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"As an industry, we need a success story - a studio that achieves a major hit that captures widespread attention"

FitNot Games founder Abdallah Elshabrawy on the African games market and the region's latent potential
  • "The industry is still young and relatively small and so lacks the established ecosystems and support systems found in more mature markets"
  • "We've been checking out generative AI and evaluating the tools as they come"

Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan returns on November 9th and 10th, 2024, offering you a chance to gain insights into the world’s fastest-growing games market, MENA. As part of our run up, we spoke with FitNot Games founder Abdallah Elshabrawy to discuss the African market and the region's ongoing overlooked potential.

He also spoke to us about the funding landscape in Egypt, their new story-driven game and the prospects of utilising AI in the future of game development.

PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a bit about FitNot Games. What you’re up to right now? 

Abdallah Elshabrawy: FitNot is an indie game studio established in 2019. Our achievements include winning the African App Launchpad Cup (AALC) in 2020, graduating from the AUC Venture Lab accelerator program in 2021, signing a publishing deal with MBC Group for three of our games, and becoming a game developer partner for multiple educational apps. 

How many staff do you currently employ and where are they based? 

I initially worked as a solo developer and gradually expanded the team to include 10 talented individuals based in Egypt. 

FitNot Games' Abu Ashraf's Ramadan Cooking
FitNot Games' Abu Ashraf's Ramadan Cooking

Given your position as a key player in Egypt and MENA, what are you doing to foster collaboration and recruit local talent? 

My belief in the concept that a rising tide lifts all boats motivates us to actively support the growth of our local community. We provide assistance through mentorship, internships, and courses, and we prioritise hiring local junior talent. 

“We have a profound connection to its culture, which gives us valuable insights into what resonates with our audience.”
Abdallah Elshabrawy

Has there been a shift in how the studio operates? Your website appears to be offline. What's the state of play?

Our website is currently under construction, and it is taking longer than anticipated. Our games still exist through MBC's developer console account since we signed a publishing deal with them for our games. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in the localisation process, and how have you ensured a culturally relevant experience for players? 

Having grown up in this region, we have a profound connection to its culture, which gives us valuable insights into what resonates with our audience. Adapting games to reflect these cultural nuances is a challenging endeavour, but we are committed to ensuring that our games appeal to a wide and diverse audience. 

I am proud to say that we have successfully navigated this task with minimal difficulty. At FitNot, our mission is to craft Arabic gaming experiences that authentically represent our culture. We prioritise integrating cultural localisation into the very fabric of every game we develop, right from the initial stages. 

What do you see as the current opportunities and challenges facing the games industry in Egypt and the wider MENA region? 

We have access to a growing talent pool of highly skilled individuals in all disciplines who are passionate and dedicated to joining the industry. The low cost of living provides affordable opportunities for studios interested in outsourcing, partnering, or expanding. 

Egypt is the largest Arab country and the third most populous African country with 60% of the population being youth and 35% under the age of 14. However, the industry is still young and relatively small compared to other regions in the world. As a result, it lacks the established ecosystems and support systems found in more mature markets.

“There are several venture capitalists, angel investors, and publishers in the region. However, their numbers are insufficient to drive the industry to its full potential.”
Abdallah Elshabrawy

In terms of funding and support for gaming studios in MENA, what has been your experience navigating the funding landscape? 

There are several venture capitalists, angel investors, and publishers in the region. However, their numbers are insufficient to drive the industry to its full potential. We require support in the early stages, particularly at the pre-seed stage. More assistance is needed for games aimed at platforms other than mobile. 

During the initial days of FitNot, I received a lot of positive feedback about the studio's potential, vision, and the games we were creating, but nothing concrete came out of it. I believe that most of the investors in the region are interested in Seed A and beyond.

The studio's puzzle title, Madame Affaf
The studio's puzzle title, Madame Affaf

Africa has a vast number of mobile users. What do you think is the key to tapping into this audience? And why do you think some still overlook the market despite its growth potential?

I believe that the audience is ready to embrace a wide variety of games across different genres. My approach focuses on cultural relevance, aiming to create games that make players feel represented and deeply connected to the gaming experience. As an industry, we need a success story - a studio that achieves a major hit that captures widespread attention. 

I often point to CD Projekt and the Witcher series to illustrate how this company and its game elevated Poland onto the international stage of game development, while also nurturing a community of aspiring game developers.

What are your thoughts on emerging technologies such as AI, AR and VR in gaming? And do you have plans to incorporate AI into your game development process?  

“I really believe [AI] will be a part of the future of game development, not as a replacement but as an assistant to help streamline the production process.”
Abdallah Elshabrawy

AR and VR have been around for a while now, and while there have been a few success stories for each, I think their low adoption rates are holding them back and discouraging developers from focusing on them. There's definitely a lot more potential to be unlocked with these technologies. 

We've been checking out generative AI and evaluating the tools as they come. I really believe it will be a part of the future of game development, not as a replacement but as an assistant to help streamline the production process.  

What are your plans for the second half of 2024? Will you be exploring new platforms? And are there any specific initiatives or projects on the horizon that we should look forward to? 

We are in pre-production of our new game with a working title of ALI. It will be our first PC game. It's a story-driven 2D isometric stealth game of courage and cunning set against the backdrop of Egyptian folklore, where Ali uses his ingenuity to combat injustice during the Mamluk era in Egypt.