Building the tower of Babil from a balcony, meet MJ Fahmi

Graphic designer MJ Fahmi built Babil Games from his balcony, launched on Facebook and became the biggest publisher of Arab Games in the MENA region, he tells Ben East 

Graphic designer and IT expert MJ Fahmi started Babil Games as an at-home project in 2012, with the aim of publishing high-quality mobile gaming entertainment for an Arabic audience. Five years later Babil is the biggest publisher of mobile strategy games in the MENA region. Fahmi tells Vision how he’s helping games developers from around the world successfully navigate the lucrative local market. 

You’re a gamer yourself: what was the motivation to set up Babil?

I felt there was a real need for local content – not just in games but for anything Arabic-related in the digital realm. So with my brother we decided to start our own company to try and change that – and even back then I was getting offers to work with several gaming companies in Europe and Asia. I refused, because I wanted to try and do this myself – we worked hard day and night and it quickly became successful. We launched Nida Harb (a game where rogue generals roam the lands destroying everyone in their path) on Facebook in 2012 and have genuinely never looked back. 

Why did Babil take off so quickly? 

As I say, one of the reasons was definitely this lack of Arabic-focused gaming. We filled that gap. But we also deliver quality mobile games equivalent to those available all around the globe. It’s not until recently that international companies have realised that there’s amazing potential in the MENA region for gaming. Now the PlayStation store is in Arabic – which is great.

Babil Games, MJ Fahmi 2
MJ Fahmi, founder of Babil Games

So how does Babil work?

We’re a publisher in the MENA region but work with developers around the globe, advising them how to make games that are already very good the best they can be. And, importantly, explain the elements that will appeal to the gamers we understand. We do the customer care, the community management, marketing, trailers… everything from A-Z. So essentially the developers can get on with building the game and with our input localise it so it makes sense for this region.

Babil is about more than just publishing games in Arabic, isn’t it?

We’re always trying to make these games more relevant culturally - which isn’t all about language. There might be Arabised elements within the characters, the storylines, the buildings even. But you have to make sure that’s done in a way which doesn’t overtly impact on the game experience. So for example, if you were doing Iron Man, he wouldn’t really be Iron Man if he was wearing Arab clothes, but you can still make the game appealing to your market in other ways.

It’s not until recently that international companies have realised that there’s amazing potential in the MENA region for gaming. Now the PlayStation store is in Arabic - which is great

Late last year Babil was acquired by Stillfront Group, an independent Swedish company who create, publish and distribute digital games. How did that come about? 

I’d been having some discussions at games expos where people had suggested Babil should join a bigger group to grow the business. To be honest, I wasn't really thinking about that because our numbers have been really positive from day one. But when we met with Stillfront it was like the perfect match – it clicked. We’re not subsumed into an organisation where we have lost our identity, each studio can work on different stuff but we can pool our experience and ideas. 

How do you see Babil developing now you’re part of Stillfront?

Well, right now we’re in a very good position, not only in the MENA region as the biggest independent mobile gaming publisher but worldwide in the mobile scene, too. We have a positive reputation and we want Babil to be a company people talk about because of the great games. 

For example, we only have one game in the pipeline at the moment but that is deliberate: we concentrate completely on the games we publish, we’re not just throwing games out there. We’re about quality not quantity when it comes to gaming experiences and communities for our players. 

You’ve published five games now. Which one are you most proud of? 

To be honest, all of them. Even if some were more successful than others we’ve always put hard work, our hearts and our imaginations into each game. Each and every one has something different, new and interesting in it. We don’t release casual games. 

Babil’s latest game, Aser Al Molook, is out now