Egypt Business Network

Egypt Business Network

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  • Dr. Nilgün Birgören
    Dr. Nilgün Birgören    Premium Member   Group moderator
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    **For the first time a video game developed by Egyptian coders makes it on the global scene**

    Choose your side in the battle of technology versus humanity.Manipulate your environment and kill your enemies with your choice of gunfire or telekinetic superpowers.Use your mind to rip objects from the environment and smash them in any direction.”

    CellFactor: Psychokinetic Wars, a downloadable videogame available for Xbox and PlayStation 3, made it to the XBOX Live Arcade (XBLA) top ten best selling list in June, one month after its release. Timeline Interactive, the company that developed the game, says it is the first studio in the Middle East to publish a top ten game on XBLA.

    Egypt has not been known for game development. Previous experiences were limited to a few modest attempts to Arab-ize established games or create simple games with an ancient Egyptian or Islamic theme. CellFactor, entirely core developed (including all of the coding, but not necessarily the design and testing) by an Egyptian team of five young coders at Timeline Interactive, shows the potential for Egyptian programmers to get involved in the global market, which some analysts value at $120 billion.

    CellFactor: The Beginning
    Prior to the founding of Timeline Interactive, the team worked with a company called Artificial Studios, designing a game engine — a software system designed to create video games — which was bought by Epic Games, the world’s largest video game engine developer, in 2005. Soon after the acquisition, the Egyptian team split from Artificial Studios and started Timeline Interactive to create games using the engine they had developed with Artificial Studios.

    Work began on CellFactor in 2005; game development starts with designing a game and implementing a prototype to make sure the ideas are technically workable. After validity is confirmed, artists, engineers and testers begin collaboration, marking the start of the production phase. “Game development is a very complex process that requires interaction with different kinds of data over different platforms,” says Yasser Rehan, a senior developer at Timeline Interactive.

    Engines handle a lot of these data types, providing tools that help the work flow and handle some of the requirements by game platform producers such as Microsoft and Sony. “Many of the features if implemented without an engine would stretch the time of production and would increase the budget substantially,” explains Rehan.

    Downloadable games also tend to be less complex and use somewhat simpler graphics. That, coupled with cheaper digital distribution, greatly reduces the costs associated with developing a new game.

    The first version of CellFactor was acquired by tech giant Nvidia, which wanted to use the game to showcase the power of its new PhysX card, a hardware accelerator for video games. The company started using the game as a tech demo for their hardware in 2007, says Ahmed Metwally, CEO of Timeline Interactive.

    Building on this tech demo, the Timeline Interactive team started looking for a publisher and a platform for their game, touring the world and giving presentations. Metwally says that while presentations in the industry are typically given by developers in shorts and flip-flops with a piece of paper, his company had a more professional approach. “We had a pitch, documents, a trailer and a demo. We had a clear business plan about the cost, the project’s time plan and even the release date.”

    After negotiations with several publishers, Timeline reached terms with the third largest game publisher in the world; Ubisoft. The next challenge was to find a platform for the game. In order to develop a PS3 or Xbox game, Timeline had to go through a complicated certification process. The company managed to get Xbox and PS3 certified and is currently the only certified company in the Middle East, according to the CEO.

    Core development of the game took place in Cairo over a period of a year and half, while graphics work was done by the Columbia-based company Immersion Games. Testing took place in India, Canada and Romania.

    The project was backed by Ideavelopers, an EFG Hermes subsidy that runs a LE 265-million technology development fund. Ahmed Gomaa, CEO of Ideavelopers, says that Timeline Interactive was one of his company’s choices. According to Gomaa, the fund, which owns 60% of Timeline Interactive, finances small and medium sized companies with a clear and a serious business plan that have the necessary human resources and potential to flourish.

    “I investsubstantiallyat an early stage, and I don’t have the funds to invest in large corporations,” says Gomaa.

    A Potential Industry?
    While the global videogame market is huge and growing, no studies have been conducted to measure the size of Egypt’s gaming industry. Gomaa thinks the Egyptian market is small and difficult to capture.

    “We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to the local market, but to release a game that anyone in the world can play and relate to,” he says. “Moreover, video game sales in Egypt are quite low. Most people play online or pirated games.”

    According to Rehan, the fastest growing field of games globally and in Egypt is Facebook gaming. “Also there’s a growing trend towards digital distribution. For example, Sony removed the optical drive from its portable console after it was released and is focusing their marketing and development toward the PlayStation Network Store, and Microsoft has added increased attention to its digital distribution network XBLA,” says Rehan.

    As a man whose job is to dig for hidden investment opportunities in the IT sector, Gomaa believes game development has a future in Egypt. “I’m optimistic about the future and the potential of having a game industry because things like this mushroom out. In a year, one company will become two and then two will become four and then ten,” he says.

    From the game’s release in June until late August, Timeline Interactive has earned $750,000 (LE 4.13 million) in revenue, but this is not all the money the game has made. Ubisoft, the game’s publisher, and Microsoft and Sony, the owner of the platforms that the game is using, all take a share of the revenue before it trickles down to the developer — in this case Timeline Interactive.

    According to Metwally, operation costs in Egypt are much cheaper than Europe and North America. Although not as cheap as India and China, Metwally thinks work here is of higher quality, so the end return of investment can be higher.

    “We never compare ourselves to China and India,” says Metwally. “The difference between us and India is that large studios outsource to India, but we are gearing up to become a large studio, working on our own game ideas. We are not in the outsourcing services business. We are building a unique and innovative studio.”

    Metwally says that “We for the first time in Egypt have our own intellectual property; we keep the [creative process] here instead of developing it for others.”

    Gomaa agrees with Metwally that Egypt’s niche is not solely in providing cheap labor: “In China and India they are told what to do, but we try to do the creative part here; the actual game, and then we can outsource some of the operations to China, India and other countries.”
  • Dr. Nilgün Birgören
    Dr. Nilgün Birgören    Premium Member   Group moderator
    The company name is only visible to registered members.
    The Arab online gaming market in the Middle East offers huge growth potential and a very exciting area fuelled by increasing broadband penetration in the region, top industry experts said.

    "Online gaming, which is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global interactive entertainment, is predicted to cross $13 billion (Dh47.7 billion) by 2011, which is around 15 per cent of the global video game industry.

    However, this sector is one of the fastest growing segments and expects Middle East to be in the top 10 by 2014," said Steve Tsao, CEO of Tahadi, which claims to be the first Arab online gaming company.

    The Dubai-based company, part of Jabbar Internet Group, is driving Massively Multimedia Online Role-Playing Gaming adoption and excitement among Arabic audiences by launching Crazy Kart and Runes of Magic in a language and content format that is culturally relevant.

    He said Crazy Kart is expected next month while Runes of Magic is expected to be released early next year.

    The games are free for users to download and play, thereby encouraging adoption whilst also creating a significant new opportunity for brand and product marketing to reach an expanding young, affluent and educated audience via in-game advertising.

    Networking specialist Cisco estimates that yearly traffic will increase at an average compound rate of 40 per cent to exceed two-thirds of a zettabyte (one sextillion bytes) within the next four years, with the Middle East and Africa region expected to post the fastest growth at 51 per cent. Internet gaming is projected to grow at an average compound rate of 39 per cent during the same period.

    "Given the region's mainly young population and aggressive investments into IT infrastructure, internet gaming has the potential to become a major income generator in this part of the world, said Muhannad Ebwini, General Manager of Saudi-based OneCard.

    Ebwini said the Arab gaming industry needs to explore opportunities and broaden its market so that it can keep pace with the exponential growth in global online gaming and eventually become one of the rapidly evolving industry's key markets as internet usage in the region has grown more than 1,300 per cent from the year 2000 with many users attracted to online gaming.

    Tahadi aims to launch three games every year — all for free — with an eye on generating revenue through in-game advertising and the optional purchase of virtual items in each individual game whilst at the same time contributing to the development of Arabic media content in an entertainment industry dominated by other languages and culture.

    "We are bringing the excitement of some of the world's best games to the Middle East and connecting players across the region in their native language," Steve said. He added that his firm's top market is Saudi Arabia, followed by other Gulf countries and Egypt.
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