Generation Start-up: Infinite8 banks on local talent to grow region's online gaming industry

Company’s SportMob app secured $1.2m in funding from UAE angel investor this year

Hamid Fathalian, chairman and founder of Infinite8 (right) with co-founder Farshad Khamisi at their office in Dubai Silicon Oasis. The duo see enormous potential for growth in the region's gaming industry. Pawan Singh / The National
Hamid Fathalian, chairman and founder of Infinite8 (right) with co-founder Farshad Khamisi at their office in Dubai Silicon Oasis. The duo see enormous potential for growth in the region's gaming industry. Pawan Singh / The National

Infinite8, a gaming and IT solutions company based in Dubai, is looking to develop localised apps and games to boost the region's growing online gaming industry in the region.

The start-up, which secured $1.2 million (Dh4.4m) of funding for its sports gaming and news app SportMob earlier this year, is now developing a number of online games with Arab values and culture to attract customers in the region.

“The gaming industry has been a neglected industry for so many years both in the UAE and Mena region,” says Hamid Fathalian, the founder of Infinite8.

Most of the big gaming companies focus on western culture but not on the Arab culture and the Middle East region.

Hamid Fathalian, Infinite8

“Non-UAE and non-GCC game developers [control] an almost full market share in this region. This was one of the main reasons that we started Infinite8 to address this need and develop localised apps and games by keeping the regional values and culture in mind.”

Mr Fathalian, from Germany, moved to the UAE in 2017 to start the company with co-founder Farshad Khamisi. The duo saw enormous potential for regional growth of the online gaming industry due to the high internet penetration rate and the large number of mobile phone users.

In the GCC, the e-gaming market is expected to be worth $821m (Dh3 billion) by 2021, almost $130m more than its value in 2017, according to consultancy Strategy&, which is part of the PwC Group.

Games created by international developers make up the lion’s share of the Gulf market. Worldwide, the gaming industry is worth $148.8bn, while the market in the Middle East and Africa is valued at about $4.8bn, just 3 per cent of the global value, according to a November report by market research firm Newzoo.

Mr Fathalian says he wants "to bring his 20-plus year's of experience" in the gaming, app and web development industry to the region "through localisation in line with UAE’s vision and diverse culture".

“There is enormous opportunity in this region," he says. "Most of the big gaming companies focus on western culture but not on the Arab culture and the Middle East region. Dubai is the best place to start to cater to the niche market.”

While the company was self-funded by the founders, its SportMob app secured an investment of $1.2m from a UAE-based angel investor earlier this year. The app offers live scores of football matches from across the globe with breaking news, videos, match details and profiles of 250,000 players.

With all football matches cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic, the company is now focusing on developing a cartoon series featuring top football stars to entertain users on its app. It also has a daily quiz related to football and a fun corner.

“We have set a goal to support and entertain our users, by keeping football live with our SportMob cartoon series. We have 250,000 users and the number is rising rapidly on the app,” says Mr Fathalian.

Top football stars that feature in the cartoon series including Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others. SportMob also offers its users video clips of matches, press conferences and daily quizzes.

The company generates revenue through advertisements and subscriptions for some of its cartoon series content. It also creates animations and games for UAE clients, for example, it created animations for Dubai police which were shared on Twitter.

Infinite8, which has a staff of 90 at its Dubai Silicon Oasis base, is now eyeing expansion in the Middle East and in Europe in the next two years, with plans to open offices in GCC countries and Egypt.

“Our plan is to have over 200 employees in the next two years and three to four offices in neighbouring countries and Europe," says Mr Fathalian. "We also plan to launch one new casual game on Facebook every two months.”

The entrepreneur says the start-up has five big competitors but none of them are focused on this region. However, regional players such as Beirut-based gaming studio Falafel Games and Amman-based Arabic mobile games publisher Tamatem Games have also started to gain traction by developing culturally relevant content in recent times.

“Most of our competitors are non-regional companies," says Mr Fathalian. "However, we are very mindful about our goals and our approach of specialising in our local market before competing globally.”

About 10 per cent of the company's users are from the UK while the remaining 90 per cent are from Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, he says.

"The market is huge for the gaming industry. There are many investors who are keen to invest.”

Q&A with Hamid Fathalian, the founder of Infinite8

Mr Fathalian says the company aims to become one of the UAE's key players in the gaming and sports entertainment industry. Pawan Singh / The National
Mr Fathalian says the company aims to become one of the UAE's key players in the gaming and sports entertainment industry. Pawan Singh / The National

What is your five-year vision for the company?

Our goal is to become one of the UAE's key players in the gaming and sports entertainment industry that has a lasting effect on the region.

What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching the company?

The most important skill gained was how to develop multicultural products by keeping the UAE and region's culture and values in mind.

What already successful start-up do you wish you have started?

Steam, the online gaming platform.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see myself as a business accelerator, an angel investor, providing support and mentorship to start-ups in the UAE and the region.

What is your mantra for success?

A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but because of its persistence.

Updated: May 12, 2020 04:58 AM

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