Using YouTube as an Accelerant for Video Games

New York- When Dynamic Pixels, a small Russian game developer, decided to make a stealth horror video game about sneaking into an ominous neighbor’s house, it turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. The campaign for the game — called Hello Neighbor — flopped, earning less than $13,000 of its $100,000 fund-raising goal.

So Dynamic Pixels took a different approach. Last October, after teaming up with the publisher tinyBuild, it sent a demo version of Hello Neighbor to several thousand popular creators on YouTube and Twitch and invited them to make videos of themselves playing the game. If their viewers liked the game, they could download the demo for free as well.

Within a month of showing up on YouTube and Twitch, Hello Neighbor had earned back its budget through pre-orders and has since more than tripled that number. Even though the game’s final version does not go on sale for Xbox One and PCs until Aug. 29, people have already downloaded the demo versions more than 1 million times, and some YouTube videos of the game have earned tens of millions of views.

The results were “mind-boggling,” said Alex Nichiporchik, a producer of Hello Neighbor and chief executive of tinyBuild.

Hello Neighbor’s experience reflects the rise of video sites like YouTube as an accelerant for the video game business. Big-budget video game studios are courting popular YouTubers by sending them early review copies of games or paying them to make positive videos, and the impact can be even more significant for independent games with little money to spend on marketing.

YouTube, in particular, has a strong reach with younger audiences, who watch more than twice as much online video content as they do television. According to YouTube, hundreds of millions of people watch more than 246 billion minutes of videos about gaming on its service every month, with 70 percent of the viewers younger than 34.

For some video game developers, the goal is to gain the attention of someone like Felix Kjellberg, a Swede better known by his YouTube alias PewDiePie, whose channel has more than 56 million subscribers. Earlier this year, Mr. Kjellberg was embroiled in a controversy over posting anti-Semitic videos, but he is still regarded as so influential that developers sometimes refer to his impact as “the PewDiePie Effect.”

Ryan Clark, who designed an independent video game called Crypt of the Necrodancer, experienced that effect firsthand. After a glowing PewDiePie video about the game in 2015, Crypt of the Necrodancer saw an immediate $60,000 increase in sales. Factoring in the halo effect of the PewDiePie video, Mr. Clark estimated the total value of the video at more than $100,000.

In 2013, attention from PewDiePie and other YouTubers also helped Surgeon Simulator, a game made by the London-based Bossa Studios, become a global phenomenon that has sold more than 3.5 million copies.

“It’s something that has become really important to how we think about how we market our games going forward,” Tracey McGarrigan, the chief marketing officer of Bossa Studios, said of YouTube.

But some game developers warn that YouTube exposure is not a magic bullet that translates into sales, even if millions of people are watching.

When Lurking, a horror game made by four students in Singapore, caught the attention of PewDiePie and Markiplier, another well-known YouTube personality, their videos amassed more than 7 million views. But the results were marginal; one video about the game with 1.5 million views spurred only 8,000 downloads, even though Lurking was free.

Justin Ng, one of the creators of Lurking, said that when YouTubers make videos featuring a complete play-through of a game, it can potentially hurt sales, especially if the game is focused on a linear story.

Play-throughs can “spoil the narrative experience,” Mr. Ng said. “The game mechanics need to seem interesting enough for me to want to experience it for myself and not vicariously.”

While top-tier YouTube influencers can help put a game in front of tens of millions of eyes, their celebrity can also be a double-edged sword when fans are more interested in watching the player than buying the game.

What really drives sales, some developers said, is not just one-and-done attention from the most popular YouTubers, but creating communities of broader support from other content creators who are devoted to the game — and whose audiences are as well.

In some cases, smaller YouTube channels that focus on specific games can grow alongside them, creating positive attention and community for both. For example, Mr. Nichiporchik said he has seen some YouTubers who had 5,000 subscribers grow that to 200,000 subscribers over the course of playing Hello Neighbor.

“That’s a good lesson for a lot of indie developers: Don’t always go for the top-tier guys,” said Brendan Greene, creator of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a battle royale-style multiplayer survival game. “Go for the midlevel guys who are looking for something to get behind.”

He added, “If you find those people, they will walk through fire to help you out and it’s a great thing to have.”

Mr. Greene, who spent years cultivating relationships with video game streamers, knew he wanted to get the streamers involved before releasing Battlegrounds this year. So over the course of a few months, his team interviewed top streamers of other battle royale games to hear what they wanted to play. Later, as a sweetener, Mr. Greene offered some streamers their own server computers where they could host customized versions of Battlegrounds for other players to try out.

The moves worked. After a preliminary “early access” version of Battlegrounds went on sale in March, it sold more than 6 million copies in four months.

“I owe a large part of my success to streamers,” Mr. Greene said. “I wouldn’t be here today making my own game without the support of the content creator community.”

Dynamic Pixels and tinyBuild have also worked to keep the Hello Neighbor community that was fostered by YouTube and Twitch viewers engaged. They have regularly offered updated demos of the game to customers who pre-ordered it, for instance. And when the game’s final version becomes available at the end of the month, it will allow players to enter the one room that they could not reach before: the basement.

“People get really into the game trying to figure out exactly what is in the basement,” Mr. Nichiporchik said. “That creates a community effect that makes people want to participate, and participating means playing.”

The New York Times

Video Games Market Exceeds $100 Billion in Revenues


London – The revenues generated from the video games market exceeded the $100 billion barrier last year as the industry is now three times more profitable than the movie industry worldwide, said a research study published by “Atomico”. The report also expected the spending in the gaming industry to grow at an annual rate of 7 percent to hit $129 billion in 2020.

China, meanwhile, became the undisputed gamer capital of the world with over 600 million gamers in the country. Analysts attribute this increase to the large population, as well as other factors like internet, smartphones and increased interest in entertainment expenditure.

Analysts believe that based on this data, the entertainment sector in China has entered the golden era. Due to the increased interest in online shopping and games, smartphone users exceeded 700 million in 2016.

China takes 24 percent of the market value with $24.6 billion exceeding the US $24.1 billion, Europe $20.3 billion and Japan $12.5 billion. Saudi Arabia was among the top 20 countries with $647 million in revenues.

Thomas Chong, an analyst at “BOC International”, estimates that the video game, “Honor of Kings” will contribute to more than 50 percent of Tencent’s smartphone game revenues this year, recording a monthly gross revenue of 2.8 billion to 3 billion yuan in April.

China is somewhat a closed market for the foreign companies, according to complaints from US and European companies. They attribute the difficulty to penetrate this market to the language barrier and the need for a local agent.

Powered by mobile phone games, gaming industry revenue is set to grow at 6 percent CAGR to hit $129 billion in 2020. Mobile games reached 38 percent of the total revenues. They seem to continue on being a very appealing way to pass the time and the experiences they can offer are just getting better and better.

Net revenue generated by games on iOS App Store has grown eight times between 2012 and 2016 to hit $18 billion in 2016. This was underpinned by a huge expansion of spend in China. While regions such as Europe (three times) and the US (five times) have grown rapidly, the pace of growth is dramatically outstripped by the expansion of the Chinese market, which grew 72 times between 2012 and 2016.

The market share of European games publishing companies on iOS App Store in China has grown from 2.5 to 4.6 percent between 2014 and 2016, but thanks to the rapid growth in value of the Chinese market from $1.1 billion to $5.5 billion over this period, this is actually the equivalent of an increase in net revenues earned in China on the iOS App Store, according to the report.

In 2016, 93 percent of all revenue from iOS games in China was generated by games belonging to China-based game companies.

In related news, a report issued by “Chartboost” stated that women make up 62 percent of the mobile games market in the US.

The study, in partnership with Newzoo and TapFwd, analyzed a sample of over 64 million devices in Chartboost’s network in the US across Google Play and iOS.

The report suggested that the audience for mobile games is mostly women over the age of 25, and the biggest segment across both genders was ages 35 to 44, which makes up 27.33 percent of the mobile gaming audience.

The age group of 25 to 34 made up 18.42 percent, while the 45 to 54 segment represented 18.31 percent of mobile games players.

Much of the mobile games audience is made up of people from high income households, earning more than $50,000 a year, 60 percent in fact, according to the report.

Chartboost claimed that the top mobile games can attract bigger daily active audiences than the top US ad-supported TV networks. Games like “Draw Something”, “Candy Crush Saga” and “Pokemon GO” all had better daily peak active users than the daily average prime time views of “CBS”, “NBC”, “ABC” and “FOX”.

Overall, 69 percent of mobile phone owners play games at least once a month.

Gamer’s Death Pushes Risks of Live Streaming Into View

Joe Marino, a video game player who has more than 40,000 followers on Twitch, wrote of his own health problems after another game streamer died.

Early on Feb. 19, Brian C. Vigneault was nearing the end of a 24-hour marathon of live streaming himself playing the tank warfare video game World of Tanks when he left his computer to buy a pack of cigarettes. He never returned.

During the break, Mr. Vigneault died in his Virginia Beach, Va., home. The medical examiner’s office in Norfolk, Va., said that Mr. Vigneault’s cause of death had not yet been determined. There was no indication of foul play, according to the police in Virginia Beach.

But Mr. Vigneault’s friends wonder if the lengthy live streaming on Twitch, a website owned by Amazon that lets people broadcast themselves playing games, may not have helped. At the time of his death, Mr. Vigneault, 35, had streamed for 22 hours straight to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Two of his friends said that he often broadcast his game playing for long periods.

“He was looking really tired on the stream,” said Jessica Gebauer, a live streamer and a friend of Mr. Vigneault’s. “We were telling him, ‘Just to go to bed. It’s not a big deal. Nobody’s going to worry about it.’”

Calls to phone numbers registered under the names of Mr. Vigneault and his family members were not returned, and messages left were not answered. Ms. Gebauer said Mr. Vigneault’s family did not want to comment.

Mr. Vigneault’s death followed reports of other players dying during or after lengthy gaming sessions in Taiwan and South Korea, intensifying a discussion about the health risks of a streaming culture that rewards people for staying online for long periods. At least one video game streamer has blamed long bouts of live streaming for his emergency heart surgery, and others have written about the potential dangers of playing for hours on end.

Live streaming of video game playing has become popular in recent years. The activity has taken center stage on sites like YouTube and Twitch, which has nearly 10 million daily visitors. Professional game streamers, who often combine the prowess of an elite player with the patter of a talk radio disc jockey, can sometimes make a living off these sites through advertising, subscriptions and other revenue sources.

Yet would-be professional streamers typically endure a relentless grind to build an audience. Anytime they leave their computers, they risk having followers peel away to another channel. The resulting lifestyle is often unhealthy, requiring long sedentary periods with little sleep. Some gamers are fueled by junk food, caffeine and alcohol.

The streaming lifestyle, like that of some other stationary professions, “intuitively and medically seems such an unwise way to spend one’s years,” said Dr. James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic who studies obesity and is the author of “Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It.” The upshot may be health problems including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, he said.

Twitch’s community guidelines bar destructive behavior, without directly addressing what some perceive as excessively long periods of playing. In an email, a Twitch spokesman said of Mr. Vigneault that “we are greatly saddened about the passing of one of the Twitch community.”

Wargaming, the company that makes World of Tanks, wrote in an email that it was “saddened to hear of the loss of streamer and tanker Brian Vigneault.”

Ben Bowman, 30, a professional Twitch streamer with more than 579,000 followers, published an article on the video game website Polygon in January about the pressure to stream constantly, which he said in an interview could lead to exhaustion, high cholesterol and heart problems. He said he had developed a herniated disk from sitting for hours each day with no breaks because he wanted to attract the biggest audience possible on Twitch.

“As a business thing, doing a 24-hour stream allows you to stretch the widest net,” Mr. Bowman said. “There’s a cultural understanding that you have to be on eight to 12 hours a day with no breaks. I used my channel like that and that took a really massive toll on me.”

Soon after Mr. Vigneault’s death, Joe Marino, 45, who has more than 40,000 followers on Twitch, wrote an article on Medium about the emergency heart surgery he had in 2015. In an interview, he said his relentless streaming schedule — at least seven or eight hours a day, seven days a week — led to the surgery, an experience from which he is still recovering.

“Right now, I’m sitting here and I’ve got massive pain in my chest” he said. “And that’s always going to be there.”

Mr. Marino said he had since dialed back his streaming to focus on photography.

“This part of my life is kind of closing off,” he said.

Other game streamers have found a way to sustain a large following and a healthy lifestyle. Rob Garcia, who has streamed the widely popular multiplayer fantasy game World of Warcraft on Twitch for six years and has more than 532,000 followers, said he regularly broadcast for 17 hours a day up to seven days a week at his peak in 2011.

“People were loving it. They were like, ‘This guy never goes offline,’” Mr. Garcia said. “It became really bad for me.”

Mr. Garcia, 36, said his weight had ballooned to 420 pounds from around 280 pounds. He resolved to change things in 2011 after he could no longer walk for 15 minutes without losing his breath. Late that year, he started a strict diet and exercise program that helped reduce his weight to around 250 pounds by 2015. He now works out with a trainer four times a week and often takes days and evenings off.

“There was a point in my streaming where I lost a lot of my viewers because I wasn’t binge eating and binge drinking — they like to see the extreme stuff,” Mr. Garcia said. “But my core viewers stuck around, and for them, it was amazing.”

For Jackson Bliton, 27, who also streams World of Warcraft and has more than 315,000 followers, fitness is now a selling point. Mr. Bliton is a serious bodybuilder and gamer, and live streams both his workouts and fantasy battles.

He said that his workouts draw the same number of viewers as when he plays a game other than World of Warcraft, around half his usual 1,000 to 2,000 concurrent viewers.

Perhaps, Mr. Bliton added, the best way for live streamers to lead healthier lives would be to change their focus from rapid audience growth to longevity.

“A 24-hour marathon to me is more like a sprint,” he said. “The marathon for me is doing this consistently for years at a time.”

(The New York Times)

Coming to Video Games Near You: Depressed Towns, Dead-End Characters

The new Night in the Woods is one of several video games in recent years to deal with the decline of working-class towns and a dismal economy.

In the coming video game Night in the Woods, a young woman named Mae decides to drop out of college and return to the former mining town where she grew up. It’s a place where there is little opportunity and most people are struggling to make ends meet.

Mae, who is an anthropomorphic cat, drinks too much, shoplifts and likes to break things in parking lots with baseball bats. As she meanders through the fictional town of Possum Springs, players of the game are confronted not only with her memories but also the sense of a place whose better times are behind it.

“I grew up in central Pennsylvania, and my town was a steel town,” said Bethany Hockenberry, one of the three independent game developers behind Night in the Woods, which is being released for personal computers and PlayStation 4 on Feb. 21. Alongside Scott Benson and Alec Holowka, Ms. Hockenberry drew on her hometown experience to create a game with an aesthetic that the developers describe as “Rust Belt Gothic.”

Night in the Woods is one of several video games in recent years that tapped into themes that came to the fore during last year’s presidential election campaign: the decline of working-class towns and what it feels like to be crushed by debt or left behind by the economy. In the games, players explore what it means to be in those situations through role-playing and storytelling, in contrast to the shoot-’em-up and sports titles that dominate the games industry.

Night in the Woods gets part of its inspiration from Kentucky Route Zero, a continuing and episodic PC adventure game from the independent studio Cardboard Computer. That game, which debuted in 2012 and whose most recent episode was released last year, follows an aging deliveryman named Conway as he travels the back roads of Kentucky in search of a secret highway that will allow him to make his final delivery.

Last year, a game called Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor imagined the daily grind of a trash collector living hand-to-mouth on the fringes of an alien society. And Cart Life, which was released in 2011, takes a hard look at the poverty line by simulating the stressful and precarious life of a food-cart vendor.

These games do not aim to make players feel successful and powerful as conventional video games do, and instead challenge people to look at the world in a different way. Creators of the games said they were more interested in showing the complicated lives of the people and places the world has left behind, as well as the economic realities that inevitably circumscribe their stories.

“We want to create stories and mythologies about the places we’re from and the people we know, and that includes addressing the economics of it,” said Mr. Benson, one of the Night in the Woods developers. “If you don’t, I think you’re not getting the whole picture.”

Some of the games have been critically acclaimed. Kentucky Route Zero won the best narrative award at the Game Developers Conference last year, while Cart Life took home the grand prize at the Independent Game Festival in 2013. Sales of these games do not come close to those of matching blockbuster titles, though they can still sell in the hundreds of thousands. Kentucky Route Zero, for instance, has sold around 250,000 copies.

Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy, who created Kentucky Route Zero, began making the game in 2010 when the country was still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing bubble. Mr. Elliott said the feelings of frailty that emerged from those times, along with the rise of esoteric financial concepts like “shadow banking,” helped inspire the game.

“When we started working on the game, I was thinking about exploring the mystery of that relationship, of being a person in a precarious financial situation and trying to grapple with these forces that seem almost supernatural,” Mr. Elliott said.

In Kentucky Route Zero, the two developers mixed together magical realism with the everyday financial difficulties that people were encountering. Players find not just foreclosed houses and abandoned mines, but also giant eagles, ghostly mathematicians and tugboats powered by mechanical mammoths.

Conway, the game’s main character, is put through numerous tough situations that evoke economic despair. In one scene, after he suffers a serious injury, his leg is replaced by a gleaming skeletal prosthetic, and he is vaguely informed that he owes money to a corporation. In another, he descends into a subterranean whiskey distillery staffed by animated skeletons, whom he learns are doomed to toil endlessly for debts they can never repay.

With one more installment of the game to come, Mr. Elliott said he was thrown by the presidential election and the backlash of racism and xenophobia that accompanied it. He wondered how to incorporate that into a story that reflects contemporary working-class life. Although there had been subtle references to racial inequality in the game before, he and Mr. Kemenczy now plan to make them more evident.

“I don’t know that it’s responsible to continue to treat it as though it’s simmering under the surface anymore,” Mr. Elliott said.

Still, these games are not all doom and gloom. Night in the Woods game is leavened by its cartoony aesthetic and the animal characters. At times, it can be downright cheerful, as Mae bounds through the streets of Possum Springs throwing colorful autumn leaves into the air.

“People want to typify the Rust Belt as the most depressing, dead place,” said Mr. Benson, who is based in Pittsburgh. “But there are people who live their lives happily here, too. No matter where you are, you’ve run down your street kicking up leaves.”

(The New York Times)

Virtual Reality’s Possibilities Lure Video Game Developers


Phil Fish, an independent video game developer who made the hit game Fez, quit the business in 2014 after burning out and becoming fed up with the gaming industry’s sometimes corrosive culture.

Now he’s back, lured by the promise of a long-anticipated technology: virtual reality.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 10 years old,” Mr. Fish, 31, said from his office in Austin, Tex. “I just got really excited about the realization of the dream of V.R.”

Mr. Fish is part of a four-person collective called Kokoromi that is poised next month to release a virtual reality game called Superhypercube.

The object of the Tetris-like puzzle game, set in a red-tinged world of incandescent tubes and gleaming neon, is to rotate a cluster of blocks so that they fit perfectly through the corresponding hole in a rapidly approaching wall. All the while, players are suffused in 360 degrees of shimmering colors and must physically lean to peer around the blocks and align them in the 3-D space.

Mr. Fish’s enthusiasm for virtual reality is being echoed by others in the video game business — in some cases pushing retired game developers to return and inspiring others with its creative potential — even as many hurdles remain to virtual reality’s entry into the mainstream.

Paul Bettner, co-creator of the popular mobile game Words With Friends, has called virtual reality “the most important thing to happen to interactive entertainment in decades.” This year, he designed a virtual reality game called Lucky’s Tale.

The creators behind the blockbuster 1993 computer game Myst recently came out with a spiritual successor called Obduction, which was released for both virtual reality devices and standard computers.

What makes virtual reality so potent is not only how it envelops players in a 360-degree visual experience, but also how it uses 3-D lenses, immersive audio and head-tracking technology to create a profound sense of physical presence that developers are just beginning to explore.

“We always wanted to build places and worlds, not just games, and V.R. just does that — it makes you feel like you’re in another place without even trying,” said Rand Miller, a co-designer of Myst and the designer of Obduction.

The interest in making virtual reality games follows the introduction of several virtual reality headsets over the last year. On Oct. 13, Sony plans to release PlayStation VR, a $399 virtual reality headset that can connect to the company’s popular PlayStation 4 console, which has sold more than 40 million units.

PlayStation VR is cheaper than other virtual reality goggles, like the $599 Oculus Rift and $799 HTC Vive, which also require expensive computers. That makes PlayStation VR one of the industry’s better chances at establishing a foothold with a mainstream audience. Superhypercube is one of the introductory games for the headset and will be available to download for $29.99.

Yet these developers are betting on an unproved technology. Some critics remain unconvinced that virtual reality devices will become mainstream consumer products, given the cost, the potential to induce nausea in some people and the sky-high expectations for the technology.

This month, Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, said he believed that augmented reality — in which the digital world is overlaid on the physical one — had more consumer appeal than virtual reality, which he said would ultimately attract “lower commercial interest over time.”

That does not faze Mr. Fish, who started making video games in 2005 with the games developer Ubisoft. In 2008, he formed a studio, Polytron Corporation, which developed Fez, a game featuring a two-dimensional character who discovers that he lives in a 3-D world. It sold more than a million copies for consoles and PCs.

Mr. Fish has come and gone from the video game industry more than once, leaving in 2013 and returning in 2014 — only to depart again. All the while, he remained connected to Kokoromi, which he formed in 2006 with two other developers, Heather Kelley and Damien Di Fede, later joined by Cindy Poremba. They had originally met in Montreal, sharing a mutual interest in experimental games.

Together, they developed Superhypercube for a 3-D-themed creative event in 2008. At the time, the game was more of an interactive art installation than a commercial product. Since there were no virtual reality headsets then with the necessary capabilities, they made their own with a Nintendo Wii Remote controller, stereoscopic LED glasses and hot glue.

Although early versions of Superhypercube could be played at large parties and gaming events, there was no way to play it at home without building a do-it-yourself virtual reality headset. When the makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles raised more than $2.4 million on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter in 2012, the members of Kokoromi realized that virtual reality technology was finally catching up to them.

As other headsets were announced, it started to seem obvious that a newer, more polished version of Superhypercube could be made for a broad audience.

“We had years of prototyping and play-testing data, because we were foolish enough to make a V.R. game with hot glue and plastic 3-D glasses,” Ms. Poremba said. “It’s an advantage that very few other people had bringing games into V.R.”

Adapting Superhypercube for PlayStation VR gave Mr. Fish and Kokoromi the opportunity to fine-tune the game, experimenting with how to design elements like menus in 3-D and refining colors and lighting.

Today, the visuals of Superhypercube evoke the retro-futuristic feel of films like “Tron” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with their varicolored tunnels and neon lines slicing through the darkness. “We’re referencing this aesthetic history as if it were real, and making it real at the same time,” Ms. Kelley said.

Although virtual reality’s commercial future is uncertain, Kokoromi remains more interested in the creative possibilities.

PlayStation VR “could sell 100,000 units or it could sell 10 million units; we don’t know,” Mr. Fish said. “But it’s superexciting. It’s the Wild West right now. Everything’s a discovery, everything has to be reinvented and reconsidered.”

New York Times

Fight Israeli occupation in game Ramzi’s Rumble

Image of gameplay taken from Ramzi's Rumble. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Image of gameplay taken from Ramzi’s Rumble. (Courtesy of Ramzi’s Rumble)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Want to fight Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory? Pretty soon, you’ll be able to do just that in Ramzi’s Rumble, a forthcoming Indie game that puts the player in the shoes of a young Palestinian who has to defend his land from illegal settlers. Throwing stones at construction workers and jumping over charging soldiers, young Ramzi tries to do everything in his power to stop illegal settlement building.

Ramzi’s Rumble, created by London-based game developers Paolo Carvajal and Vinay Chaudhri, passed its Kickstarter goal just one day after the Palestinians’ submitted a historic draft resolution to the UN Security Council setting a 2017 deadline for the end of Israel occupation.

“Like most people in the world, and like most of the members of the UN, we support an independent Palestinian state. The people of Palestine deserve the recognition and protection of the international community. The sooner the better,” game designer Paulo Carvajal told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We haven’t discussed how a potential recognition [of the state of Palestine] will affect the game. We just hope that the Palestinian people get what they deserve and what was promised to them by the international community decades ago,” he added.

Carvajal said that one of the main reasons for deciding to develop a game featuring an Arab protagonist was due to frustration over the lack of positive Arab or Muslim characters in Western media, particularly games and movies.

“We were basically fed up with the stereotype of the Arab as a terrorist and wanted to create an Arab hero. Someone young Arab kids could aspire to. But also to present Westerners with the unknown concept of an ‘Arab hero’. We notice it makes them very uncomfortable if Arabs are not being portrayed as villains or victims,” he said.

Ramzi, wearing a 2-dimensional 64-bit keffiyah, is introduced as a “Palestinian kid who will not accept injustice, even if it means taking on a Goliath. This boy is willing to face any army to reclaim his home” according to the game’s official website. His greatest strength? His aim. The game features just three other characters: soldier, builder and settler. The Israeli soldier is dismissed as “not as tough as he looks” and “compensates stupidity with determination,” while the settlers—who increase in number if Ramzi’s aim is off—are “stubborn as a donkey.”

As for criticism that the game portrays the Israelis as villains, Carvajal told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Ramzi’s Rumble is our way of criticizing the construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestine. It is not against Israel, or Israelis or Jews. The game draws attention to a policy that is being rejected by the UN, the EU, the US and I believe on some occasions even by the Supreme Court of Israel.”

However Ramzi’s Rumble is just the first step in a “master plan” by Chaudhri and Carvajal, not just to help raise awareness of the Palestinian cause and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, but to grow it into an online platform that can raise funds structurally for the Palestinians.

“With the raised money we want to give Palestinian kids the knowledge and hardware to develop and produce their own games. And to eventually create and become amazing stereotypes that the West can no longer ignore,” the game makers say. Once the game is produced, it will be available for download for free, but any advertising revenue generated from the game will be used to buy computers and software for Palestinian children. “Teach them how to write code and how to develop apps and games. Now they can build their own future, develop their own games with Arab heroes.”

Carvajal told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Yes, Ramzi’s Rumble is provocative . . .But I honestly believe the game is very peaceful. Far more peaceful than anything we have seen from Hollywood and the many games that glorify the War on Terror. In Ramzi’s Rumble, nobody dies. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody is being blown up. In that sense, it is much more respectful to human life than any other game that takes place in the Middle East. Because little Ramzi does not want war. He just wants his home back.”

Saudi parents—and children—are opting for toys that teach

"Siege," an award-winning Spanish game and one of a recent string of additions to the Saudi toy market aimed at boosting children's problem-solving and creative abilities. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
"Siege," an award-winning Spanish game and one of a recent string of additions to the Saudi toy market aimed at boosting children's problem-solving and creative abilities. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
“Siege,” an award-winning Spanish game and one of a recent string of additions to the Saudi toy market aimed at boosting children’s problem-solving and creative abilities. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A new trend has emerged in the children’s toy market in Saudi Arabia. Parents are increasingly choosing toys that claim to develop their children’s intelligence and creativity. Asharq al-Awsat spoke to several people working in the industry, who say there is now a general trend toward these products, with a string of shops specializing in educational toys now opening across the country.

At one such outlet, the Durar Al-Huda toyshop, sales and marketing manager Mohamed Khabbaz said that having monitored the market for some time the shop decided to choose this niche after noticing an increasing demand for toys that developed children’s intellectual abilities. But Durar Al-Huda was not just reacting to a market trend. Khabbaz said the shop sought to actively promote it, which the Saudi market has taken to at an astonishing speed.

Khabbaz contrasted educational toys, which are usually manufactured in Asian countries such as China and Malaysia, with the video games that have recently flooded the Saudi market, noting that educational toys benefited children’s thinking, intelligence and self-development abilities, which in turn benefited their school performance and everyday life. Video games, he said, provided no such benefits as they focused solely on entertainment.

Salem Bin Obaid-Allah, a salesman at a toyshop in Riyadh, has noticed a decrease in his customers over the past two years, a result due not only to the shop owners’ decision to ban the sale of video games, but also to the recent spread of shops specializing in educational toys. A unique feature of these toys and games, he said, was that they could be enjoyed by both children and adults, with the latter finding them just as challenging and fun as the former.

Some of the toys include products such as “Smart Circles,” a variant of the classic tic-tac-toe, made up of 16 circles placed on a four-by-four grid and varying in both size and color. Like the classic game on which it is based, players aim to cover a row of circles—four in this case—starting with the largest. Another is “Siege,” an award-winning strategy game manufactured in Spain, which consists of a six-sided board not unlike a chessboard. Divided into two parts, with each part colored differently, the object of that game is to transfer a number of balls to the opponent’s side of the board following very restrictive rules, which limit both the number of balls in play and the direction in which they can travel.

Obaid-Allah has noted how popular these educational toys have become, seeing a great demand for them not only from parents but also from the children themselves—which can only be a good thing.