Like numerous other industries, gaming has faced a wide array of obstacles that have hindered its growth in the Middle East. From censorship regulations to a shortage of game developers, such factors have long prevented the region from nurturing a thriving gaming sector.
However, in recent years a number of entrepreneurs have planted the seeds for the industry’s success by establishing startups that deliver high-quality, entertaining titles that span countless genres. The games are bringing much-needed Arabic content to local audiences, while also providing an arena in which local designers can showcase their most innovative ideas. Read on to explore five startups that are making waves within the Middle Eastern gaming sector:
QuirKat, which shares its name with the Middle Eastern precursor to checkers, is one of the oldest gaming startups in the region. Since 2004, this startup has served as a major innovator within the local industry and beyond. Under the leadership of co-founders Candide Kirk and Mahmoud Khasawneh, QuirKat is working toward a more globalized vision for video games. Their efforts were recognized in 2007, when the startup gained the opportunity to work with a U.S. company on a PC-based game called Arabian Lords. The game, which allows players to experience the early days of Islam as a merchant, quickly became the most popular game in the Middle East.
QuirKat has since continued its innovative work from its offices in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and Amman, Jordan. Outside of traditional PC gaming, the startup now focuses on developing games for platforms such as Facebook, mobile devices, and PlayStation 3. In 2013, QuirKat’s Pro Foosball game earned recognition as a Best Arcade Game finalist at the TIGA Games Industry Awards. Its other noteworthy games include Zonkt! and MENA Speed.
Based in Beirut, Lebanon, Game Cooks is one of the most prominent mobile game developers in the entire Middle East. Since its inception in 2011, the startup has created arcade-inspired games for both Android and iOS devices. Game Cooks began by releasing its shooting game Birdy Nam Nam, which garnered over 500,000 downloads. Now offering over a dozen titles, the company has amassed an impressive 4 million downloads on mobile gaming stores. However, Game Cooks is perhaps best known for creations such as Run for Peace and Déjà Vu, the latter of which skyrocketed to the number-one spot on global app stores after its debut.
In 2016, the startup expanded outside of mobile gaming and into the realm of virtual reality. With the development of its Oculus GearVR title, HOVR, Game Cooks is paving the way for further Middle Eastern innovation within this growing platform.
In 2008, Middle Eastern entrepreneurs Vince Ghossoub and Radwan Kasmiya established Falafel Games in an effort to introduce Arab topics into a gaming sector primarily filled with Western games. After publishing their first shooter game in Syria, the founders relocated their startup to China to enlist the help of distributors who could provide games to those living in the Middle East. Concurrent to this work, Falafel Games has partnered with a number of the region’s venture capital firms to create and deliver quality games to its customers.
As a result, the startup has gone on to become one of most popular game developers in the Middle East, offering the largest number of browser-based massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) out of any local developer. Two of their most popular creations, Under Siege and Quraish, incorporate Arab history into their content. Falafel Games has enabled more Arabs to participate in online social gaming that caters to their own needs and culture.
Located in the capital city of Doha, Qatar, Girnaas has become one of the country’s most prominent developers of multiplayer game titles. Since unveiling its first mobile application, the startup has gone on to create a number of popular titles for Android and iOS devices. Girnaas is known as the creator of Giddam, a colorful racing game that involves multi-player online play. During each race, competitors can collect various items that help them accumulate more points. Those who earn enough points receive a place atop the worldwide leader board. Filled with Arabic characters and settings, this game is specifically catered toward audiences in the Middle East. Girnaas has also created the game Go Fahed, which takes inspiration from the 2015 Qatar Men’s Handball World Championship.
In 2014, the founders at Gameguise launched their startup to much excitement from Middle Eastern gamers and news outlets alike. Operating out of the UAE, the company initially recognized a lack of video games that were accessible and that catered to Arabic audiences. Looking to diversify the existing portfolio of these games, Gameguise thus began the development of its own titles.
However, the startup also focuses a majority of its work in the area of partnerships with foreign developers who are looking to localize their games to the Middle East. As such, Gameguise has garnered diverse experience in transforming games so that they may better engage Arabic gamers. From providing simple translation services to creating entirely new game engines, the company can serve any of the needs of foreign developers. Among its list of partner MMO titles are games such as XS Software and Imperia Online. The company has also worked with Falafel Games on its title Seven Quests.