By MOLOUK Y. BA-ISA
The Middle East is in the grip of a heat wave. So to while away those hot Ramadan nights, Quirkat has just released its new game, Tawle.
“The game is basically the three most popular versions of backgammon in our region: Sheish Beish, 31 and Ma7booseh,” said Mahmoud Ali Khasawneh, Quirkat’s CEO. “Ours is the only game that offers this. All the other online backgammon games have one version — Sheish Beish — which is the most internationally popular.”
Tawle launched on Monday through Facebook (apps.facebook.com/quirkattawle/) and Quirkat’s game portal, Fuzztak. The game is free to play, available in English, Arabic and Turkish and Khasawneh stated that more value added services and micro transactions will be added.
Quirkat has been building on its success, attracting investors and gamers to its vision of what gaming should offer. The publisher and game developer recently concluded the second tournament of its EuroScorers Fantasy Football Game.
“EuroScorers achieved more than its targeted 50,000 users with friends playing against each other from 180 countries,” Khasawneh said. “Fantasy sports games are a worldwide phenomenon. Quirkat, as it continues to monitor the heartbeat of Middle Eastern gamers, is focusing on ensuring a voice for the region’s gamers in the global games arena.”
According to Khasawneh, investment in local game developers and publishers is “happening at a faster pace,” although the fruits of the funding increase won’t be seen for two to three years. This has evened out the playing field between Arab and international developers. Saudi investors in particular are not only interested in supporting established developers but are also willing to back younger talents.
“Many younger guys are saying that they want to start gaming companies,” Khasawneh commented. “It was almost suicidal when I started Quirkat back in 2004. Now, young developers can create a great title and get noticed.”
ABI Research recently disclosed that, “Mobile gaming is establishing itself as a serious form of mass entertainment, appealing to a diverse group of consumers across the world. The growth in this market is driven on one hand by the emergence of modern touchscreen smartphones as a suitable gaming platform, and on the other hand by innovation in casual games that attract users from both genders and from all age groups. This is also reflected in the industry’s revenue base, which will grow from less than $5 billion in 2011 to more than $16 billion in 2016.”
The region’s mobile operators are waking up to the power of casual mobile gaming, but it may be too late. For years, the operators invested very little in value added services and Khasawneh noted that now they are being outperformed by the app stores.
“The problem in the past was monetization. That’s where the operators potentially had strength. But they weren’t willing to share and encourage developers,” Khasawneh said. “Now what’s happening is that there are more and more payment gateways coming up in our region that allow developers to monetize on their own. I’m not saying that everything is at a healthy level yet, but it’s at least a possibility. That’s encouraging people to develop on their own. It took me a year to convince some operators to sign us up and we ended up with nothing. The return was unacceptable. Now there are other ways to go.”
There are many platforms on which developers and publishers can release new titles. Mobile, social, online and console gaming all have fans. Quirkat, being multiplatform in its game development, has been able to place new games wherever the creative essence of the title will be best displayed.
“Being multiplatform, we have no vested interest in one avenue or another,” explained Khasawneh. “I personally think that each platform is different and attracts different fans. I believe though that consumers are being cheated when it comes to console gaming because smaller talents are being pushed out by the big developers and major franchises which develop with profit as their prime incentive. That’s why there’s so much creativity and energy going into social and mobile gaming. There have been some big hits there lately, but people shouldn’t think that a title such as ‘Angry Birds’ is the norm. I read that the average return on an iPhone game is $4,000. Console, social, online and mobile gaming are all competing, but very different. It’s important to maintain a reasonable perspective. Just because you drive a Volkswagen doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to drive a small car, too. And just because some people play Angry Birds, doesn’t mean that’s what everyone wants.”
Khasawneh pointed out as well, that it’s becoming much more difficult to launch a successful social or mobile game. Consumers are more sophisticated and are expecting more from game developers. Plus, getting a game to go viral can depend more on luck than the quality of the title. Not surprisingly, investors can be unrealistic when it comes to profits — or loses — in gaming.
“Some investors get all crazy when they find out that Quirkat isn’t developing for the iPad,” said Khasawneh. “It’s like you hear that the Harry Potter books were handwritten by J. K. Rowling, so you go invest in a pen factory thinking that this is how to make money. The fact that you have the tool doesn’t mean much. What we are focusing on at Quirkat is the creation of converging experiences — whatever the platform. Our business is a hit business. A lot of money, effort and genius goes into it. You might get a hit. You might just come up with something mediocre. You have to first try to create a good game, then think about profits.”
Khasawneh’s thoughts are backed up by ABI Research.
“The dynamics of both casual gaming and the discovery of new content make it a risky hit-and-miss business, though good content is still definitely more important than luck,” said ABI Research senior analyst Aapo Markkanen. “Rovio’s ‘Angry Birds’ is an early example of the sort of following that the most successful titles will be able to achieve. Yet for one such hit there will be scores of failed attempts to catch consumers’ attention.”
If content is supreme, then Khasawneh believes that Quirkat has an edge.
“If you want fresh content and new ideas, then look to developers and publishers in the Middle East,” he remarked. “There’s a lot of untapped talent here and a lot of stories that haven’t been told. Every civilization has expressed itself through media and that now includes gaming. You can’t tell me that 400 million people don’t have engaging stories that a global community won’t be interested to share.”