Stock UAE gaming
Once Farcana is launched, UAE could soon see the birth of the first high-budget game to be fully developed within the country. Image Credit: Farcana

Dubai: The UAE is fast emerging as a sought-after destination for gaming industry giants and start-ups, and could soon see the birth of the first high-budget game to be fully developed within the country. With investments of Dh 16 million and above, the UAE’s tech ecosystem, strategic location, and strong government backing have enticed top gaming companies and start-ups to establish their presence in the region.

This has led to a surge in job opportunities, economic growth, and the development of innovative games that cater to both regional and global audiences.

Take the Dubai-based Farcana gaming studio, for example. Farcana is an AAA game (a classification used within the video gaming industry to signify high-budget, high-profile games) developed on the blockchain ecosystem with battle royale mode.

Ilman Shazhaev, Founder and CEO of Farcana, set up his studio in Dubai a year ago. The game, currently in pre-production, could be one of the first AAA games to be fully develop in the UAE. Usually, gamers in the region play games set in the US, Europe, China and South Korea.

Designed with a solid eSport focus, Farcana transports players to a colonised Mars, where they engage in 4v4 PvP (a multiplayer interactive conflict within a game between human players) combat matches across various game modes.

“Last month, we conducted our first public playtest for gamers worldwide. We gave gamers the chance to compete for a Bitcoin-backed prize pool worth nearly $30,000, and we had over 30,000 gamers sign up for the event, and a few 1000 are playing the game… we also have a 40 per cent retention,” said Shazhaev.

We have 100,000 followers on Twitter and a fast-growing community. Most of our gamers are from the UAE, and we have many Middle East-based gaming influencers who played the game during the playtest.

- Ilman Shazhaev, Founder and CEO of Farcana Studios.

Talent recruitment wasn’t a challenge

According to the studio’s CEO, Shazhaev said he found recruiting game developers in the UAE easy. “I was able to hire top gaming professionals, one of whom has worked on 120 gaming titles in his 17-year career. I could recruit talented developers from Eastern Europe, Russia, and CIS nations, many of whom moved here after the Russia-Ukraine war,” he said.

About 20 per cent of his workforce is from the UAE. “Top gaming developers made the UAE their home, especially after they heard about the Middle Eastern governments investing heavily in the industry,” he added. The Chechen national moved to the UAE after a five-year stint in China. “This is my fifth company in four years. However, this is my first gaming venture,” said Shazhaev.

Stock UAE gaming
Last week, Farcana entered into a strategic agreement with Hong Kong-based Web3 industry firm Animoca Brands. The company will assist Farcana in optimising its tokenomics and Web3 go-to-market strategy.

He invested $16 million to build Faracana with help from an angel investor in Dubai and some venture capitalists from the USA. “The average AAA game costs about $15-$20 million and takes five years to develop. We are doing it for much lower here and have spent a year and a half developing it,” he said.

In comparison, Chinese gaming giant Tencent originally paid $400 million for a 93 per cent stake in Riot Games (developers of Valorant) in 2011, a year after the games developer released League of Legends. The company bought the remainder of Riot Games four years later for an undisclosed amount.

How are games classified?
In the gaming industry, informal classifications are sometimes used to categorise video games produced and distributed by a mid-sized or major publisher, which typically have higher development and marketing budgets than other tiers of games. A few game classifications include:

> AAA: This classification is used to signify high-budget, high-profile games that are typically produced and distributed by large, well-known publishers. These games often rank as ‘blockbusters’ due to their extreme popularity.

> AA: Mid-market video games that have some type of professional development though typically outside of the large first-party studios of the major developers.

> Indie game titles: Indie games or triple I (III) titles are created by independent developers without the financial and technical support of a large game publisher.

> AAA+: This may refer to a subset of AAA games that are the highest selling or have the highest production values.

The best is yet to come

And as far as AAA developers are concerned, Farcana won’t be the first one. AD Gaming, a collaborative effort of the Abu Dhabi government, commercial organisations, content creators, and gamers to showcase local content globally, has expanded its gaming ecosystem by welcoming MY.GAMES to Abu Dhabi. This makes it the latest multinational gaming business to select the emirate as its regional hub. It is headquartered in Amsterdam, MY.GAMES is a publisher and developer of mobile, PC, and console games, with over one billion registered users worldwide.

The Abu Dhabi-based team will work on the more than 70 games across the company’s portfolio, including genre-defining titles such as War Robots, Rush Royale, and Hustle Castle.

“As part of the move, MY.GAMES will also look to hire and develop local game developers, creating several jobs over the next five years. Additionally, the company will seek out opportunities with local partners to launch internship programmes, developing the next generation of game development talent,” said James Hartt, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Business Development at AD Gaming.

In Dubai, the DMCC (Dubai Multi-Commodities Cente) Gaming Centre is all set to advance the MENA region’s $1.8 billion gaming industry. Last year, DMCC partnered with the global VC firm Brinc to provide members access to $150 million in funding through their ZK Advancer and The Sandbox Metaverse accelerator programmes. Those programmes will also be open to DMCC Gaming Centre members developing games on blockchain and Web3 technologies.