Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From the pitch: Make way for Howzat 2.0

A sneak peak into the game Howzat 2.0.
With the 2011 cricket World Cup just around the corner, Zaki Mahomed, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Game Venturesis busy preparing the launch of Howzat 2.0, the new version of Howzat, an online multiplayer cricket game
Howzat, which can be accessed at, is, according to Mahomed, “the world’s largest multiplayer cricket game,” that offers users the facility to be part of a world comprising other cricket fans, make their teams and upgrade them through playing more. It is a social sports game, and one of the many developed by Game Ventures.
The Express Tribune conducted an interview with Mahomed to take an in-depth look at how Howzat, which currently hosts more than one million users, came about as well as what sort of potential such online ventures have in Pakistan.
Entering the gaming business
Zaki Mahomed, a graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS), launched his first start up at the age of 14, along with a group of other students at Karachi Grammar School. Although Mahomed pursued a degree in engineering, for him it was more like something he “just had to do,” rather than a chosen career path.
Mahomed explains that his first business was developing online marketing solutions for brands like Nike, Pakola and Tapal to help them boost their sales in certain markets. He then set up Game Ventures, a business now headquartered in Singapore, with a studio office in Karachi and small representation in Turkey.
“While having an office in Karachi may not be beneficial in terms of attracting foreign investment, Pakistan has a huge talent pool when it comes to information technology and it is a potential that must be tapped into… the advantage of having an office in Singapore is the access it provides to international investors as it is a global hub of business,” he adds.
Game Ventures’ first product was a social networking which is currently one of the largest of its kind in Turkey. The company then developed Pokerama in July 2009 and sold it off to Obisoft in November of the same year. Mahomed worked on his initial projects in San Francisco and then decided to move his company to Singapore.
In December 2009, Game Ventures launched Howzat which is projected to reach to as many as 13 to 14 million users. Another social sports game involving baseball, Homerun Heroes, will, according to Mahomed, aim to become “the world’s largest social sports game.” Mahomed explains that social games are big on websites like Facebook, but at the moment their content is “dumb” and a user may not feel challenged enough to stay with it.
How do such businesses make money, is a question that comes to mind as there is no registration fee or anything to play the games.
“We earn through the sale of virtual goods. While the game is completely free to play, when you reach a certain level, you must purchase special items to stay at the same pace as your competitors,” says Mahomed.
“Zynga (the company that makes most Facebook games) earns millions of dollars every year through this approach.”
Local gaming industry potential
“Everybody knows that Pakistan is an entrepreneurial country,” says Mahomed, who believes entrepreneurship is “the only way to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in right now.”
Quoting Singapore’s elder stateman Lee Kuan Yew he says, “it is difficult to convince a well fed man to become an extremist,” and entrepreneurship is the way to creating more jobs.
With regards to whether the current situation in the country provides favourable conditions to do business, Mahomed says “Pakistan is blessed with a large population which in itself provides a huge market for local products.” He says that foreign investors may not see Pakistan as a good place to put money in, but local companies must develop world class markets just like they did in India.
Mahomed believes that innovation hubs are born out of testing times. When Singapore gained its independence, it had the constant fear of being a tiny country amid large threats, so it decided to progress faster. “We can do the same. In fact, we have to.”
The business of gaming
Game Ventures makes use of a varying range of specialists to assure a smooth flow of operations.
Analytics: This is the component of the company that uses all sorts of electronic data to understand user preferences and help determine strategies to promote positive behavior. For instance, Mahomed explains “In the case of Howzat, we have determined that those users who win a game in the first three matches they play are four times more likely to return than those who do not win at all.”
Game development: This is the section that is responsible for making the game ‘fun’. It designs the gameplay as well as forms a storyline for it.
Art: This consists of all those involved in the visual aspect of the game including artists, concept artists, illustrators, animators and web developers.
Programming: Various different kinds of programmers, such as systems programmers or tools programmers are needed to ensure the game runs smoothly.
Quality control: The area of the company that deals with customer feedback/ troubleshooting as well as making sure everything goes smoothly.
Management: The layer that decides what game to make next.

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