Will Egypt Be Mideast's Video-Game Capital?

Egypt has launched its first “Egyptian Game Jam,” a center of excellence for video-game developers and producers, writes Nadia al-Dakrouri. Regional and international leaders in the industry have noticed the country’s potential in developing historically-themed games and anxiously await results. 

al-monitor A scene from the video game "FarCry 3."  Photo by REUTERS/Fred Prouser.

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Jun 13, 2012

Egyptian Game Jam is the first “Center of Excellence” for video game developers in Egypt. It is a product of the first “Forum for Video Game Developers” hosted by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which was attended by major international figures, notably Nordic Game Jam. During the forum, participants expressed their desire for the Egyptian Center of Excellence to become the cornerstone for video game development in the Middle East. The forum will pave the way for a favorable environment for this industry, thus keeping pace with the rapid developments in the world of video games. The Center is expected to enrich Egyptian and Arab markets in terms of video games and entertainment, and will help maintain Arab cultural presence in this field.

The first game jam between Egyptian video game developers included games that had deep implications, such as building pyramids, crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian resistance again the French campaign, the January 25 Revolution, and others, announced Engineer Heba Saleh, Chief Executive of the Information Technology Institute in Egypt. One hundred gaming ideas will be chosen in early July, giving developers the opportunity to train freely until August. Training will include two programs that cover game application development techniques, support for entrepreneurs in the video gaming industry, how to train and produce teams capable of competing at the global level. In October, the jury will select five ideas, and the developers of those ideas will receive an award, as well as the opportunity to market their ideas regionally.

The Egyptian Center of Excellence will also help enrich the Arab electronics market by adding game applications that are based on historical events in Egypt and the region, such as “The Battle of Hittites,” “Celebrations of the Luxor Temple,” “The Battle between Horus and Seth,” and many others. Dr. Fathi Saleh, President of the Center of Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage of Egypt, who displayed these scenes in Egyptian history, considered such themes to be at the core of the game developers’ ideas. He also said that contestants may use Pharaonic symbols, such as the beast “Ammit,” the demon in the Book of Death that devours sinful people. Saleh believes that developing video games with historical implications will combat Israeli attempts to distort Egypt’s history, in which they depict Israelis as the builders of the pyramids in their video games. Furthermore, Dr. Saleh believes that developing games in Egypt provides an opportunity to display the achievements of the Arab-Islamic civilization, and to introduce historical battles, such as the Battle of Yarmouk, Mu’tah, Hattin, Ajnadin, Ain Jalut and many others.

Saving the Flafus

Meanwhile, “Flafus,” a video game developed by an ITI student, was marketed on the sidelines of the forum. “The Flafus tries to save its children in 60 levels, each level not exceeding 50 seconds. This is the core idea of the Flafus game,” said Ahmed al-Desouqi, the game designer who plans to launch Flafus on the internet very soon. Desouqi emphasized the need to provide training courses for developers in Egypt’s video gaming industry in partnership with international companies. That way, Desouqi said, beginners would be able to overcome financial obstacles and properly manage their time, thus helping to create a real community for video game developers. ITI is expected to launch a website called “GamingEgypt.com” which will serve as a forum for the gaming development community in Egypt and the Middle East. The forum will be a space where games developers can meet, exchange expertise, be introduced to new techniques, and stay up to date on the developments within this industry at a global level.

In an interview with Al-Hayat, 25-year-old Tim Garbos, the Chairman of the Danish Organization of Young Game Developers, stressed the need for Egypt to establish a strong community of games developers, and to take advantage of their skills, which he noticed during the forum. Garbos, who is also a board member of the Danish Youth Association of Science, highlighted the international competition, Game Jam, which attracts approximately 10,000 game developers annually. The developers coming from several different countries, to compete for developing the best video game.

“I hope that Egypt’s first experience with organizing a local competition for video games developers will be successful,” said Garbos, a computer programmer who holds a BA in software technologies. Garbos urged Egypt to encourage young people to participate in the competition. The video games industry is considered a pillar of economic growth in many countries, given its effective role in providing job opportunities, developing digital technologies and consolidating competition in global markets.

In 2009, the video games industry was worth nearly $10.5 billion. This includes computer and cell phone company sales, as well as game applications via wireless networks, internet games and others. Their worth is projected to reach $70 billion by 2015.

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