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Science And Tech

Friday, Mar 7, 2014

Science And Tech

Pakistan's gaming industry breaks culture barriers

Friday, Mar 7, 2014

LAHORE, Pakistan - It's a city better known for its history and culture, but a new generation of mobile game developers is bringing a slice of Silicon Valley to Pakistan's Lahore.

With open plan offices, mixed gender teams, gourmet catering and an emphasis on a fun atmosphere, the small but growing IT industry worth an estimated $2.8 billion is being led by young entrepreneurs like Babar Ahmed.

Ahmed, 33, left a career as a circuit engineer in Austin, Texas to found Mindstorm Studios in the eastern Pakistani city in 2006 with his brother Faraz.

Today their studio employs 47 people thanks to hits like 2010's "Whacksy Taxi", which shot to number one on Apple's AppStore in over 25 countries; "Mafia Farm" in 2012 and "Cricket Power", the official game of the 2011 World Cup.

"The idea was to put Pakistan on the gaming world," said Ahmed, explaining he was tired of "drawing room talk" among expatriates in the US about how something should be done for their homeland.

Smartphone revolution

Mindstorm is one of several games development studios in Pakistan - mainly based in Lahore but also in the capital Islamabad and Karachi - to have prospered with the spread of the smartphone.

"After the iPhone was launched, the definition of what a game is changed overnight. The definition of what a gamer is changed overnight," said Ahmed.

While traditional "hardcore" games - typically played on home console systems or PCs - need multi-million dollar budgets and teams of dozens of developers, games designed for smartphones need far less start-up capital.

That has allowed countries in eastern Europe, Pakistan, and the Philippines to become prime destinations for software outsourcing, said Jazib Zahir, chief operations officer at Tintash, another Lahore-based studio that provided the back-office for "Fishing Frenzy", another top-ten hit.

According to the government, some 24,000 people are now employed in software exports - though the figure also includes more traditional areas like financial software and healthcare.

"One of the advantages that Pakistan brings is we do have a critical mass of people with training and aptitude, an interest in developing software and art and combining them," adds Zahir, who is also a part-time tech journalist.

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