No apple for logo but a tomato. However, in just eight years the Jordanian company Tamatem has already captured a good market share in the lucrative games sector, in Arabic, on smartphones.
“There are 400 million Arab mobile phone users, yet less than 1% of internet content is in Arabic,” observes Hussam Hammo, founder and director of Tamatem.
“There is thus a great void in the market that we are trying to fill,” adds the 38-year-old entrepreneur in his office in Amman.
Founded in 2013, Tamatem – tomato in Arabic – was the first Arab company to secure investment from the “500 Startups” program based in Silicon Valley, California.
Since then, the company has grown to reach around 80 employees who translate mobile phone games into Arabic and also adapt their content to the culture of the region.
“Language was a barrier to the growth of smartphone games” in the Middle East, explains Nour Khrais, founder and director of Maysalward, a game developer.
– “Emotional bond” –
“The Arabic language provides an emotional bond” with the player, according to him.
With offices in Amman but also in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Tamatem has released over 50 games that have been downloaded over 100 million times.
“70% of smartphone users in the Arab world have their phone set to Arabic, which means they like to use content in their native language,” says Hammo.
“You find millions of games in English in app stores (application store, editor’s note), but if you look for some in Arabic, you will only have a few thousand,” he adds.
Competition is fierce, Mr. Khrais explaining that the Middle East and North Africa are “the regions with the greatest growth in electronic games”.
Mordor Intelligence, a marketing analyst, valued the international electronic game market in 2020 at $ 174 billion (around 150 billion euros), putting it at 314 billion in 2026 (around 270 billion euros).
Tamatem – especially in relation to American, Chinese, French, South Korean companies – converts the games by replacing the voices and names of the characters, adapting the music and the clothing or even changing the license plates cars.
“We don’t just translate, we (…) make the content relevant to Arab culture,” says Tamatem chief operating officer Eyad Al Basheer.
Nanobit.com’s “Hollywood Story”, in which gamers can think of themselves as movie stars, walk the red carpet or hang out with fans, has been renamed “Malekat al Moda”, or “Fashion Queen” in Arab. And instead of New York or Los Angeles, avatars travel between Dubai, Beirut or Cairo. The game in Arabic has already been downloaded over 15 million times.
Leme Games’ game “Clash of Empire” also launched its Arabic version “Tahadi Al-Molouk” this year.
To conform to the local public, the figure of the famous King Richard the Lionheart was replaced there by the warrior and Arab leader, Salah al-Din al-Ayoubi.
– “Fourth revolution” –
One of Tamatem’s biggest hits is “Shake the Metal” where the player races cars by skidding their car. Featuring models of cars prized in the Arab world, it has been downloaded five million times.
The most popular game, however, remains “VIP Belote”, based on the French card game of the same name, downloaded more than 20 million times.
In a 2019 report from the World Economic Forum, Tamatem was singled out as one of the top 100 Arab companies shaping “the fourth industrial revolution”.
And the Covid-19 pandemic was a real boon this time around, with the number of players on smartphones increasing by 150%, according to Mr. Hammo.
“Tamatem made the games simpler” and understandable for Arabic-speaking players, testifies the gamer Khader Hamid, a 28-year-old engineer.
Mona Rummaneh, who works in e-marketing, is also seduced because “confident in the fact that the content is appropriate to the culture and morals” of the region.