It’s time to pay attention to the mobile gaming industry

Tamatem founder and CEO discusses the untapped potential of the industry in the Arab market

The Tamatem team pose for a group photo. (Photos: Handout from Tamatem)
AMMAN — Mobile gaming has exploded in popularity as mobile phones have taken over the world. But according to Hussam Hammo, CEO and founder of the Jordan-based mobile gaming company Tamatem, there is a gap in the billion-dollar market.اضافة اعلان

“This is an industry that made $160 billion last year, but how much of this share belongs to Arabs? Nothing,” Hammo said in an interview with Jordan News. “We are missing out on a lot.”

Seizing the opportunity, Hammo established Tamatem in 2013. Working with international mobile app developers, the company localizes content and publishes it for regional audiences.

For example, Fashion Queen, one of the mobile applications localized by Tamatem, is loaded with culturally relevant details. Originally tailored to Western audiences, the characters of the story-based game now engage in familiar activities such as conversing in Arabic, traveling to Beirut, and hanging out at local cafes. After Tamatem adapted the user experience to fit societal norms, the game, which was previously unknown in the region, is now approaching 10 million downloads.

“This company was created to tackle the issue of the lack of availability of content in Arabic for Arab users,” Hammo said. “We see the users’ comments and reviews; they can relate to (our) characters and their stories.”

Today, Tamatem is the leading mobile games publisher in the MENA market with around 70 employees, 14 different games, and 100 million downloads in the Arab world.

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns only highlighted the potential of the entertainment industry as a whole, according to Hammo. “Between March and May 2020, we saw a jump of maybe 200 percent in our games, a number we never could have imagined,” Hammo said. Indeed, the industry has proven its capacity for huge profits internationally. This week, CNN reported that one mobile apps and games platform, AppLovin, raised $2 billion in an initial public offering; AppLovin itself estimated that the mobile app ecosystem will expand to $283 billion by 2024.

Tamatem is not Hammo’s first journey into entrepreneurship. Eager to start his own company right after college, Hammo founded, an Arabic social network in 2006 that was soon after acquired by a local company. In 2009, he then co-founded Wizards Productions, an online gaming company that they eventually struggled to maintain and had to wind down.

By the time Hammo started Tamatem, he was well-versed with the nuances of the local market and the digital gaming industry.

Tailoring the project to the region not only addressed a gap in the market, but was also strategic; Tamatem did not need to compete with international companies, it just needed to occupy a niche — the Arabic market. But this strategic choice also provided its own challenges.

“We suffered a lot at the beginning while trying to make people understand the Arabic market,” said Hammo. “This posed a challenge for our company because we were not just marketing our company, we were marketing the market.”

Usually, governments promote rising industries through local campaigns and exhibitions, Hammo explained. The local environment must provide institutional support to create an ecosystem that is friendly to game developers.

Tamatem is working on hiring local talent and promoting the sector by collaborating with universities on training programs and curriculums. However, the lack of regional familiarity with the industry slows down this process.

In order to be well-prepared for the workforce, interested students should start focusing on learning mobile game development at design while still pursuing their studies, according to Hammo. The independent nature of the game development process, in addition to the demand in the market, makes this a financially attractive venture, he said.

“Many people who think about gaming want to become a pro gamer and play games,” Hammo explained. “But I want to encourage people to create games.”