CAIRO: Game development is not one of the most popular industries in Egypt, despite being a more lucrative industry than any other entertainment business worldwide — including music and film — according to Timeline Interactive CEO Ahmed Metwally.
In 2010, Metwally was recognized by Endeavor Global, an international NGO, as a high impact entrepreneur who contributes to the social and economic growth of developing regions. He also received the “Top 40 Under 40” award by the Ottawa Business Journal.
He talked with Daily News Egypt about the potential he sees in the Egyptian gaming industry, the prospective talent available, and the obvious obstacles and drawbacks for pursuing entrepreneurship in a country in which he believes there is no business environment conducive to succeeding in such endeavors.
Metwally has over 15 years of experience in system development and sales for large federal governments and Fortune 500 firms including Microsoft, GE, UTC and Sony Electronics. He is now the chairman and CEO of Timeline Interactive — a company which has developed Egypt’s first bona fide first-person shooter gaming engine, as well as a successful downloadable first-person shooter, Cellfactor.
Discussing the development of the gaming engine, Metwally stated that Timeline Interactive’s focus was on utilizing local resources to target the worldwide market. The company — which at the time was called Artificial Studios — had one branch in Egypt and another in the US.
“We built an engine that was acquired in 2005 by Epic Games, the company that builds Unreal, one of the most popular engines in gaming,” said Metwally.
“Epic actually bought the engine because they felt it would cut into Unreal’s market,” Metwally added. “At this time, the Artificial Studios [in the US] and Egypt split, with the Egypt branch [changing its name to] Timeline Interactive.”
Talent & Education
Metwally said that he sees no shortage of Egyptian talent as far as developing games and gaming engines in Egypt, but he also claims that there is no support for it.
“Our engine, for example, called Reality, was built by Mostafa Hafez who — by the age of 14 — was writing games and by the age of 17 had sold his first game while working on a different game professionally in a foreign game development studio,” Metwally said.
Metwally commented that the unique talent required to build the gaming engine was available at the time; however, it should still be noted that Egypt’s education system does not foster the sort of aptitude typically required for such a project.
“We don’t have programs geared towards video game development,” he said. “We teach about graphics and networks and programming languages, software engineering and computer engineering, but there is nothing specifically tailored to games and game design.
“I think that education builds the talent and [Egypt] should definitely invest in it. There is potential talent but they need the proper training and management to get there.”
Metwally believes that Egypt has to start competing in game development by relying heavily on the designers’ talent and innovation. Egypt will be unable to compete in terms of cost since, as with many industries, China and India are capable of offering much cheaper prices.
According to Metwally, outsourcing game development projects to Egypt is one manner in which knowledge may be transferred, allowing game development companies to nurture local talent.
“We learn how people run and develop the games, and then try to replicate it. Eventually we start succeeding,” he said.
On the other hand, Metwally indicated that by solely relying on outsourced projects — without a transfer of professional knowledge — local firms are left at “the bottom of the food chain.” As a result they become “feeder” industries overtaken by many other firms that are moving on to independent projects.
In order to avoid this scenario, Metwally believes that the government has a large role to play.
“The education system in Egypt is not conducive to [entrepreneurship]. For us to be able to [someday attain] this environment, we have to learn to celebrate failures,” Metwally said.
“The whole idea about being an entrepreneur is not being afraid to take a risk and fail. You take a risk, you don’t make it, you learn from it and move on,” he added. “There is no failure … you just have to keep on trying until you make it.”
Metwally criticized the Egyptian education system which, according to him, teaches students that a person going against the norm is doing something wrong. Metwally believes that this “kills innovation from the start.”
“Another thing the government can do is foster innovation. Supporting and investing in innovative businesses is required, because realizing revenues and profits in companies that work to generate intellectual property (IP) takes a long time; almost four years for production and seven years for profitability.”
Metwally explains that the only other way to realize revenues right away is to work in services, and the Egyptian economy only supports businesses that are already set-up to generate revenues from the start.
“There are no tax credits, there are no credits for generating IP or patents and that’s the difference between us and other developing countries.”
Metwally said that developing countries support their economies by helping smaller firms compete because they understand the importance and potential of IP.
He added that in other countries, government subsidies for companies like this are huge because they know that these companies will employ more people when they grow and that over the next 10 years the government is going to get returns on their investment through taxes. The return on that investment is huge, and the Egyptian taxation system should therefore adjust accordingly, said Metwally.
With all of the government grants available being directed towards university-related research, the government needs to recognize that there are other venues in which Egyptians can be innovative that are desperately in need of funding.
Metwally, a dual citizen, is currently debating whether or not he should keep Timeline Interactive based in Egypt. He is considering moving the business to Canada, which has an economy that is much friendlier to entrepreneurial businesses.
Metwally explained that although there is a much higher standard of living and higher salaries to pay in Canada, the Canadian government will provide up to 50 cents for every dollar Metwally spends building new IP in the country. This, according to him, makes it less expensive overall to run the business there.
He mused that, despite the many people who call him “crazy” for staying in Egypt, he has seen major shifts and improvements within the Egyptian business environment.
“Regardless of the disparity between different classes, and the poverty on the streets, I am actually starting to see support for entrepreneurs in Egypt in many sectors, [such as] the Social Development Fund, for example,” said Metwally.
“Remember that we are a business that the government invested in at the end of the day. We began with a start-up fund from the technology development fund, which is a government fund … we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” he said, adding that he sees hope in current government efforts.
“I just believe they can do more,” he concluded.
Timeline’s game Psychokinetic Wars.