Iranian developers gamify a 1,000 year-old poem

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The story of how Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh first met Hossein Jalali, his partner at their new startup, GameGuise, is “a MAKE Business Hub love tale,” he says.

Bozorgzadeh, who working at MAKE while running Conovi, a “digital doorway to Farsi-speaking consumers and businesses,” overheard Jalali speaking Farsi “with an American accent,” and they began discussing game creation in the Middle East. Bozorgzadeh began consulting with Jalali on a few projects, until, months later, as both were brainstorming game concepts, they hit upon an idea close to their hearts: a social game basde on the Shahnameh, a 1,000 year-old epic Persian poem.

Immediately, they realized how unique the game could be for players like themselves, who grew up outside the country. “Iran has been in a cocoon for so long, for most of our adult lives,” Bozorgzadeh explains. “In recent times, there hasn’t been enough effort to promulgate this content outside Iran.” While researching their storyline, the two cofounders discovered Hyperwerks Entertainment, a company that produced the Rostam series, a comic book adapation detailing the seven trials of Rostam, the hero of Shahnameh (the “Book of Kings”), which could be adapted for a game.

A following conversation with Vince Ghossoub and Radwan Kasmiya of Falafel Games then led to the creation of Seven Quests, a Massive Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy (MMORTS) game that will target the Iranian diaspora. Built on Falafel’s Knights of Glory game engine, Seven Quests will invite players to enter a rich world set in mythical Persia, where a lineage of heroes fight off demon races, in single and multiplayer modes.

For Bozorgzadeh, who is not originally a developer, launching GameGuise in partnership with Falafel Games will be a natural next step after his work at Conovi to localize games to the Iranian market. “As a publisher, you get curious about game development,” he explains. “You want to see behind the curtain, and create a title that feels like your baby. Otherwise, you always feel a bit like the stepfather of the game you’re promoting. This is our game,” he asserts.

With backing from Brown Sugar Media, a subsidiary of Cee Cee Holding, which owns MAKE Business Hub, Bozorgzadeh and Jalali are preparing the game for a launch in May this year.

At Conovi, Bozorgzadeh will continue localizing global games, however. The company's most recent release is Ocean Wars, a local version of German game Pirate Century, which the Conovi team adapted to reach Iran’s online population of 40 million by removing the word “pirate” and gambling features, replacing rum with a local yogurt drink. To maintain compliance with government regulations, Conovi also created the social game to open only to the Iranian market.

In such a nascent market, with only around “10 international MMOs,” it’s not hard to make a localized game profitable, Bozorgzadeh says. Local big spenders, known as whales, top even those in Saudi Arabia, Bozorgzadeh claims. Although Saudi’s biggest measured “whale” spent over $25,000 USD on virtual gaming goods, high rollers in Iran are “way past that,” if differences in overall income levels are taken into account, he says. “A lot of guys get really into the universe of the games they're playing.”

Marketing remains a challenge, as Iranian companies can’t use Google AdWords or Facebook, which 60% of Iranian citizens use, he says. Instead, Bozorgzadeh’s team leverages domestic ad platforms, websites affiliated with its partner, Pars Online, and offline events such as university gaming conferences.

For now, GameGuise, unlike Conovi, does not plan to localize Seven Quests to the Iranian market, first hoping to introduce its unqiue storyline to a global audience already familiar with Greek and Shakespearean myths.

It’s the combination of ancient with new that Bozorgzadeh hopes will delight players more than simple games like Clash of Clans. “I think that is the special X factor in this project,” says Bozorgzadeh. “The story is not created by a mind of this age. It [was] created by a mind from 1,000 years ago and it has endured.”

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