The startup scene in the MENA region has been focused on all industries, but gaming; few gaming-focused entrepreneurs start-up, and even fewer make it and earn the recognition they deserve in this very challenging setting. We intend to highlight through this Q&A with the Founder of Yayy, Ziad Talge, one of the very promising gaming startups from Flat6Labs Beirut, Yayy: a gaming studio that is currently focusing on creating hyper-casual games.
- Q: When did you start pursuing gaming, and how did you kick your startup off?
It was back in April 2016 that we decided to start a project where we can connect the real world to the parallel world. As a big fan of the Lord of the Rings book series, I have personally always sought as a kid to become a fantasy hero. And this is how it kicked off!
- Q: Why did you take up the challenge to start it up?
We decided to start this studio because we believed that we are capable of creating content that would attract people from every part of the world. That was and still is our main motive.
- Q: What are the games that Yayy has developed?
Until today, and since we joined Flat6Labs Beirut, we have developed 7 games: Conquerors of The Realm, Unicorn Slayer, Zombie Smash, Mess it Up!, Fun Hoop, Domino Hit and Domino Stacks. Currently we’re in the process of releasing an 8th title and many others in the pipeline.Q: How do you think your games can compete with prominent and international games in the market?
With the current games that we tested in the US, we are proud to say that we compare in our KPIs to top performing games. Our retention rates are close to those of hit games and so are our CPIs. We’re constantly improving those KPIs and aiming to release a hit game.
- Q: What are you trying to change with Yayy — what’s your ultimate goal?
Our ultimate goal is to create an entertainment company that is able to create content from this region and ship it to the rest of the world. We believe that there is huge talent in the region that is focusing on local content. We would like to change that. We want the local talent to focus on global content. We want to become a Disney from the Middle East.
- Q: Who is your role model in the gaming industry?
Well there are many key players in the industry, but what appeals to us the most are Supercell. They started small and they’ve pivoted multiple times — just like we did — until they found their business model in mobile strategy games. If you closely follow their work, you can see that they’ve killed more games than they’ve released games. This is the mentality we are lacking in the Arab world, and this is what we’re trying to change. It’s a matter of persistence before you make it. We’re on to it.
- Q: How do you think the gaming industry in the MENA will change in the upcoming years?
- Q: What are you trying to change in the mobile gaming market?
In terms of the mobile gaming market, it has become more crowded than it has ever been. However, if you follow the Top Charts, you notice that the top publishers in the mobile gaming market are scattered around the world. With French companies dominating the Top Charts, companies from Turkey, Belarus and China are providing a huge competition. We are trying to establish a studio in the region that is able to publish content from this region and to compete with such companies dominating the Top Charts. It’s about time a publisher from this region breaks the top charts. We’re positive that Yayy would be the one.
- Q: What does your startup need the most now?
We are always on the lookout for talents in the field. We’re aiming to grow our team of developers, 3D artists, animators, music producers, etc. We’re looking for skilled people to join us and make their own impact within the company. Of course, when we talk about talent and skills we cannot neglect that we’re looking for funding to be able to support the current team and to grow the team so that we would create more games in the shortest amount of time and iterate fast to increase our chances of success.
- Q: Why did you join Flat6Labs Beirut and tell us more about your acceleration experience?
We worked for two years in our room to create the concept that we were visualizing. After launching on Kickstarter and attending different events around the world, we learned that there were too many things to acknowledge before we can make something big and make a huge impact. As you may know, and since Flat6Labs is the biggest accelerator program in the region with a presence in more than 6 countries, we found that it was intuitive to apply to the Beirut program. Flat6Labs’ most important value for us was mentorship and market access which was vital for our personal and the projects’ growth. I can safely say today that we made the right decision.
- Q: What are the markets that Yayy targets?
Our target market is the US market before we ship our products globally. As a matter of fact, currently we have 4 of our games being tested in the US market: Mess it Up, Domino Hit, Domino Hit, and Domino Stacks.
- Q: What is your advice for startups in the gaming scene?
From our personal experience, and learning from our own mistakes, we learned that four factors are the most important. First of all, DON’T fall in love with your games. There is a big difference between loving what you do and falling in love with what you do — Keep that in mind. Second would be to start small. Yes, we can all get excited to make a huge impact, but we have to be realistic at the same time; we started one big project, and here we are now producing several smaller games per month and increasing our chances of success. The third point would be mostly to test with people around you. So keep the end user in mind. We might read this a lot, but eventually this is what we fail to do. As a game developer, you would be excited to create a new mechanic that no one ever did before, and you tend to fall in love with your creation. In reality no one wants it. Again, keep the end user in mind because the market is your boss. Finally, keep an open mind. You might need to pivot from your dream to make things work; however, keeping the initial vision in mind.
- Q: What are the common struggles for people who want to enter this industry?
The biggest problems for people who would like to get into the industry are mainly due to limited market knowledge. Since in the gaming market itself, there are many “verticals”: some studios would focus on PC games, console or mobile games. Each vertical has its own market penetration strategy and marketing channels. The second problem is the result of the first one, new people getting into the market usually lack the marketing skills. Some games require user acquisition only, while others require a strong community following. It’s a matter of positioning yourself in the market. The last one would be something already mentioned: falling in love with your games before going to market. This would result in a long development cycle and end up with a big game — starting big is a great risk of failing. It’s also important to note that if you’re a gamer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know the market. You might have the game development skills, but you would be lacking the business skills.
- Q: What can you tell startups about your post-acceleration period with Flat6Labs?
If we look back to Yayy before Flat6Labs and Yayy after Flat6Labs, we would require a whole new article to point out the benefits we’ve received and the things we’ve learned. But to mention the most important points in our opinion: the mentorship and guidance we’ve learned and keep on learning through the huge network of mentors that they provided. As a matter of fact, we are still until today, 8 months post-acceleration getting mentorship and guidance from experienced people in the industry and people that have been in our shoes. One important thing to mention as well is the access to offices. We’ve received a full year of office space to kick off our companies. You never value these things until you get to lose access to them. Thanks to Flat6Labs Beirut and the amazing supporting staff!
- Q: Other than Yayy, what’s your favorite gaming startup?
We don’t know if they would still consider themselves a startup, but our choice would definitely be Voodoo. The French company has been leading the top charts with multiple games. They started not long ago, but their business model and amazing team is what got them there. They are data centric, they iterate fast and most importantly they share their knowledge with fellow people in the industry helping smaller studios grow and establish themselves in the industry.