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THURSDAY, 24 APR 2014
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Local dot-com engages region in world of games
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BEIRUT: Millions of young Arab men – ready to kick, shoot and kill their way to the top – have come together thanks to one Lebanese dot-com company, At7addak.com. Their weapons of choice: laptops, keyboards, controllers and joysticks.

At7addak serves gamers around the Middle East with a platform to connect and challenge each other, read reviews of newly released games and win points for prizes.

Since the site launched its Beta version in late 2011, it has become one of the fastest growing websites in the country, attracting 4.2 million page views a month. At7addak’s success has won creator Brahms Chouity local accolades, including first place in Wamda’s “Best Startups of 2011.”

“At7addak is my seventh company. My first companies helped me to become financially successful, but they were for the sake of doing business. I wanted to do something I like,” Chouity said.

“I’ve been a gamer since I was a kid and I saw an opportunity in the market,” he added.

At7addak features all of its content in both English and Arabic. Arabic content allows the site to reach an expansive demographic of Arab youth from wealthy households in the Gulf to cyber cafes in the slums of Egypt.

The site acts primarily as a social networking device for gamers looking to connect and challenge each other virtually on games ranging from graphic, first-person shooters such as Call of Duty to tamer, football-simulating games like FIFA.

Users create a personalized profile linked to their Facebook account, which allows them to chat about games and plan casual challenges.

But Chouity has bigger goals in mind than merely linking video game enthusiasts. Through their website, At7addak also organizes massive monthly competitions, capable of including up to 100,000 players spanning from Morocco to some users in Iran, he said.

This year At7addak hosted its first “Battlefield 3” competition, gathering a crowd of around 5,000 entrants from 21 different Arab countries.

The stats gathered by the site’s administrators shed some light on the pastimes of the region’s biggest and most influential demographic: men in their late teens to early 30s.

More than half of the users on At7addak.com are from Saudi Arabia. Chouity has done the bulk of his promotion in the Gulf since young people have the most expendable income in that part of the Middle East.

“Saudis are very much into online gaming because of their social environment,” he said, referring to the strict social laws in the country.

But interest in gaming depends on more than a speedy Internet connection and affluence. Egyptians make up At7addak’s second-largest user base at 20 percent.

The site is also popular in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait.

The average age of Arab gamers using the site is about 21, and 35 percent of them prefer reading the site in English, according to administrator stats.

Only 2 percent of the users are female, and only 2 percent of the users don’t have their own computer at home.

Nazih Fares, the main editor for the website’s gaming news, reviews and video content, said gaming in the Middle East is in its infancy despite the website’s massive following.

“It’s very popular, but not in comparison to the United States and Europe,” Fares said.

Language stands in the way of video games becoming a top industry among young people of the region.

“It made you feel like if you were playing video games, you’re defying the culture,” Fares said.

Game developers have only begun releasing their top-selling products in Arabic. Entertainment Arts recently released a FIFA version with Arabic-language commentary calling play-by-play coverage of the animated football games.

As At7addak moves from its Beta version in the coming months, Chouity has big plans for the future of competitive gaming.

Site competitions start among players from the same nation, he said. The reigning national champions go on to battle the champions of other countries. Chouity envisions flying the handful of finalists to Lebanon, where they will battle face to face in the final rounds of the championship for cash and game-related prizes, he said.

Over the next two weeks, At7addak will also move from its offices in Mansourieh to new Beirut offices, equipped with a TV studio capable to filming these live competitions and broadcasting them online and via satellite channels, Chouity said.

“Like Star Academy, the championship will be filmed and broadcast,” he said. “We’ll move on from just a gaming community.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 01, 2012, on page 2.
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