Ahmed Sharif, Sandsoft’s new chief technology officer, is a seasoned veteran in the gaming sphere.
Working with both hardware and software, Sharif was part of teams that developed virtual reality gaming as well as video game titles including Need for Speed and Pearl’s Peril.
Before joining Sandsoft, Ahmed noticed that some of the best people he worked with in the industry came from the Mena region.
“What I found mind-boggling was why isn't there something like a Microsoft, like an EA. Why is there nothing like this in the Middle East?,” he says.
This question set Sharif on a quest to become part of the region’s gaming growth.
Founded in 2020 and based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sandsoft is a gaming company focused on developing, publishing and investing in high quality games.
Saudi Arabia’s contribution for that growth potential is more than substantial. The kingdom’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy includes plans to develop 30 games and create about 40,000 jobs by 2030.
“Saudi Arabia is definitely pioneering as far as investment goes, which is the primary driver of growth,” Sharif says.
“I actually have a more intentional investment strategy behind gaming, especially mobile gaming.”
Mobile gaming is indeed very popular in Saudi Arabia.
UK-based research firm YouGov found that nearly three quarters of users opt for mobile phones when gaming because they offer convenience and portability.
“It's actually part of the reason why I decided to go in mobile gaming, despite I'd probably say 70 per cent of my career being in AAA gaming, because I see the most innovation occurring in the mobile space,” Sharif says.
AAA Games is a classification used in the gaming industry to denote high-budget, high-profile games that are produced and distributed by large video game publishers. Mobile games, on the other hand, are easier to produce, with smaller budgets and require less programming.
But mobile gaming presents a huge access point for gaming companies with just about everyone owning a mobile phone today, he adds. Phones themselves are also becoming more and more innovative and capable of delivering a top grade gaming experience.
Apple’s newest device, the iPhone 15 for example, boasts capabilities that even allows users to play AAA games such as Death Stranding and Resident Evil 4.
When asked about the region’s most favoured gaming genres, Sharif says that sports games such as EA FC are still dominant.
He also says that many gamers in the region enjoy problem solving and puzzle games due to their social aspect.
Sharif himself is a lifelong gamer. He credits games in the Legend of Zelda and God of War franchises as some of his personal favourites.
He says that with old age comes a larger focus on single player experiences rather than online multiplayer ones.
“As you get older and older, I think the time you can invest in very large-scale multiplayer games becomes more and more difficult,” he says.