Maysalward’s Nour Khrais: “There is always an opportunity in the MENA region” | Pocket

The mobile games industry now accounts for the largest portion of the gaming market, and thanks to the opening up of new markets there’s no sign of its growth slowing yet.

The MENA region is increasingly helping to propel mobile precedence even further, with more developers launching their games in the region.

Nour Khrais of Maysalward is a champion of the MENA market. Always ready to outline the region’s potential and how European developers, particularly indie studios, should not shy away from business there, his work recently won him our Mobile Legend award at this year’s Mobile Game Awards.

As we prepare for our next event in the region – Dubai Game Expo Summit, in just two weeks time – we caught up with Nour to find out what’s new and what the future holds both for himself, Maysalward and MENA. Whereabouts are you right now? UK or Jordan?

Nour Khrais: I just came back to Jordan. I have an office in Leamington Spa, so usually every month, I spend a week or two in Leamington Spa. Today, it feels that I am equally involved in the mobile gaming scene of the West Midlands as I am in Jordan.

How do you split your work between the UK and Jordan?

Maysalward Jordan is very focused on the casual side of the business, so we do casual games there. Maysalward UK is very focused on the hypercasual side. We have a very active gaming scene in Leamington Spa. We have Kwalee as neighbours.

We started out in 2017 fixing issues with UI and UX. Then we started to see the rise of hypercasual, so we jumped on that. I think the best bridge between Jordan and Europe is the UK, in terms of proximity and the mature scene of the UK. So I’m trying to connect a bridge between the scene in the UK and the scene in Jordan.

Do gamers differ between the two regions? Is one set of players looking for something different to the other?

I think that maybe 10 or 15 years ago, the maturity of mobile players in the region was not at the same level as European gamers in terms of UI, UX, experience and onboarding requirements. Today though, I think they are similar. The only difference comes from the culture outside of the gameplay or the game you’re offering them. So that’s the only difference between a player from the MENA region and someone outside of the region.

You can see from the top 10 games that Jordan has the same appetite for games.

Nour Khrais

I think we are very similar to Europe In terms of requirements, so Europe is far away from India, Asia and Latin America in terms of requirements, but we are very close to European requirements. You can see from the top 10 games that Jordan has the same appetite for games.

The main difference is in how a Middle Eastern player reflects his dissatisfaction! A European player might comment… Tell you about a bug they had… But they understand, hey, it’s a free-to-play game. They’re not paying anything. A Middle Eastern player who also hasn’t spent money to download the game could reflect their frustration furiously in case of a bug or an issue with the game. It’s worth noting that this outburst of anger is not aimed personally at the developer but instead is an indication of the player’s strong dedication to the game. We immerse ourselves more in the games.

What would a UK developer need to do to prepare their game for the Jordanian market? Are there difficulties in getting a game out in Jordan?

Well, Jordan is a very small market, so the only need is to have the cultural part of the marketing and live ops be localised or culturally analysed. The game can release fully in English. There’s no fear of having an English game in front of mobile gamers. But in the big markets, like Saudi Arabia and GCC countries, where the biggest chunk of revenues we get in the region, you need to talk their language.

There is always an opportunity for small studios and indie developers who have built good games in the MENA region. Places like Saudi Arabia are becoming a more accessible market. In the region, the only restrictions are mainly religion-related. Please refrain from mentioning prophets inappropriately; in addition, remember that gambling is prohibited. When I speak with a lot of indie developers from Europe, especially the UK, they always think that it’s a complicated market. Many developers block the MENA region in the store presence because they are worried about supporting their games. However, getting a local person who can help with the Arabic live ops is quite simple.

Good live ops is the key to making your life in the MENA region successful or not.

Nour Khrais

What is the most crucial part of success in the MENA market?

Good live ops is the key to making your life in the MENA region successful or not. In Jordan, we have two strong gaming publishers, both great at being a publisher and at live ops. They know how to speak the region’s language, and they have big teams who know how to handle the games and publish them correctly in the area.

Just to mention the Mobile Game Awards that recently took place, where you won the Mobile Legend award. What’s it like being a legend in the industry?

Honestly, it was a surprise. Chris James [Steel Media CEO] insisted that I attend this year. I thought I would be speaking about something or handing out a prize, so I didn’t expect to be winning an award! It’s really good after 20 years. It feels great for me personally, for my team and for the region.

Being the pioneer mobile game company in this region, we faced initial difficulties in convincing people that mobile video gaming is a serious industry with significant potential for growth. It was challenging to change their perception that mobile gaming is not just child’s play but a real business. However, we believe the culture was not yet ready 20 years ago. After 20 years, this is recognition for the region, a region that some of the big players have neglected. So winning the award was a really nice surprise.

Tell me about getting started in mobile. Why mobile gaming and not another platform?

Previously, I worked for a mobile technology company specializing in mobile value-added services and middleware technologies. I was in a meeting in France, and one of the guys from Finland was talking about storytelling in games. I wasn’t working in gaming at the time, but I raised my hand and spoke about game storytelling and how to bring it to small screens, and he asked me which gaming company I worked with. I told him I didn’t work in gaming, and he invited me to Helsinki for a week to see what the university does regarding research in their Media Lab. So I went to Helsinki and was introduced to the team, and it just clicked. I thought this was for me, I have to be in this industry. So I decided that when I had enough money, I would resign from my job and open my own studio.

And this is all pre-Apple App Store. You were working with network providers to deliver games?

And we were definitely making more money with the operators, that’s for sure! But they had less respect for our creativity. We didn’t know our users. We realized later that working with operators made our focus on revenue generation mainly, which caused us to lose touch with our users and hindered our game creativity. When the App Store came, it gave us the opportunity to challenge the big players. I preferred to be making less money but being able to explore our creativity. I still work with alternative stores and deliver to operators, but we’re not dependent on them, and that’s the change.

Maysalward’s Nour Khrais: “There is always an opportunity in the MENA region” | Pocket
Maysalward’s Nour Khrais addressing developers in 2022.

What was your big smartphone breakthrough title?

The biggest project we did was a game with Shaquille O’Neal. And we did Shaqdown Two with other celebrities, Mohammad Ali and Jet Li. It was the first time that Muhammad Ali tweeted in his life! He tweeted about the game, which was big news. That was the biggest collaboration that we did besides building our own IPs and collaborating with Zeptolab to introduce a localized version of Cut The Rope Two and Cut the rope magic to the MENA region.

How did you feel about Apple’s 30% cut at the time? Did you feel like that was fair?

Honestly, no. At the time, coming from a 50% operator cut and sometimes more to the 30% Apple cut sounded good at the beginning, but later I thought it was too much and greedy. Today, it’s good that developers with revenues less than $1M can apply for a 15% cut, but I think it should be the standard for all developers.

Tell me about your connection with the Jordan gaming lab

So, in 2010, I returned to Jordan to raise funds. We were a self-funded company until 2011 when we had our first round of angel investors. During that period, I had the opportunity to meet with the King Abdullah II Fund team, who were working on a project called the App Challenge. The King was interested in supporting young Jordanians to have a future in building mobile games. As the only gaming mobile company in the region, I was excited to hear about this opportunity.

My dream is to have more recognised IPs coming up from the region.

Nour Khrais

So to build more on this app challenge, I mentioned my experience at the Media Lab. People need to have a place to work together, engage with their ideas and collaborate. Under the direction of His Majesty, a fund was established to support and develop the Jordan Gaming Labs, a network of free-to-access training centres situated across Jordan. As of now, the labs are six in number, with a membership of over 10,000. Maysalward has been the technical partner for the initiative ever since its inception.

What’s happening for you right now, and what’s coming up?

We are expanding more into the GCC, so more local presence in GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. I am currently completing my doctoral thesis on the impact of culturalization and localisation on mobile game publishing and marketing in the MENA region. Hopefully, this year from a community perspective, I want to see more collaboration between Middle Eastern countries, so I’m working heavily with Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Lebanon. We are trying to have more international presence in the region. My dream is to have more recognised IPs coming up from the region.

Edited by Paige Cook

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