Sandsoft Games has been launched today. It’s “a video game publisher and developer dedicated to bringing entertainment experiences to MENA players,” which includes players from all countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Based in Saudi Arabia, the studio wants to offer games that correctly depict the region’s culture from the hands of global video game industry leaders, like Mo Fadl, the former head of global esports at Wargaming and head of publishing for Nordics at Riot Games.
Sandsoft Games’ main investor, the Ajlan & Bros Group, doesn’t have a history in the video games industry. It was founded in 1979 and is one of the biggest manufacturers of classic menswear, ready-made clothes, and winter clothes in Saudi Arabia.
The MENA game market has seen a 25-percent annual revenue growth, which is the fastest growth for video games globally and is set to triple in size to $4.4 billion by 2022. “But what I’ve often found is the region is an afterthought and products are only translated even though we know just how hungry MENA players are for new gaming experiences,” Fadl said.
One of the reasons for the growing market is the MENA’s population. The region’s population is close to 449 million, according to the World Bank, with two-thirds of the population under the age of 24 with a high purchasing power.
With a strong competitive culture, esports have thrived in the region. Sandsoft wants to integrate its local expertise and offer the culturalization of products to ensure games are launched in a way that will resonate with MENA players. To illustrate, Zynga, an American social game developer, acquired Turkish mobile gaming company Peak for $1.8 billion on June 1.
Ajlan & Bros recently formed Future Projects, a company dedicated to the modernization of the region and delivering unique entertainment experiences for MENA. “MENA is going through an incredible transition, with the region being modernized and video games will play a key role,” said Abdulaziz Alajlan, a board member for Sandsoft Games and the managing director of Ajlan & Bros.
Sandsoft will offer full publishing services across mobile, PC, and console, including user acquisition, marketing, event management, and localization. The team also has the unique ability to speak the same language as the MENA audience, which will help facilitate an identity with the games.
“Sandsoft is international and local, speaking the local language and development language, providing publishing services and access to the wider MENA infrastructure,” Fadl said. “That will allow products of all shapes and sizes to be culturalized, not just localized.”
The company also expects to have sped-up production while ensuring a high standard of quality for the games it launches since Sandsoft offers internal developers as part of its product team, ensuring developers speak to developers in their language.
Saudi Arabia has restrictions on content, however, such as the level of brutality in violent games. But Fadl doesn’t expect this to be a problem for the team’s vision of making games.
Sandsoft wants to promote diversity, “educating the wider world on the cultural and societal values of the region,” according to its announcement. “Publishing games that stay true to the region’s culture and allow the community to grow while also creating fun, positive experiences for MENA players.”
Sandsoft is recruiting employees on its website. The team has 24 employees now, and Fadl hopes to have 64 within the next month across three offices in Riyadh, Shanghai, and Dubai. “We want to create something that is endemic to the region,” Fadl said.
With over 16 years of publishing experience and roles at NCSoft, Blizzard, Riot, and Wargaming, Fadl said he grew up as a mixed German and Egyptian citizen in Germany and he often felt like an outcast. But online, he said people didn’t care who you were, only that you played games. “This changed my life personally, and I knew I wanted to join the game industry,” Fadl said.
The company has an office in Riyadh, but most people are working from home now. The initial titles will be mobile free-to-play games, but they won’t be “pay-to-win” games where the richest players can buy victories.
The plan is to not just make foreign titles feel like they were made for the region, but to make original titles conceived and created by Sandsoft developers. Perhaps American players can see a more diverse portfolio of game releases in the future, aside from mostly American and Japanese companies.