Players set up to make GCC a hotbed for development

Get to know three games developers - Ubisoft, Girnaas and THQ - and their different fortunes setting up shop in the region.
Yannick Theler, the managing director of Ubisoft Abu Dhabi, says recruiting staff was his major challenge. Christopher Pike / The National
Yannick Theler, the managing director of Ubisoft Abu Dhabi, says recruiting staff was his major challenge. Christopher Pike / The National


Ubisoft, a French games developer, opened a studio in Abu Dhabi’s twofour54’s Park Rotana complex in late 2011. With a famous brand, a strong track record, pre-existing marketing, coding, and management expertise, Ubisoft did not face many of the obstacles facing other games manufacturers.

“Ubisoft had been looking at the Middle East since 2008. We knew that there was some raw programming knowledge with good universities in the region,” says Yannick Theler, the studio’s managing director, who was previously in charge of Ubisoft’s Shanghai outpost.

But recruiting staff is Mr Theler’s biggest challenge. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, because video-game specific jobs and expertise are not here. There is raw expertise like coding and art that can be crafted,” he says. The company has launched a vocation programme for would-be developers in conjunction with twofour54 – the Gaming Academy – which offers a 16-month training course and the possibility of a career at Ubisoft’s Abu Dhabi branch. But even on completing this course, graduates are not yet industry-ready, says Mr Theler. “It’s important to teach people subjects like game design – we took three students at the end of the intake. So it’s a channel of recruitment for us.” Ubisoft’s Abu Dhabi studio currently in May released its first game, CSI: Hidden Crimes, available in nine languages but has not yet been released in Arabic. Mr Theler says he is keen to do so, however, and that he is working with other Ubisoft studios to localise games in Arabic.


The Qatari games studio Girnaas was started by three postgraduate students, the telecoms and management student Munera Al Dosair, the coder Faraj Abdulla and the artist Ali Al Jaber.

Their flagship release, Gidaam, is a clone of Mario, which sees protagonists in Arab dress replace the famous Italian plumber. Girnaas found funding from the Qatari government, through an incubation scheme run by iCity Qatar. The trio submitted a business plan, and won 570,000 Qatari Riyals (Dh575,055).

The company then became the first in Qatar to launch a successful funding round on the crowdfunding website IndieGoGo – in one month the company raised US$250,000.

The company is now seeking an angel investor. “We’re not just looking for money specifically, but for partnership,” says Mr Al Dosari, now the company’s managing director. One of Gidaam’s characters in particular, a chubby, middle-aged woman named Umthahab, has proved popular, he adds.

The company aims to release a game centred on the adventures of Umthahab shortly.


The publisher THQ, in collaboration with the UAE’s Pluto Games, released a localised edition of Wall-E in 2008 to accompany the Pixar film of the same name.

It was the first western video game to be officially translated into Arabic. Despite being one of the first western publishers to enter the Arab-language games market, THQ quickly learned the necessity of cultural relevancy. Wall-E was unsuccessful, as it was marketed to Saudi Arabia, a country with just one cinema, says Howard Lee, the chief executive of Tahadi Games Media, which has offices across the region.

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Published: June 23, 2014 04:00 AM


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