Why Swedish gaming success FunRock is expanding to the MENA

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FunRock, the Swedish game developer turned publisher, is one of the most notable gaming success stories in recent years. The team’s game Rivality has over 400,000 users, and several other titles have attracted hundred of thousands of users as well.

Now, the company is expanding globally. Its first stop? The Arab region.

“We think the MENA region is the place to be for a company of our nature and our size,” says David Wallinder, founder of the seven year-old company.

The company recently announced plans to establish an office in Dubai for FunRock, an online strategy games developer and publisher headquartered in Stockholm. The company wants to craft gaming titles for the Arab world.

As FunRock specializes in free-to-play (F2P) MMO games, which stands for ‘massively multiplayer online games’, Wallinder intends to position FunRock as a leading games company for strategy-based MMO titles in the MENA region.

In this context, the initial rollout to the region will include a localized version of their most popular title, Rivality, which first launched in 2008 and now has 400,000 registered players. They hope Rivality will prime the pump for publishing new upcoming titles currently in the works.

The company first started off focusing on browser-based gaming, then started shifting to mobile platforms to respond to a global shift. “Our heritage is from browser-based games, and having gained a lot of experience in user acquisition, we want to take that experience to cross platforms,” says Lars Hagelin, CEO of FunRock.

Now FunRock enters the market having already established a strategic partnership with Dubai-based game developer and publisher, Gameguise, an association they hope will help them hit the ground running, and narrow the learning curve gap that most foreign companies experience when first entering the MENA region.

“The MENA landscape is pretty much a blank slate in terms of real industry players in the MMO strategy space targeting mobile platforms,” says Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, co-founder and CEO at Gameguise. “So it is certainly a head-turner when you hear that the likes of FunRock are entering the scene.”

Based on our conversation with Wallinder, Hagelin, and Bozorgzadeh, who candidly shared their own experiences and insights, there are three elements that make the MENA a good choice for mobile gaming companies looking to expand globally:

  1. People around the Gulf love strategy games to the point that they are now part of the culture. “Many players like to create their own worlds in the games,” says Wallinder.

  2. But across the region more generally, studies have shown that the region love browser games the most. “So we offer our games in the browser and offer the same on mobile phones to attract them to browser,” says Wallinder.

  3. Players in the region are fans of community games. “Part of our strategy is to localize our games; we want to ‘super localize’ not just translate. We believe it is important if you are an Arabic player we make sure you can play against other Arabic player, unless you choose otherwise, which creates strong communities,” says Hagelin.

Based on these three elements, and the fact the market is currently underserved, the FunRock team have high hopes for success. “Time is the only thing the region needs for now while gamers are still playing browser games on PCs and the mobile shift hasn’t peaked yet,” says Wallinder.

The company is not scouting for developers from the region yet, but it is in their short-term plans, for the sake of ‘super-localization’, as Hagelin stresses. For the immediate task at hand, that is localizing Rivality, they are relying on developers from Stockholm and around Scandinavia.

As for the burgeoning gaming industry’s larger impact on the region, the entrepreneurs are optimistic. “There will be success stories in a lot of emerging markets, a lot of jobs created and opportunities. When the companies start growing the infrastructure and ecosystem will develop quickly, so what we’ve seen in Stockholm will also happen in the MENA soon,” says Hagelin.

“We can't promise we will succeed but will work hard for it.”

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