Sandsoft CEO Mo Fadl tells GameDaily about his company's approach to publication and development in the Middle East and North Africa region, and why his experience makes him the best person for the job.
One of the fastest-growing regions for video game revenue is the Middle East and North Africa--estimates put consumer spend in the area at $6 billion by 2021. Helping matters is that approximately 60 to 80% of the population is 30 years old or younger with significant disposable income. As such, this developing market is ripe for competition, and Sandsoft Games, a new development and publication studio based out of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is seizing the opportunity.
Sandsoft Games was formed by the Ajlan and Bros Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest family-controlled corporations. For Sandsoft CEO Mo Fadl, one of the most appealing aspects of the MENA region is the untapped well of talent that exists there.
“MENA has an amazing talent pool, and so much to share and tell,” Fadl told GameDaily. “MENA is still considered an emerging market and there are very few video game companies currently operating in the region, and very few publishers who offer anything more than localization. Sandsoft aims to go beyond this and provide a fully endemic experience in Middle Eastern entertainment.”
By “fully endemic,” Fadl means that games published and developed by Sandsoft will be steeped in MENA culture. While the studio will work on localizing and translating games, the largest focus will be on “culturization” and making them feel natural within the MENA region.
“We want to create a gaming experience that feels endemic for players, one that will really reflect their culture and heritage,” Fadl explained. “With this in mind, there are lots of visual, storytelling, gameplay and audio elements to consider that can make a game a better fit for the MENA region.”
For example, in its first projects, Sandsoft has changed the music and some enemy designs to better reflect the area. Additionally, since Arabic is read from right to left, UI changes are an important part of the team’s work. Fadl admitted these are small changes with no major impact on gameplay, but it’s still important to making MENA players feel like they’re able to experience a game made for them.
Fadl admits that there’s no “one size fits all” approach within a region as diverse as MENA, though. To that end, Sandsoft operates in multiple countries to ensure that all cultures are equally represented.
“MENA is a huge region, and no two countries within it are exactly the same,” Fadl said. “This is why we have committed ourselves to offering a multicultural and diverse team with multiple offices so we can truly integrate our team with gamers in each country. We work with a wide variety of people from across MENA and beyond across development and publishing to create a gaming experience that feels unique to all MENA communities.”
Fadl said that historically, MENA receives a lot of Western games--that is, games from European and American developers. These tend to have more cultural crossover than games from other regions, making localization relatively easy. However, when you start launching products in MENA and Asian countries, more consideration needs to be taken in this regard.
Fadl brings 16 years of games industry experience to Sandsoft, having held roles across many levels of the business. Most notably, Fadl was a founding member of Wargaming Europe, where he worked on the World of series. Additionally, he served as head of publishing for Nordics at Riot Games, experience that inspired the idea to create a MENA-focused company.
“[Riot’s] core philosophy of putting players first has been incorporated into one of Sandsoft’s founding pillars,” he said.
Fadl hopes that this dedication to its players shines through as Sandsoft ramps up its work. The underrepresented MENA region is made up of a varied and diverse consumer audience eager for content. Fadl recognizes this, and his studio is primed to become a big player in one of the largest emerging markets in the world. Moving forward, it will be fascinating to track the progress of Sandsoft Games, and the MENA region as a whole.
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