Founded by Karim Aboul-Enein and Sébastien Marty, Largelabs is a company specializing in video games that tries to do something that has never been done before: bridging the gap between the French video game industry, which is in excellent health and that of an emerging country in the field. “We are an assumed bi-cultural studio, with one foot in Cairo (Egypt) and one foot in the village of Villandraut (Gironde, France).” Says Karim Aboul-Enein. Discover through this interview the multiple missions and objectives of this innovative company.
Introduce yourself and your journey (briefly)
Karim Aboul-Enein: After an engineering training at Efrei (Paris, France), specialized in virtual imaging and 3D applications, I worked for one year as head of a technical project at UI infrastructures of Dassault Systèmes . This brief passage home gave me my first weapons to enter the video game industry as I had always wanted, via the Paris studio Mob in Life. I was programmer iOS (City Domination), then programmer Unity on an innovative project with bigger budget, before to pass lead on this same team. I then co-founded Largelabs with Sebastien and we went together to Cairo to start the project.
Sebastien Marty: I took a training in Visual Communication & Multimedia Project Management at the Institute of Internet and Multimedia. I made a short stay in communication agency before turning to the video game. A first contact at Cyanide then first big project at Mob in Life as Artistic Director, I had the opportunity to cumulate the caps and put my skills to the test before co-founding Largelabs with Karim – for love of the challenge, mainly.
What is your project and its mission?
Karim Aboul-Enein: Largelabs is trying to do something that has never been done so far: bridging the French video gaming sector, which is in very good health and one of the most competitive in the world, and the Egyptian sector which is still in its infancy. We are a bi-cultural studio assumed, with a foot in Cairo (Egypt) and a foot in the village of Villandraut (Gironde, France). In this particular context, our mission is multiple:
Develop quality games, competitive in the global mobile market, with a special incentive for the MENA audience (Middle-East-North-Africa), particularly through the themes and artistic direction.
Place Arabic localization at the center of the creative process and allow Arabic speakers to easily play in their language.
Contribute to the federation and organization of the young ecosystem of Egyptian independent developers, with projects of jam (collective creation of prototypes of games in less than a week), masterclasses, participation in local events …
Encourage French and Egyptian artists and developers to collaborate and learn from each other.
What is the problem solved by Largelabs?
Karim Aboul-Enein: The creation of video games is really dynamic only in Western countries and in some Asian countries. Of course, there are examples that have worked well in Africa and South America, but it is hard to talk about a sector or an industry. Rather a niche that has been able to break through the constraints inherent in these regions of the globe. Among the components of the problem, we obviously think in the first place of the lack of business support and the difficulty of raising capital, but also the absence of what I call “academic comfort”, that I had the chance to experiment in France during my studies (internship opportunities in large companies, university trips, prestigious speakers, specialized courses with a solid theoretical basis …). If we take the example of Egypt, the innovative courses that fit into this idea of ”academic comfort” are concentrated on private international institutions. This is not for everyone unfortunately, because it is very expensive! So, independent developers exist in Egypt, there is a lot of potential and talent, but they have trouble getting professional and entering the market.
Sebastien Marty: One of the consequences is that by being focused on the West and Asia, the production of independent or larger games delivers very few calibrated experiences for the MENA audience. The Arabic language is difficult and expensive to integrate for the studios, the culture is different … The App Store is not available natively in Arabic, which drives many MENA players to the USA store. They find the same games as the American public, alongside some products exclusively in Arabic, pushed by rare developers who seized the opportunity.
Karim Aboul-Enein: We also observe that in recent years, entrepreneurial initiatives have increased significantly in Egypt. It is starting to have incubators, large fairs, important fundraising for innovative startups … But the Egyptian video game must still evolve and become professional before undergoing the same treatment. The few successful studios in Egypt (Instinct Games, Cryptyd) alone are not enough to develop the sector and meet the demand on the labor market. We need to prove ourselves, to the MENA players and the community of independent developers in Egypt, by our way of producing, the quality of our experiences and showing that it is possible to reintroduce trust from the public towards the apps in Arabic.
Sebastien Marty: When the developers of the Egyptian community come to work with us, they will come to develop games with methods inherited from our past experiences and that we have implemented at Largelabs in the last two years (modular and reusable codebase, creation of tools, collegiate game design, optimization for low-end devices …) but also to contribute in turn to the dynamisation of the sector by taking an important part in all our satellite initiatives. We dream of a virtuous circle in which junior developers want to come to Largelabs internship and become seniors with us … And why not, after, have the desire to create their own studio, with their experience, and contribute to growth of the sector! After all, that’s what we did after our stint at Mob in Life and this seems to be a healthy state of mind in this construction sector.
What is the business model ?
Karim Aboul-Enein: At the moment, we are focusing on the freemium and free-to-start mobile market with games with strong character. Our sources of revenue from games are in-app purchases and video advertising. As with any game based on this business model, we will seek to maximize the retention and engagement of players in the short and long term with different design choices. There is a balance to be found between the use of metrics and game design to achieve this.
The first step is to prove ourselves with a varied portfolio of mobile blinds in all countries. Our first game, Aliens vs. Cowmander, has already had a featuring App Store in UK, Canada, Egypt, Ireland … This game was made in 3 months using the tools and the pipeline we have put in place. With this system, the more games we develop, the more we reduce our marginal costs and the more profitable we become. We can then reinject budget into the depth and uniqueness of each experience, update and monetize more and more by engaging our players more. Our gaming business model is strongly linked to the technical infrastructure we have created, dedicated to optimized and fast production without sacrificing quality.
Sebastien Marty: We design each game upstream with the idea of long-term intellectual property development. Many stories that we could tell for each of our games do not fit into the standard freemium mobile format. A game with an engaging universe on which we can see the results may be subject to merchandising, comic strips, animation … Even in the future another game on a support that can approach his universe under another angle and cross-play mechanics with the mobile product and its already engaged audience.
Karim Aboul-Enein: Aliens vs. Cowmander being our first game to reach the blinds, it’s also an opportunity for us to test all these things. Thanks to the featurings and the community of heart that we have consolidated since the beginning of the Largelabs adventure, we have a very satisfactory organic growth of downloads. We plan to test other business initiatives around this game, alongside the development of the next. The Largelabs merchandising reception abroad and the margins we can generate by producing and shipping these products from Egypt are also under study.
Sebastien Marty: The last pillar of the studio’s business model is to use low production costs in Egypt to our advantage in order to offer partnerships and competitive services to French publishers, for example. We already had a first successful experience of this type with the official site of the license Wolves-Garou de Thiercelieux (www.loups-garous-en-ligne.com).
How did you get the idea to start your business?
Karim Aboul-Enein: The idea was born of the desire to be independent in the production of games and the desire to do something in Egypt. In addition to my personal attachment to this country (I’m French with Egyptian origins) … When we think of modern culture in the Middle East (music, cinema, series), it is often associated with Egypt which has a particular influence throughout the region. Syrian superstars sing in Egyptian Arabic (George Wassouf for example). Children, my Moroccan friends watched all the cartoons on TV in Egyptian Arabic. So what we said in the first instance is “and why not the Egyptian video game?”
Sebastien Marty: So we got together around this question and that desire. Then, we proceeded like any other entrepreneur who wants to know if it can take root in a market: we looked at studies on the growth of 3G / 4G connections in Egypt, we identified a target audience, studied the demographics, analyzed the job market and competitors, estimated production costs, assessed risks and regulatory barriers, the operation of intellectual property between the two countries … Then came a first trip to Egypt. We pitched at the French Chamber of Commerce in Cairo and the director of the incubator of the American University who all validated our approach. And finally, we went to do it, two years ago now!
Can you introduce your team?
Karim Aboul-Enein: Currently, Largelabs is made up of Sebastien, myself and Ayman Sabae, our Egyptian administrator. He is also an entrepreneur and co-founded Shamseya, an innovative startup in the medical field. Its role is to support us on local business development and relations with all the Egyptian government authorities (Ministry of Investment, Egyptian bureaucracy …).
What are the next steps ?
Karim Aboul-Enein: In the short term, we want to validate our strategy with two products on the market and generate the most metrics possible. This will give us a foundation on which we can achieve credible forecasts of our growth potential. During this period, we remain in reduced numbers and we experience our technical infrastructure as much as possible, in order to optimize it and reduce as much as possible the development costs for the following products.
Sebastien Marty: On this basis, we will seek new capital to accelerate the development of Largelabs in Egypt. We really want to prove ourselves on a moderate scale before we engage with an investor. If such a collaboration is put in place, it is in the interest of all to be well prepared to grow the studio and have all the feedback and figures needed to make it serenely. Today we are very close to this stage. Once hiring can begin, it will be necessary to integrate newcomers into the culture of the company and the way of working, that they take advantage of our tools …
Karim Aboul-Enein: In the short and medium term, the consolidation of our Egyptian studio is therefore our priority. The distant horizon is to go to the end of our bi-cultural studio approach by developing the French branch of Largelabs in Villandraut, with exchanges of skills and collaborations between the two countries. New Aquitaine is very dynamic in the video game sector and we have a great creative space to exploit in Villandraut for the future. This can lead to very rewarding things for both teams and always better products.
What do you need and how can AfrikaTech help you?
Karim Aboul-Enein: Currently, we need to be in close contact with video game studios in North Africa and tech companies in general that have been successful with entertainment products. Understand how they work, if they have experiences with local publishers, how they found their capital … We have a lot to learn from the players in the region who have managed to establish themselves, even after two years on the spot.
We will also need serious investors, who would like to accompany this project with us. Of course, these investors should be sensitive to the development approach of the video game sector in North Africa – especially in Egypt.
We believe that we are in AfrikaTech’s mindset and that the platform can put us in touch with people who have the same interests as us. We are really happy to see that such a platform exists and that it is so active.
What are the contacts of the company? Website, email, Mobile / WhatsApp, links to social networks?
Karim Aboul-Enein: There are many ways to talk with Largelabs!
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/largelabs/
On Twitter: @LargelabsEg
On our website: www.largelabs.fr
With me directly by mail: firstname.lastname@example.org