There is no more coloring in color books or cartoons or even playing in the back yard once homework is done. Our new generation has left all that behind and chosen to leave our world for a digital one. They play before school and soon after classes are dismissed. They play during meals and under the bed sheets. They have become an entire replica of the games they play, talking like the characters and dressing in exactly the same way. If such a tool has so much control over our children, why not use it to make a positive impact? Well, Arkadians have already figured that out.
It was mere coincidence that brought the team together. In May 2017, GIZ organized a workshop to generate game ideas. The members met as consultants, coming from different backgrounds and age groups. They contributed in the design, feedback, and some minor development issues of the seven Arabia Felix games. The five-day workshop gave those young, but aspiring Yemenis, a chance to better know each other and plan a future together. After the workshop, the project started and Marwan AlRagehi – Manager and Co- Founder of Arkadia Studio – was chosen to be the coordinator. Soon after that, another workshop was held in GIZ and the group was invited, again, for consultation and coordination. Naturally, once the project was implemented, GIZ did not have much use for the consultants, but their newly discovered passion and their eagerness to further develop what they had learned brought new energy into Arkadia Studio.
“I see Arkadia as a realization of our dream and making it into reality. We aim to learn and work on ourselves through it and improve by time till we achieve the best of our abilities and bring positive change to our society.”
Marwan Al Ragehi
The Studio took off as a real company. It was not merely a page on Facebook that applied for projects and advertised for games but, rather, was an independent entity with a verified name, registration card, and an office. The name was chosen after many brainstorming sessions, and since most games were based on Greek mythology, a Greek name was seen best to fit their studio. Arkadia also means peace and tranquility, which goes hand in hand with the message of the project: spreading peace through entertainment and digital tools.
“Arkadia Studio is an amazing opportunity that we gave to ourselves. It’s a dream that we worked very hard to make come true. We’re still in the beginning of our journey and we’re very excited to experience the adventure together.”
Once the roles had been distributed and the potential clients targeted, Arkadia embraced their first challenge and applied for a tender posted by GIZ for creating a ‘game box’. The idea was unusual and very uncommon to the Yemeni society; thus, they took the risk regardless of the challenges it posed. The Studio organized a two-day workshop on December 2018, where the ideas and content of the game box were brainstormed. The game box contained Board game, Stickers, Comics in both English & Arabic, Flyer, Dice and the box itself. After it had been prepared, printed, and sent to GIZ, the game box – which was made in and by Arkadia Studio– was a total success (and is still distributed until this very day with the studio’s name on it). The success of the project motivated the team to aim for something bigger, creating and developing their game — Tuba.
“I see Arkadia as a route to opening new doors to employ Yemenis with game design & other entertainment passions. It’s a unique business model in Yemen that was founded during a very bad time for business.”
The games manufactured by the studio focus on certain concepts, such peace building and educating via means of entertainment. They also highlight issues that are generally overlooked by the Yemeni Society, such as equality and tolerance. “Kids spend more time on their phones than they do on books, so we try to spread a positive impact through the device they use the most,” says Marwan. In the Arabia Felix games, the concept of gender-equality is quite prominent. The games display, both, a male and a female protagonist that can be dressed in different ways, according to the gamer’s preference, while maintaining the Yemeni identity. This helps portray an equal representation for both genders.
“Arkadia to me is a silver lining. To me its like a sliver of hope in all the madness that has been happening around us. Not only is it a place for us to be passionate about our work and give a positive output ,but its also a starting point for others like us that are also passionate about the industry to discover more about it. We may still be at the start line but i hope along the way we pave a path for those who never thought it possible to work in this industry especially due to the circumstances in which we live. So i guess Arkadia to me is like a beacon of light and i hope we can be that for others too.”
As for Arwa’s World, it focuses on the development of a female character that eventually becomes a leader, emphasizing the concept of female empowerment. “Through this game, we try to endorse women’s empowerment and their rights to equal opportunities. We hope to send a message to our female players that they, too, could lead, despite current cultural viewpoints of what a ‘woman’ should be,” explains Marwan. Some other games also dabble with the idea of tolerance as a means to fight back against the political affiliations that the war imposed on Yemen. “Our true glory is not our monuments but the harmony and unity that we once had that had once been lost,” he added.
“Arkadia is the reason why I am studying what I am today. It inspires me to improve and continue in this field, one I never thought I’d ever want to work in. Arkadia is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Like any new founded project, Arkadia had its share of obstacles. According to Marwan, the market alone was a challenge, as it was not easy for a group of young people to go and compete in a similar market, especially one that was new and had not been developed yet. Other challenges also had to be overcome, such as the unreliability of the internet in Yemen and managing a budget, as the project was entirely founded (and funded) by the members with no external sponsorship. “We went through a lot of difficulties, but I think our enthusiasm and energy were what made us move forward and not concentrate on any negativity.”
“It was like a dream coming alive especially through the conflicts in Yemen. The Dream Arkadia! We all had this feeling of being related to Arkadia and saw it as a family not just a regular company. I experienced with those family members days & nights of hardworking, learning, developing myself and falling in love with their personalities and creativity thinking. “
Arkadia Studio games have been well-received and recognized, both, locally and internationally. At a certain point, Edo Run and Edo Quest downloads on the play store reached over 10,000 downloads. The studio was also featured by Butterfly Works in the Game for Change Festival, which was sponsored by big international companies, such as Facebook.
“Arkadia to me is proof that no matter what the situation of our country is in, a group of people can still come together and provide innovative digital solutions that can be fun and effective to the community.”
As for their future plans, Arkadians aspire to become a leading gaming, entertainment, and digital tools company—not only creating products but also contributing to society by training others on how to create games. “We did not just establish the company to make money; we want to leave our imprint. We want to make a difference,” concluded AlRagehi