Gaza game maker Baskalet eyes Saudi success
Facing tough economic conditions and unsatisfying day jobs in Gaza, Baskalet founders Mohammed Madhoun and Osayd Madi took the leap to do what they love: make games.
Baskalet launched in 2015, and stumbled many times before becoming one of the most notable mobile game design studios in Gaza. It secured angel investment from public investment fund the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC) in 2016 and its three consumer games have collectively been downloaded over 650,000 times.
As the startup prepares to launch its latest title, 'Partition Hero', in mid-October the founders are aiming to hit one million downloads with it by the end of the year.
From employees to entrepreneurs
Madhoun studied design in college and has worked for local and regional animation and technology companies. He joined Mobaderoon, a startup support and incubation program, in 2012 with his startup Frame, which designed interactive applications for education and gaming.
In 2015 he and Osayd entered the startup program Gaza Sky Geeks, a local business accelerator that helps promising startups grow and get investment.
With their collective technical and business skills, the duo kicked off a new startup to make games that appealed to a MENA audience.
“The idea started off with our drive to offer the Arab gamers some titles that are authentic and worthy, and on the side create a source of income for us,” Madhoun said.
But by the time they launched their first game, the founders were having different thoughts.
Moving ahead one game at a time
Madhoun said it took time for them to learn the necessary skills needed to run a business, despite meeting a variety of investors and international coaches. “We found that there was no golden advice, so it was self-learning via internet for us. And it paid off.”
Baskalet’s first product was a customized healthcare game for a regional customer. It provided a financial lifeline for the founders, who could then start looking at more consumer-oriented games for the Google Play and Apple app stores.
The game studio’s first game for the public was released in late 2015. 'Sayyaritna' (Our car) was a 3D test-drive game in which the player avoided obstacles and collected coins. It was developed using Unity-3D, a cross platform game engine, and downloaded over 5,000 times on Android and iOS.
Their next title was called 'Alspider' (The spider) and aimed at the Egyptian market. It was downloaded 10,000 times - well below the founders’ expectations. They killed the game after the fourth iteration.
“Killing projects is difficult but important, as many entrepreneurs lack the skills to do it. You start production only to find you can do better than this,” said Osayd.
Next, the team tried something simpler: quickly designing a Ramadan-themed game to help players pass time and find out information during the Muslim holy month, aiming to get around 50,000 total downloads.
Since its launch, ‘Ramadan Challenges’ has performed so well on iOS devices that it was downloaded 100,000 times on the first day, reaching 650,000 downloads at the time of publication.
Success is dependant on people
Baskalet’s office at Gaza Sky Geeks is a small room with six developers and designers working with their eyes glued to their computers.
Team members like Mustafa Balata, a professional developer who has left his paid day job to join the growing startup, are committed to the startup’s development.
Madhoun said game development wasn’t a subject that people could study in Gaza, so their team was committed to self-learning and development.
The team has consulted advisors in Saudi Arabia and other target markets to better understand the local context and audiences and how to appeal to them.
The team was one of the main reasons for APIC’s investment in the startup.
To the future, and to one million downloads?
Baskalet’s incubation with Gaza Sky Geeks has finished, although the startup hub is letting them stay until they find a new place, so they are hoping their upcoming title will bring their business forward and drive more investments.
‘Partition Hero’ will be social, interactive, and targeted at the Saudi market.
It’s a game in which players help restaurant visitors eat peacefully without getting interrupted by peeking eyes of people sitting on other tables - a concept that is thought to suit the culture and appeal to the market there.