Home Innovate Sandsoft’s Pasqual Batalla: How KSA is Becoming a Gaming Hub

Sandsoft’s Pasqual Batalla: How KSA is Becoming a Gaming Hub

Inc. Arabia speaks to Pasqual Batalla, COO at Saudi gaming studio Sandsoft, about the growth of the Saudi gaming industry and how the company is expanding at home and abroad.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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This article first appeared in the January issue of Inc. Arabia's digital magazine. To read the full magazine, click here

Saudi-headquartered gaming studio Sandsoft has global ambitions. It, like other gaming studios emerging from the kingdom, has an eye on securing a top spot among global game developers. Last year, the company doubled its team and opened an office in Barcelona, positioning it in Europe’s dynamic gaming ecosystem and creating a launchpad for its global growth.

Enabled by Saudi 2030 Vision’s ambitions to make Saudi the gaming capital of the world, and with a large and growing gaming community at home, Sandsoft has spearheaded local and global initiatives and projects that it believes will put it at the forefront of global gaming. At home, it launched PressStart, an internship program that aims to train Saudi youth in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Saudi Arabia. Internationally, it supported the global launch of Jam City’s DC Heroes & Villains and inked a partnership with The Sandbox for metaverse expansion in MENA.

It also invested $3.25 million in French-Canadian mobile racing gaming company, The Tiny Digital Factory--its first investment to date.

Pasqual Batalla, COO at Sandsoft, who joined the team last August and is based in Barcelona, is driving the company’s operations teams in Riyadh, Barcelona, Helsinki, and Shanghai. He is also steering global publishing and internal game development activity.

Before joining Sandsoft in August 2023, Batalla spent more than 7 years at Socialpoint--a Take-Two and Zynga mobile games studio--where he successfully led the studio and business operations of the Dragon City developer. Batalla is also an active investor, advisor, and board member in the thriving Barcelona startup and gaming ecosystem.

In a conversation with Inc. Arabia, Batalla talks about what Saudi Arabia is doing to become the gaming capital of the world, and how companies like Sandsoft are building ecosystems at home and abroad to cater to a larger audience.

Inc. Arabia: Saudi Arabia wants to become the gaming capital of the world. What is it doing to achieve that?

Pasqual Batalla: In the rapidly growing MENA gaming market, Saudi Arabia is aiming for a substanial 56% growth to $2.79 billion by 2026. Most gamers are Gen Z with 44% of women playing games in the MENA region. All of this aligns to make Saudi an expansive space for developers, publishers, investors, and entrepreneurs to thrive in the vibrant gaming landscape.

IA: Tell us more about Sandsoft. What do you do, what are your growth plans and how do they align with Saudi’s plans to become the world’s gaming capital?

PB: Sandsoft is dedicated to nurturing local talent through initiatives like our Press Start internship program, which gives young people with an interest in game development the chance to work with leaders such as Yahsir Qureshi and Ahmed Sharif. By investing in the development of emerging professionals, Sandsoft aims to help create a sustainable pipeline of skilled individuals in the region.

Sandsoft actively aligns its growth trajectory with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030. Contributing to Saudi’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy, Sandsoft is building an internal studio to create and develop games from Riyadh for the world. This lines up with Saudi Arabia's aim to produce 30 video games and generate around 40,000 gaming-related job opportunities by the year 2030.

IA: In 2023, Sandsoft opened a game development studio in Barcelona. Why Barcelona? How does this impact Sandsoft’s overall vision?

PB: The decision to open a studio in Barcelona is a strategic move that positions the company within a dynamic European game development ecosystem and helps to foster innovation and collaboration.

The Barcelona studio is led by Alexandre Besenval, formerly Head of New Games and Studio Manager at Madbox. Alex has extensive experience in the mobile games industry, having also worked as VP of Product at Socialpoint and Studio Manager at Gameloft. Barcelona will be Sandsoft’s European hub--signaling our global ambition--while our HQ remains in Riyadh. The aim is to achieve a global-local balance. Many members of the team, including our CEO, David Fernandez, have long-standing connections to the game development and startup scene in Barcelona.

Anticipating significant growth, the Barcelona studio is set to create 60 new roles over the next three years, contributing not only to the company's expansion but also to employment opportunities locally. Barcelona's vibrant development scene and ecosystem, which houses studios for industry giants like Scopely, Gameloft, King, and many others, provide us with an environment ripe for collaboration and talent acquisition.

Establishing a foothold in Barcelona allows Sandsoft to leverage local insights, enhancing the appeal and relevance of its games for European players. The studio's emphasis on increasing team members dedicated to first-party titles highlights Sandsoft's commitment to delivering original and high-quality content. By diversifying its talent pool and focusing on first-party titles, Sandsoft aims to deliver exceptional gaming experiences and expand its global footprint.

44% of women play games in MENA.

IA: What key insights and trends do you see emerging in the Saudi gaming market?

PB: Saudi has a young, mobile-first population with one of the highest consumptions of 5G data anywhere in the world. Globally, mobile contributes half of all gaming industry revenue, with the MENA region showing a significant growth trend. Mobile devices, especially among the young demographic, are integral to the cultural fabric of gaming.

Gaming in Saudi Arabia extends beyond entertainment, fostering social interaction, entertainment, and education. With a large population identifying as gaming enthusiasts, developers have a unique opportunity to shape their approach to the MENA market, contributing to local talent development and cultural preservation.

There have been significant strides in localizing games for players in Saudi, yet ongoing efforts are needed for better representation of regional players, balancing the male, western worldview that tends to dominate the best-known gaming content. The industry increasingly recognizes the need for diverse characters and narratives, emphasizing the critical role of diverse teams in catering to a broad gaming audience.

IA: How are Saudi gaming companies looking to compete globally?

PB: Gaming companies in Saudi are part of the diversification of the country’s economy, in line with Vision 2030. Saudi gaming companies aim for global prominence by addressing localization and representation challenges and emphasizing diversity in games and teams.

This inclusive approach aligns with the global gaming audience and helps position Saudi gaming companies as key players on the international stage. As for Sandsoft, expanding its footprint beyond Saudi territory is also a way to become more global and have a broader and more diverse talent pool.

IA: What expansion plans do you have for this year?

PB: In addition to the new roles being created in Barcelona, we continue to hire at pace in Riyadh and worldwide. We don’t anticipate major new office or studio openings imminently after Barcelona but are primarily focused on developing our first in-house games and expanding our local and global publishing deals

IA: What investments is Sandsoft looking to make this year?

PB: Sandsoft made its first investment in early 2023, investing $3.25 million in French-Canadian mobile racing game experts, The Tiny Digital Factory. We’ve been delighted to help them grow through the year. We also supported the global launch of Jam City’s DC Heroes & Villains. Our investment strategy for 2024 is in development, so watch this space.

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