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MENA Month: Maysalward Games CEO Nour Khrais interview | Pocket Gamer.biz

Maysalward CEO Nour Khrais: "The Middle East games industry holds immense potential for innovation and investment"

This article is part of PocketGamer.biz’s MENA Month profiling games companies and the top trends from the region. You can also discover more about the market at the Dubai GameExpo Summit powered by Pocket Gamer Connects on May 1st and 2nd.

As the MENA region emerges as a key player in the global gaming landscape, we caught up with Maysalward CEO and founder Nour Khrais to discuss the company’s role in shaping the region’s gaming industry.

With over 20 years of experience – and also one of the most influential voices in the region – Khrais is optimistic about the untapped potential of the MENA market and the growing demand for locally-developed games. Maysalward is one of the largest publishers in Jordan, while the company also has a satellite office in the UK, situated in Leamington Spa.

In our exclusive interview, Khrais shares his insights on the evolution of the MENA gaming scene and offers a glimpse into Maysalward’s current endeavors and future prospects.

PocketGamer.biz: Please tell us a bit about Maysalward and what you’re up to right now.

Nour Khrais: Maysalward is a pioneering mobile game studio that has been at the forefront of the games industry in the Middle East and beyond since our establishment in 2003.

Our journey began with a vision to create captivating and innovative games that resonate with players worldwide, and over the years, we’ve stayed true to that mission. We’re currently focused on several exciting initiatives and projects that reflect our commitment to innovation, community engagement and social responsibility.

Firstly, we’re continuing to expand our portfolio of games, with a keen emphasis on leveraging emerging technologies and trends to deliver immersive gaming experiences.

Our recent releases, such as Sheikh El Koba card games, Dominoes Pro, Bounty Hunter, and Puffout have been met with enthusiastic reception from players, and we’re excited to build on that momentum. In addition to developing new games, we’re also dedicated to fostering talent and supporting the growth of the gaming community.

Through initiatives like the App Challenge, which empowers school students aged 14 to 16 in mobile game development, and our partnership with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development to manage capacity-building activities, we’re actively investing in the next generation of game creators and industry professionals.

Furthermore, our commitment to social responsibility is exemplified through our participation in initiatives like the #PlayApartTogether campaign with the World Health Organization, where we leverage our platform to promote public health and well-being, particularly during challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given your position as a key player in the Middle East gaming scene, what are you doing to foster collaboration and recruit local talent?

As a leading player in the Middle East gaming scene, we prioritise fostering collaboration and recruiting local talent at Maysalward.

To achieve this, we actively engage with local game developers, industry organisations, and educational institutions, participating in events and workshops to forge partnerships and share knowledge.

Our commitment to fostering collaboration and recruiting local talent is central to our goal of building a strong and sustainable gaming ecosystem in the Middle East.

Nour Khrais, Maysalward

We also collaborate with universities, providing students with hands-on experience and internship opportunities to prepare them for careers in the industry. Additionally, we prioritise diversity in our hiring practices and support research and innovation within academic institutions.

Our commitment to fostering collaboration and recruiting local talent is central to our goal of building a strong and sustainable gaming ecosystem in the Middle East.

How do you adapt your games to resonate with players in regions like the Middle East, Asia and Latin America to ensure a culturally relevant experience for players, and what insights have you gained from these markets?

Our focus on emerging markets in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America is driven by our commitment to delivering culturally relevant gaming experiences to players worldwide.

We understand the importance of adapting our games to resonate with the diverse preferences and cultural nuances of these regions, and we have developed strategies to ensure that our games provide an engaging and authentic experience for players.

From day one, we have embraced the concept of globalisation, where we look globally with our product and act locally, from game design to development.

This approach allows us to combine global best practices with localised content and features that cater to players’ specific needs and preferences in each region.

To adapt our games effectively, we extensively research the cultural norms, preferences, and trends prevalent in each target market. This includes analysing player behaviour, preferences, and feedback and collaborating with local experts and partners to gain insights into the cultural context.

Furthermore, we prioritise localisation efforts, including translating text, adapting imagery and symbols, and incorporating culturally relevant themes and references.

Ensuring that our games feel familiar and relatable to players in each region, enhancing their overall gaming experience. Through our experiences in these diverse markets, we have gained valuable insights into player behaviour, preferences, and market trends.

We have also learned the importance of flexibility and adaptability and the value of building solid relationships with local communities and partners. Our focus on localisation and our commitment to cultural relevance have enabled us to create games that resonate with players in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.

By combining global perspectives with local insights, we continue to deliver engaging and authentic gaming experiences that resonate with players worldwide.

You’ve seen significant growth and expansion, including opening an office in Leamington Spa, UK. What opportunities and challenges did you encounter while entering the European market?

Expanding into the European market, with our office in Leamington Spa, UK, has been an exhilarating yet demanding journey for Maysalward.

Accessing the UK’s skilled talent pool and vibrant gaming ecosystem in Leamington Spa was a significant opportunity. Despite setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, we’re swiftly regaining momentum in 2024.

Accessing the UK’s skilled talent pool and vibrant gaming ecosystem in Leamington Spa was a significant opportunity.

Nour Khrais, Maysalward

Entering Europe also gave us access to a large player base, but standing out amidst competition required offering unique games with innovative features. Navigating regulatory frameworks like GDPR and cultural nuances posed challenges.

We ensured our games were localised and met regional standards, focusing on key markets like France, Germany and the UK. As a self-funded company, market expansion is intricately linked to our financial growth from our games.

To overcome this limitation, we partnered with distribution partners and partners to help promote our games. Venturing into the European market has provided substantial growth opportunities despite the obstacles. We thrive by leveraging our strengths and adapting to the preferences of local audiences.

What do you see as the current opportunities and challenges facing the games industry in Jordan and the wider MENA region? And how do you see the region evolving in the coming years?

The Middle East gaming market, including Jordan, is a burgeoning industry characterised by rapid growth, driven by a youthful population, increasing smartphone penetration, and rising disposable incomes.

With over 500 million inhabitants and a significant portion under 30, the region presents a lucrative demographic for gaming content. Recent reports value the Middle East gaming market at over $4 billion, with projections indicating robust growth.

Particularly noteworthy is the exponential expansion of the mobile gaming sector, fueled by smartphone adoption and high-speed internet availability. Countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan are experiencing substantial investment in gaming, reflected in their revenue growth.

Jordan, in particular, plays a vital role in capacity building and innovation within the games industry, offering numerous programs to encourage young Jordanians to explore the sector from an early stage.

These initiatives not only cultivate local talent but also contribute to the overall growth and vibrancy of the industry. However, challenges such as limited internet infrastructure and regulatory complexities persist.

Nevertheless, the region’s cultural diversity provides fertile ground for localised content creation, further driving engagement and revenue.

With increasing smartphone usage, a young population, and growing governmental support, the Middle East games industry holds immense potential for innovation and investment.

50% of Maysalward leadership positions are held by women. What initiatives have you implemented to promote gender equality and inclusion within the games industry?

Maysalward is deeply committed to promoting gender equality and inclusion within the games industry through various initiatives and partnerships.

As one of the first companies to join the UN Women Empowerment signatories, we have taken concrete steps to advocate for women’s rights and empowerment. Our commitment is further demonstrated through initiatives like developing the game “We Rise” in partnership with UNWomen, which aims to engage the youth community in the MENA region in gender equality.

Moreover, in November 2020, Maysalward became an official member of the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) global list of signatories, further solidifying our dedication to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

At Maysalward, we believe in using games as a powerful tool to impact the world positively. By leveraging our expertise in game development and partnerships with organisations like UNWomen, we strive to create inclusive gaming experiences that champion gender equality and empower women.

Additionally, our commitment is reflected in our internal practices, with 50% of leadership positions held by women, showcasing our dedication to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

Through these initiatives and partnerships, Maysalward continues to drive positive change and advocate for gender equality within the games industry and beyond.

What are your plans for 2024? Are there any specific initiatives or projects on the horizon that we should look forward to?

In 2024, Maysalward is set to embark on an exciting journey of expansion and innovation, with ambitious plans to establish our presence in the Gulf region further.

We will focus on operational growth and capacity-building initiatives, particularly in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and beyond. Leveraging our extensive expertise and experience in the games industry, we aim to penetrate these markets more profoundly and solidify our position as a key player.

We will focus on operational growth and capacity-building initiatives, particularly in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and beyond.

Nour Khrais, Maysalward

To support our expansion efforts, we will adopt a strategic approach to product development, ensuring that we deliver top-notch gaming experiences that resonate with our target audience.

As a self-funded company, the success of our products will be pivotal in driving our expansion plans forward. Therefore, we remain committed to delivering exceptional gaming experiences that captivate players and foster engagement.

Additionally, we are dedicated to accelerating the growth of our operations in the UK to increase our market share in Europe and attract top talent to our company.

By strengthening our presence in the European market, we aim to capitalise on new opportunities and further diversify our portfolio. In parallel, we will continue our capacity-building programs in the Gulf region, aiming to nurture local talent, foster innovation, and contribute to the games industry’s overall growth.

We seek to create long-term value and opportunities for aspiring game developers and enthusiasts through these initiatives, ultimately enriching the local gaming ecosystem. We are excited to deliver exceptional gaming experiences, empower local talent, and positively impact the games industry and beyond.