Quirkat: The Epicentre of Mid East Gaming – GameHedz
Established in 2004 with headquarters in the UAE and studios in Amman, Jordan, Quirkat
is making a name for itself and Middle East gaming. This abbreviated version of this Game Hedz interview can be read in the bigger, awesomer Tempo Magazine’s May issue.
Thanks to the Quirkat crew for chatting to us!
|Facebook title, Euroscorers. A must for footy fans.
Game Hedz: What new gaming platforms and genres are you exploring and with what focus?
Quirkat: Quirkat started out and will continue to be a multiplatform development studio. Our focus for the coming 12 months, nevertheless, will be on downloadable console titles as well as beefing up our portfolio of web-based board games. We currently have a few games in the pipeline. In terms of genres, we also don’t limit ourselves in that; however we’re exploring more sports games and integrating social elements into our gameplay.
GH: What’s the nature of Quirkat’s relationship with Sony and what has the collaboration produced so far? What is in the pipeline?
Q: We signed a development agreement with Sony Gulf to develop the first Arabic titles for Sony’s PSP Mini platform. So far, we have developed four card game titles that are sold through the PSN network and we are currently working on another minis title. Additionally, and since our experience with Sony on the first batch of games went really well, we have now become accredited PS3 developers and are on the verge of launching development on a PS3 downloadable title.
GH: Given the fierce competition amongst titles for a place in the gaming world (mostly produced in the West and for Western sensibilities), do you intend to break into the mainstream markets or remain niche? If mainstream – what’s the strategy?
Q: Since the gaming industry is not quite developed in our region, we are going after the mainstream market; we have a very strong USP that differentiates us from other players. Our products are inspired by the Middle East but are designed with global gameplay appeal; no one quite offers a product like ours. All our games are bilingual. We will slowly but surely build a strong following in order to develop a wide array of games for all segments. Since our launch in 2004, and with more and more access to downloadable game stores across platforms and territories, it has become somewhat easier to enter into a more globalized end user space. The challenge is now in discovery of the titles and we’re hoping to solidly build a fan base and establish a flavor to our games. That should facilitate our visibility on the international store fronts.
Arabian Lords, a PC strategy joint
GH: Do you consider games like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia as helping the Arab/Quirkat cause? Why/why not?
Q: Naturally games that touch on Arab and Middle Eastern culture have existed for quite a while, even well before the establishment of Quirkat. We are constantly faced with questions on how we view the traditional perception of Arabs in video games, particularly in titles such as COD where the stereotyping is quite harsh. We strongly believe that such perceptions have opened up a clear opportunity for Quirkat to counter the stereotype and produce games that show a more realistic and tolerant view of the Middle East. That goes for both the local consumer as well as the international audience that is seeing beyond the traditional prejudices that exist in mainstream media.
GH: What kind of challenges do you face in trying to establish an Arabian presence in international gaming (stereotyping, cultural or religious divides)?
Q: Our goal is not to establish an, ‘Arabian presence’, it is to fulfill the big gap in the market where the needs of gamers in the region are ignored; the lack of Arabic digital content on multiple levels. We face the same challenges any startup would. Our challenges stem from the underdevelopment of our industry in the region, so we face issues such as unavailability of credible games download services, online payment methods and the talent pool being deviated into other industries for the lack of opportunity to be involved in games projects. The region had no credibility and no success track record. For example, we couldn’t be the developer to a big publisher. We’d be fighting for acceptance as a developer; and as a developer from the Middle East.
GH: Has the current ‘discomfort’ with Islam, Muslims, and perhaps by extension Arab culture, in the some pockets of Western culture/politics (in Europe and the US in particular) had any impact on the Quirkat’s ambitions or strategy? Any other views on the issue (is it possible to remain unaffected by political and cultural affairs for example)?
Q: We develop games, a source of entertainment. Our games do not involve religion or politics; we are not in the business of developing controversial games. We just want our audience to enjoy our products. So the issue of us originating from the Middle East doesn’t create a problem, on the contrary, it gives us the opportunity to show the world our culture in a positive light. As for attracting international publishers, they care about the quality and what we can deliver and ultimately, the sell-ability of the game, we are very confident of our high standards in those areas; we aim to compete on the same level as international players. We have been extremely well received around the world and at key trade shows, and have been covered favorably in the international press. The games industry is very much globally aware in that sense and we haven’t found any resistance because of where we’re based.
The Quirkat crew doin’ what they do
GH: While you pursue Arab content do you have any ambitions to promote (internationally) Arab talent like voice over artists, designers, writers etc.
Q: That has always been one of our core missions in our game development. We rely solely on artists (whether voice, audio or graphics) from the region. Our artists have now been credited on games that are being sold and distributed worldwide. An example is from our early days when casting and recording the voice over audio for Arabian Lords, we worked with a known local actor who had no experience in games but had mostly acted in Arab soap operas and Ramadan drama shows. His experience with VO recording was new and unique to him and he was introduced to a new audience through an entirely new medium.
GH: Is there any conflict with Islamic/Muslim sensibilities and the violent and sometimes graphic nature of many popular games? Does it influence the writing and game play in Quirkat’s titles?
Q: The short answer is no. Obviously we follow loose ground rules when we develop our own titles and tend to stay away from controversial areas that would jeopardize our entry into, say, the Saudi market. Having said that, those areas tend to focus on religious and cultural sensitivities, rather than graphical violence per se
GH: Do you use the recently established Entertainment Software Rating Association (ESRA) system? Why/why not? Has the ratings system influenced your work and profile regionally/internationally?
Q: No, we don’t use the ESRA system, mainly due to the fact that it is not an officially adopted system by regional governments. The unspoken rule on terms of content acceptability is no religion, politics or sexual content, of course with varying tolerance among different countries. Our games are inspired by our culture and history, and we take all social and moral guidelines into consideration in our game design for wider distribution. Having said that, there is no definite list of do’s and don’ts that is guaranteed to circumvent the regulators across the Arab countries. We aim to make fun, entertaining games and as a principle do not appreciate self-censorship. Despite our best efforts at staying true to the region’s moral and cultural fibre, even we have been subject to bans in certain territories.
Al-Moosiqar, the only place you can play a virtual oud
GH: Given the attention gaming has received from authorities in the ME what interaction has Quirkat had (if any) with the relevant Regional authorities?
Q: To be honest we haven’t had much interaction with regional authorities beyond the realm of regular business registration, etc… As most of our business is done online, the regulation is much easier to handle than boxed or shipped products.
GH: How is the Arabian market responding to the ‘homegrown’ content and what are you using to measure that response?
Q: So far, every game we’ve released has been a hit. Our biggest success was Arabian Lords in terms of size of project; it reached the number two spot in the Virgin Megastore charts and remained there for over 6 weeks. We’ve also had really good numbers on EuroScorers, our Facebook game; and Tariq’s Treasure with mobile users which outperformed the combined sales of over 50 English language titles in monthly downloads over the four months. Al- Moosiqar was ported to mobile and was the winner of Nokia Judges Choice Awards. All of this is an attestation to the market’s thirst for Arabic games. The language, as well as the regional themes and content relevance, have enabled us to find success across genres and platforms.
GH: Does the Arabian/Middle Eastern market differ greatly in its tastes, preferences and sensibilities from more established markets? How?
Q: With the lack of Arabized versions of most AAA titles that are released in the Middle East, and mostly due to the language barrier associated with more complex game genres, the most popular titles tend to be less language intensive such as sports and FPS games. The leading titles in the Middle East are Pro Evolution Soccer and the FIFA franchises. On big game release, our market mirrors the US market, less so for the casual genre. On mobile, many of the popular brands worldwide are popular in the region; especially TV shows and movie tie-ins. The region’s gamers are strong followers of global game releases; multiple blogs and sites dedicated to game reviews indicate the alignment of our gamers with their western counterparts.