In 2006, I was part of a team sent to the Tokyo Game Show; our objective was to meet as many companies – publishers – as possible within a three day time frame, and present our game to them to garner feedback and follow up on those who were interested in taking our business relationship further.
Naturally he’d think: “how come a lot of people play of our games and we’re not getting sales figures?” the answer was simple: Piracy. But that’s a subject to another post.
- At the time most these companies started developing their titles the gaming industry was moving into the next gen consoles (questionable forecasting?).
- Most companies who had some product worth discussing for the overseas market were met with the global economical crisis at the time they finally reached their first playable demo; with wide spread layoffs across the industry no publisher had the luxury to invest any of it’s liquidities in a start up company no one knew about sending them emails from the middle of nowhere.
- Management pretty much doomed projects from the start, instead of creating and constructing dependable feasibility studies, market research and knowing what’s ‘hip’ in choosing their games genres and systems they just followed their childhood dreams, or typical Arab stereo types. They either worked on remakes of their childhood favourites (way out of date at the time) or just any game that has Arab,desert, Bedouin …etc disregarding a very crucial factor: game play!
- Most companies built business models without understanding a typical game development house structure, months of chaos roamed offices as people were trying to understand what they’re trying to do and who to report to.
- Managers following their typical state of mind ran development houses as if they were supermarkets: gave more time to meetings concerning cleaning the mugs in the kitchen and coming back from the lunch break on time instead of brain storming sessions, game play analysis and thorough play testing.
- Most development houses wanted to make a profit before finishing the product: studios in Jordan and Dubai wanted to make a profit when making a financing deal with the publishers. the presented exaggerated figures in hope that they would make enough money to sustain the development and then some, sales afterwards were just the sugar on top. Ignoring the royalty driven method made the developers focus less on creating a quality product (since they don’t care if it sells or not), which made publishers consider it even less.
- Executive personnel making creative decisions; since most people higher in command have less technical knowledge, they intervene less in the development department than they do in the design, they have an opinion about if the game looked good or not and thus always making the modifications they requested the highest priority; the end result is always what’s easy on their eye not everyone else’s and a nightmare shuffle in project plans.
- The gaming industry was changing: prices went up, people spent less on 50$ games and more on casual free of charge games, instead of releasing 200something games for the PS2 a year there are now around 70Something games for the PS3 a year or even less; Games became an extravagant show of technology and talent that developing a console title became a multi-million dollar investment; there was simply no way for smaller studios to compete with the big boys.
- Companies that purchased finished titles and wanted to mass market them had to compete with the fierce pirating community. The games they picked out weren’t that good to begin with, they didn’t chose games based on it’s market value, they chose them based on getting the cheapest Arab themed game they could get. Selling them for the bare minimum didn’t even cut it. thousands of copies remains stacked on shelves to this very day.
The companies that survived this period were the ones that shifted to casual flash games or the ones that started with mobile game development to begin with. As the console market got harder for everyone world wide, the rise of Facebook and the internet made casual gaming the optimum space for development. especially for start ups with relatively volatile capital and little experience.
Perhaps the only success story from the previous era was a browser game called Travian. All though it wasn’t developed by a middle eastern house, it was localized and aggressively marketed toward the gulf region. it was a great success; millions of players joined and thousands purchased virtual goods earning the company almost 200,000$ a month for a period of two years.
but perhaps a little bit too slow.
Two types of companies emerged those who decided to do their own development and those who decided on getting final products and localize them for the market, that market being the web.
In the light of the Yahoo-Maktoob deal, aiming for the web wasn’t a bad decision at all; and every start up had that target of ultimate acquisition by larger firm.
Who knows, maybe it would happen again.