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Sandsoft Games - David Fernández Interview

It's David vs David at Gamelab 2023 as we talk with Sandsoft's CEO to learn more about their studio, which is focused on mobile games, and about the gaming industry and dev culture in Saudi Arabia, as they're mostly based in Riyadh.

Audio transcription

"All right, we are at Gamelab Barcelona 2023 and now it's time to talk about mobile gaming for a little while, what we can play now and what we can play perhaps in the future.
Thank you so much for joining us, David."

"What do you guys do at Sunsoft?
Lovely.
So, we are a mobile first game developer and publisher based in Saudi Arabia and we are trying to create not just games but a company because we are in a startup."

"We are 53 people team at the moment.
We started our journey in 2021 and we are having presence in different locations so we have a small team here in Barcelona, 8 people, probably 30 people in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia."

"We have smaller offices as well in Shanghai and also in Helsinki.
And which are your main products as of now?
So at the moment we don't have a game I can tell you this is available in the market so we are testing a few of them from the publishing pipeline perspective and we are developing as well with third party four games at this stage."

"All of them are kind of core, mid-core, trying to target more a kind of male, more engaged audience.
And these are, one is a RPG game, another one is a racing game, the third one is an Astralis game and the fourth one is another RPG game but with an NFT kind of layer on top of that game."

"What can you tell us about running a studio in KSA and being there, life in there, developing games in Saudi Arabia?
Well it's been really a journey and when I mean a journey it's in a positive way.
I think that you are going not just through creating a kind of industry because games industry is not there so we are trying to contribute towards the growth of the industry."

"Similarly the country is going through a big socio-economical transformation.
So in a given way you are part of a change that is happening in this country, you feel somehow you are making history if you know what I mean and then it's really exciting to be that in a country that has a firm belief on investing in games."

"So one of the things that in this particular case the Saudi government did a few months ago in September, they announced the National Games and Esports Strategy which is an actual national strategy and this is kind of unique.
You have certain regions in the world, you have certain cities in the world that have some support for game development and trying to incentivize companies to establish, help them grow and participate in some of the vehicles for promotion of the games industry but here is the actual country."

"So there is as far as I understand the only country in the world that have games as part of the national strategy.
And you said that the country itself is changing in that regard and their industry within but I guess this is also going to have an impact on the video games industry itself."

"We've seen this for example in football, new markets, new industries enter the fray let's say and we've seen this with video games with China and with Korea as of late.
So how do you think you know having more studios based in Arabia can sort of impact or shape the industry going forward?
Yes, so I presume that you know particularly mobile games industry but that might be applicable for games industry overall is a global business, right?
I think that generally speaking there are really small companies that work on specific segments, specific markets or specific niche let's say audiences."

"So from that perspective there is no difference on having a company in Saudi Arabia versus you know Finland.
We are trying to capture the same market opportunity.
That said I feel that as I was mentioning to you before there is maybe more support that we get in this case from the government that is helping companies to establish, to you know grow, to you know definitely mitigate some of the risks that game development has."

"But similarly I think that we are trying to assemble truly multicultural, multi kind of national and diverse teams.
For example in the 53 people that we are across the different locations I mentioned we have 24 nationalities which is on a company this size quite unique."

"Similarly on game development particularly is not an industry that we have enough female and we have not enough female talent and women are something that we were trying to grow in the industry.
We have almost 30% of our staff is female."

"So you know when you think about that you think about we are a company based in Saudi some people we kind of raise their eyebrow and think you know is that true?
But actually it's true.
I mean we are not different from any kind of game development company in the world."

"So really trying to create the best products we can with the best people we can bring to the company and then make sure based on where we are leveraging some of the support that in this case government have provided us.
Similarly we are really kind of fortunate that we are backed by a big you know Saudi group so we are 100% private company and then they are bullish into you know game development."

"I think they are really keen to see that happening.
One of the things I told you know when I was interviewed for this role and when I can accept to the challenge was like there is some thing that really I'm passionate about this job or my job actually which is I'm hopefully going to create jobs for future generations."

"I'm hopefully you know making people in Saudi Arabia to work on games.
What before you know if you were passionate about games and you happen to be you know born in Saudi Arabia you need to leave your country and that remembers you know people here in Spain maybe you know 30 years ago when you know they were trying to enter into game development and there were no opportunities here."

"So they need to go to the UK, they need to go to US, they need to go to Canada.
So I mean kind of trying to give back and create these opportunities for local young you know passionate talent something that is really fulfilling to me.
Fantastic."

"That sounds really inspiring and really nice and of course fresh coming from Saudi Arabia as you just said so other than that your background if I'm correct you come from a background with King.
Is that correct?
What do you think you can add to mobile development given your your backtrack given what you learn about mobile gaming and also going forward looking at the future as your panel was about that?
Well I think if I kind of review my background I when I started in games I actually started in mobile games."

"So I started in mobile games in 2004.
So I started working on THQ that happened to be a separate company you know before and we were one of the early teams that in this case from triple A console PC development started to embrace in this case mobile game development."

"After that I kind of work in other companies including Nokia where I was managing their app store you know and got some learnings on you know working on Engage and other kind of game related projects.
But more precisely to your question I think one of the things that King you know brought in my experience was thinking on new audiences right."

"That's kind of a joke I made when people was kind of coming to or students were coming to visit our office here in Barcelona and you know they were trying or interested in games.
We're kind of having a kind of studio you know introduction for these people interested in games."

"And I was telling them you know we were the ones making your moms you know play.
You know we were the ones that you know are responsible for your moms playing these games on your mobile phones.
And this is true."

"I think I'm really proud about trying to bring new audience.
This kind of player base that King managed to you know bring to the mobile space were playing before.
But they were playing other games."

"They were playing cards with friends.
So I think that kind of this lens of thinking on a global audience that is untapped trying to understand how players behave and how you can provide this kind of engagement opportunities for people to connect with your product is really interesting."

"And this is something that is really driving my passion.
Fantastic.
Thank you so much for your time.
We're looking forward to learning more about Sunsoft games and also from the industry in KSA."

"Thank you so much David.
Thanks so much.
Thank you."

Gamelab

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