How HTML5 will change gaming in the Arab world

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Browser games are resurging thanks to HTML5. This fifth version of the revolutionary markup language supports the latest multimedia and makes content publishable on different browsers and across platforms.

Because it flattens existing differences between mobile browsers in terms of functionality, HTML5 is considered the most significant evolution yet in web standards. It is designed to allow programs to run through any web browser, complete with video and other multimedia content that today require plug-in software and other work-arounds, as reported in the McKinsey Quarterly.

While the world’s online population is estimated at 1.6 billion, more than 44% of that population plays online games. That’s over 700 million people gaming online around the world. And HTML5 is about to seriously enhance their collective gaming experience.

Dutch entrepreneur Johan Lofstrom is one of the very few who decided to explore the possibility of bringing HTML5 games to the region. His Cloud Games is the first Arabic mobile gaming platform that caters to both desktop browser and mobile app players using HTML5, featuring global browser games accessible via desktops, smartphones, or tablets. “Any Arabic speaking gamer can play from their browser instead of having to download an app. This is the next generation of online gaming,” says Lofstrom.

In other words, a gaming addict on Cloud Games can start a game on her phone in the morning, continue on her laptop during the day, and keep playing from her tablet in the evening, just by creating an account and accessing the platform via whatever browser she happens to be using at the time.

After working in the gaming industry for two years as director of strategic marketing at Spil Games, one of the biggest gaming companies in the Netherlands, serial entrepreneur Lofstrom decided to launch his own gaming startup. “Back in 2012, at my old job, we saw a big increase from people searching for games in [web] browsers” rather than by using apps, he says.

It will obviously take a lot of time for people to begin gaming on browsers instead of applications, as they’ve gotten used to using apps on touch screen devices. But “eventually browsers and apps are going to co-exist which is pretty natural,” predicts Lofstrom.

Cloud Games builds partnerships with game developers to publish their games, specifically focusing on mid-range to hardcore games that target males aged between 13 and 35.

Quality, liability, and user experience are requirements for any game to be listed by Cloud Games on their platform. “If users find that the games are not up to standards they will not come back, so we spend a lot of time evaluating,” Lofstrom says. The team also helps game producers enhance the quality of their games, specially in HTML5.

Being featured on Cloud Games seems like a very fair deal for game developers. They don’t pay anything to get listed; actually, they get a “generous” revenue share, according to Lofstrom.

“Most of our revenue comes from advertising, and we do want to make money, but now we are focusing on growing, so we want to be generous with the developers and keep them happy,” says Lofstrom.

The Cloud Games team is of six co-founders, spread out between Amsterdam, Dubai, Stockholm, and Malta, who have registered the company in Amsterdam and are in the process of setting up in Dubai.

“We chose the region because we thought it was underserved, while having a lot of potential; there is almost no use of HTML5 or desktop gaming in the MENA, and markets like KSA spend much more on games than on anything else,” explains Lofstrom.

As Wamda has reported, mobile penetration in Saudi is much higher than in the US and other developed markets. Also, one of the six co-founders is Alper Celen, who had worked in telecoms in the KSA before, and is helping a lot reaching out Cloud Games’ target audience.

Saudi gamers seem to already love the platform. Since its launch in July 2013, Cloud Games has listed 500 games; by November, its user base had grown to half a million users. The team is hoping to reach a million by the end of this month. “Most of this traffic is coming from Saudi through social media marketing and targeted SEO focused on Arabic searches,” says Lofstrom.

Over the last month, the platform registered 41% returning visitors mostly from Saudi, followed by gamers from Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar.

The startup’s top priority for now is to get more local talent on board, as the team works towards bringing the best games to the region inspiring local developers to produce games and reach a big audience. “We want Cloud Games to become the go-to platform by which local developers can reach a big audience,” says Lofstrom.

The team wants to push good quality Arabic games, even to the point of building one themselves. “We are working a fully Arabic 3D game as a first test built on a new HTML5 3D features,” says Lofstrom.

Also in the works is angel investment. After having until now bootstrapped the company with their own money, the team is now in discussions with angels for a first round, so as to take the platform to the next level by developing games and becoming regional drivers in HTML5.

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