Out of the many growing industries in Saudi Arabia, the gaming industry is accelerating at an unprecedented pace, with developers taking standards to the next level in an exciting new territory.
In 2020, the Saudi gaming market was estimated to be worth SR2.6 billion ($690 million), with various platforms being launched to give confidence to developers, entrepreneurs and investors so they can continue building the industry.
The Kingdom, home to 21.2 million gamers, has seen its gaming industry jump 4.1 percent this year, making it the world’s 19th-largest market.
Mohammad Waleed Hashim, a 30-year-old indie game developer, is currently producing a game the revolves around a player who needs to find his way through the deserts of Saudi Arabia, training herds of camels, befriending desert folk, fighting off predators and navigating the mysteries of the desert, just like his grandfather once did.
“The Shepherd” is set to be released soon on the Steam platform for $10 with no additional in-game purchases, a plan he says will allow gamers to enjoy it more.
Indie games are made by a small group of people, or in Hashim’s case, a single developer.
Apart from occasionally hiring freelancers for the art and design, Hashim said: “The game focuses more on the mechanics and the story and less on the graphical aspects.”
The developer said that the game was meant to be a small hobby, but it rolled into a bigger project and became the detailed product it is today. “The Arab touches were very important to me because I wanted something the players could relate to,” he said, adding: “I found a picture of my grandfather wearing traditional clothes and that’s where the inspiration for the character design started.”
Abdullah Bamashmoos, founder of Jeddah-based game development studio Hakawati, said games that allow children to build their own in-game worlds — such as Minecraft and Roblox — can influence young children to jump on the bandwagon.
“That opens the possibility of one day creating their own games in Saudi Arabia, the generation that grew up playing the games that enhanced their creativity are now learning to develop actual games,” said Bamashmoos.
The 31-year-old developer said that there were a small number of gaming studios a few years ago, so he could not pursue his passion for developing games right away. He faced opposition from his community when he started investing his time and money into development.
“What kept me going is that all crazy ideas start somewhere and although things like augmented reality were once believed to be science fiction stories, it became a profitable reality years later. So, I figured that the technology here in Saudi Arabia will advance far enough and I was able to foresee a future in what I was investing in.”
Bamashmoos said that his journey was one of trial and error: “I would create files, scavenge the internet for solutions to some of the software issues, delete files, and start from scratch.”
According to the developers, it is not just the software skills that aspiring developers need to work on, Bamashmoos said that they also need to work on their team-building abilities and finding efficient developers who are willing to work hard throughout the development stage of their games.
“Another thing that Saudi developers need to do is keep practising and learning additional talents so they can gradually progress in the industry.”
When the two developers started on their journeys over 10 years ago, the internet was not as rich with information as it is now, which has been a game-changer for developers.
They can now find a treasure trove of information for free or very low prices, which Bamashmoos said could ease the production pipeline.
“Developers in the country are also helpful since the community is small, the ones who are interested can get help from the professionals easily.”
Despite Hashim’s struggle with the industry, he is hoping to build a small gaming studio.
“I have so many ideas for more games after this one, seven to be precise. I look forward to hiring people who can work with me.”