“The MENA region is definitely a focus for Kwalee and we want to build more partnerships there”

Kwalee’s Sayeed Rahman discusses what the team looks for in its partnerships, expansion into the MENA region and the trends and challenges facing the mobile games industry

“The MENA region is definitely a focus for Kwalee and we want to build more partnerships there”

From hypercasual to hybridcasual, investments and the creation of platforms such as Hitseeker, video game publisher and developer Kwalee has created a rich history in the mobile games market across its portfolio of 70 games. But what's next in the Kwalee journey?

Earlier this month, we caught up with Kwalee’s publishing manager, Sayeed Rahman to find out more about what Kwalee looks for when working with new developers, market challenges and big IP trends, and the company's new focus on the MENA region. First, how did you get started in the games industry and end up with Kwalee?

Sayeed Rahman: It was during lockdown, and like a lot of people my age, I felt quite lost in my career. I had a good job with great prospects, but I never really fitted into that world. That's when Luna Labs Ltd hit my radar, and my journey in gaming started! An innovative platform for game developers to plug into Unity and produce creatives much faster than usual, it was an amazing technology run by amazing people, one of them being none other than John Wright, now VP of Publishing at Kwalee.

Luna Labs Ltd was eventually acquired by ironSouce and ironSource by Unity, so I really got to experience mobile games from start-up to industry-leading companies. After three great years in gaming ad tech, with a better understanding of this ever changing landscape, I wanted to get involved in game development itself, and here I am working for a leading developer and publisher in this crazy space we call gaming!

In an industry where we live and die by metrics, it's hard not to jump right to them.
Sayeed Rahman

And now you're with Kwalee as publishing manager; what does that role entail? What is the day-to-day like?

The day of a publishing manager is super varied. One day, I’m working on a green light pitch, and the next day, I’m planning a trip to the Middle East. What I really love is having the opportunity to meet developers from all over the world who are building new and exciting games. I then analyse the commercial viability of those games, trying to look beyond the metrics and work closely with Kwalee’s marketing, production and management teams to further understand how we can support the team in making their games successful. When it’s not new studios, I work hand in hand with our existing partners to ensure they have a smooth experience and get the support they need.

You mentioned analysing the commercial viability of new games, so what does Kwalee look for when you consider publishing? Are there any metrics a game needs to meet, or is it just about finding the right idea?

Great question, but one without a straightforward answer. In an industry where we live and die by metrics, it's hard not to jump right to them. However, mobile games are not so black or white, but as a general rule of thumb, we look at the following areas:

  1. Dedicated, innovative and fail-fast studios
  2. An interesting concept that fits into the hybridcasual / casual game genres - we are also working towards mid-core
  3. Strong marketability - those darn metrics - CPI, D1,D3 and D7 retention are a focus

Not all the games we look at are always going to hit all three of those areas, but does this mean Kwalee shuts it down? Not at all. We identify other aspects of the game that show potential and work closely with the studio to get it where we want it to be. As long as the studio and game fit into Kwalee’s robust strategy, we are good to go!

To expand on that, how do you then help to build these games up and prepare for launch?

The first thing we do is identify where the game currently sits in its life cycle and define the milestones we need to hit in order to reach a successful launch. Now, how do we reach those milestones? This is where Kwalee’s amazing production and marketing teams come in to support the studio. It can range from game design, development, testing, and data analysis all the way to QA. Then, our marketing team gets more involved, applying their expertise in UA and monetisation to grow the game post-launch.

When we caught up at PocketGamer Connects London earlier this year, you mentioned that Kwalee was also expanding into other territories such as the MENA region. What can you tell us about this, and what do you think about the growing potential of that market?

Not long after we met in PGC, I found myself, along with a few of my colleagues, in Saudi Arabia, part of an expert panel alongside other studios, publishers, VCs and more, attending the NEOM Level Up event in Riyadh - so, the MENA region is definitely a focus for Kwalee. We want to build more partnerships there because not only is gaming getting a huge amount of support and attention from the government, but the talent is undeniable. Especially in Saudi Arabia, where gaming is a focus for Vision 2030, we see major investments in companies like Scopely, who are absolutely taking the market by storm with their IP title, Monopoly Go.

There are still a lot of challenges currently facing the industry, with the likes of privacy regulations and tougher user acquisition. How is Kwalee tackling some of these changes?

It is true that launching a game has become a lot more challenging, especially with the changes to privacy regulations. The deprecation of IDFA on iOS has disrupted traditional mobile advertising practices, requiring the industry to adapt by embracing privacy-centric approaches, exploring new targeting methods, and rethinking user acquisition and monetisation strategies.

Kwalee has had a lot of success with hypercasual games throughout the years; however, inevitably, the industry has changed, not only with privacy regulations but also the experience players want from games. hypercasual is very ad-focused, so developers and publishers relying on ad-based monetisation models have experienced fluctuations in ad revenue due to less effective targeting and attribution. One way Kwalee is tackling this is by focusing on developing and publishing hybridcasual and eventually evolving that into casual. This takes away the reliance on in-app ads and nurtures development that focuses on in-app purchases. This also coincides with studios shifting their mindset from acquiring users at the lowest cost - costs are objectively not low anymore - and possibly maximising Lifetime Value (LTV) per user over much longer and extended periods.

And what about some of the trends you are seeing in the industry right now? Is there anything you are particularly excited about?

One trend that seems to be doing very well at the moment is IP titles, which you can see, done rightly, can be a huge success - Pokemon Go, Monopoly Go, and Minion Rush, to name a few. These titles already have an existing fan base, which can lead to a surge in organic growth and reduction in CPIs. Just like other forms of media, gaming creates engagement and awareness, so if used as part of a wider TV and movie campaign, all working in tandem, it can boost revenue streams for IP holders, developers and publishers. I, for one, cannot wait until more and more big IPs find their way into mobile game form in one way or another because, often, these are high-quality, narrative-based games that get a lot of engagement.

It is no secret that countries such as UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are putting huge focus and investment into gaming
Sayeed Rahman

What else can you tell us about what Kwalee has going on? Is there anything we should be on the lookout for?

A focus on technology. If you haven't seen our posts about Hitseeker yet, I am sure you will be seeing it more and more! With the number of games - the good, the bad, and the ugly -it is important for publishers our size to be able to efficiently and quickly review games and understand what is going to be successful. Hitseeker is not only a platform for Kwalee but more so for the game creators out there who need guidance, resources, and a way to be seen. Any developer can sign up to Hitseeker, submit their game and watch how it progresses through the publishing process.

Expanison in the MENA region. It is no secret that countries such as UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are putting huge focus and investment into gaming. Let’s look at Saudi Arabia in particular, where Vision 2030 has a clear strategy for gaming, growing out the education systems, supporting new, innovative studios and carving out partnerships with massive gaming IP’s such as Monopoly Go. Even with the growth in the gaming infrastructure in the region, studios still need a lot of guidance from successful publishers.

And more focus on live ops. This goes back to the point of higher quality users with better LTV. Spending millions on UA is not a sustainable strategy for a game that may or may not have the ROI, so we have to really understand how we can keep our existing users engaged. There may be millions of gamers and applying the same strategy to all of them no longer works. liveops and Events strategies will become the industry standards. Companies not prioritising these approaches will lag behind the ones that do.

Be part of our next MENA event!

After a triumphant first year in 2023, The Dubai GameExpo Summit powered by PG Connects returns on May 1st to 2nd, 2024 alongside the Dubai Esports and Games Festival at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

The summit will feature more than 100 renowned games industry speakers from all over the globe delivering insightful talks, panels and seminars across a number of themed tracks.

There will be extensive networking opportunities for anyone looking to get established in the region, whether you're a developer looking for a local publisher, or interested in exporting a hot new game from MENA to find a global audience.

Tickets are on sale now!

Deputy Editor

Paige is the Deputy Editor on who, in the past, has worked in games journalism covering new releases, reviews and news. Coming from a multimedia background, she has dabbled in video editing, photography, graphic and web design! If she's not writing about the games industry, she can probably be found working through her ever-growing game backlog or buried in a good book.