeking to reach a global mobile gaming market with more titles emerging soon.

Other Gaming Startups to Watch

  • GameTako, based in Saudi Arabia, is an enabling platform for indie developers to release, distribute, and monetize their games; the creators also develop games of their own, including recent game Kubba, revenues from which benefitted Syrian refugees.
     
  • Game Minion, based in the UAE, is also leveling the playing field for indie developers by offering them similar resources and distribution ability as large gaming publishing houses through shared online services.
     
  • MixedDimensions, based in Jordan, is creating gaming technologies and assets, such as modeling extension GameDraw, to enable game developers to design games more efficiently. 
     
  • Peak Games, a powerful Turkish startup, is building popular new games targeted toward MENA consumers and has seen incredible growth since their launch.
     
  • Zynga, a U.S.-based gaming publisher, recently announced the launch of Farmville2, which supports Arabic to target MENA as well as other emerging markets.
  • At7addak, based in Lebanon, is an interactive online gaming community where gamers from around the world can challenge each other through multiple platforms online and in organized tournaments. The startup has received international attention and won Wamda's Best Reader's Choice Startup last year.
  • Gamabox, based in Lebanon, seeks to fill the gap of MENA game coverage by offering biweekly mobile game reviews in English and Arabic, while also beginning to develop their own games.
     
  • FunWave Games is just beginning to create their own titles out of Egypt and have the potential to soon challenge the leaders in MENA game design.
     
  • Beladcom is currently working on a lush, beautifully rendered high-end MMORPG, Planet Toulan, which may challenge the likes of international titles World of Warcraft, Diablo, or Guild Wars 2.
     
  • Ahmed Majdoubi, a Moroccan developer, won GameTako’s Game Zanga competition by creating online game Freedom (Hurriya), a skill-based game based on famous Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali’s “Handala” character.

The strong activity in this sector shows a strengthening ecosystem and healthier environment for game design on both a regional and global scale and I, for one, can't wait to see what they come up with next.

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