“Cockroaches don’t die with nuclear radiation, and in Tunisia, as a gaming Startup, if you want to survive in this nuclear environment, you have to be a cockroach,” says Haroun Bouchrit, CEO of Nuked Cockroach.
With a team of around 18 developers, animators, sound designers and management, and an average of 23 to 25, Nuked Cockroach is trying to break into the international Indie game market with their game Veterans Online. According to the team members the task is far from easy, especially for a game developing studio in a country where gaming, and the economy in general, are struggling to prosper.
Nuked Cockroach was created by Haroun Bouchrit who cut his teeth with an earlier games design company, Stolen Pad. “I created Stolen Pad at the time without any specific goal or business plan. I just wanted to make video games,” he says. Nuked Cockroach is his attempt to make a company with a more solid structure, more capable of attracting investors. Fifteen months on, the company has plenty of enthusiasm, but also faces unique problems. “It’s kind of normal to spend entire days without working because the internet connection is down,” says Bouchrit.
Veterans Online is the first game Nuked Cockroach has produced, and for now the only one.”If we ever want to make another game we’ll start a new studio for it,” he says. The team members are confident about their game after interest among online games, with 7,000 fans from Brazil alone having signed up to test the game when it is ready. If the test – called a closed beta test, designed to find bugs in the system – goes well the game is planned to launch in next October. Early results from the testing, which began last moth, are positive. “People seem to really like it,” says Bouchrit. He got positive feedback also when people tried the game in exhibitions in America, Britain, France, along with the biggest video game exhibition in the world, Gamescom, in Germany. “A lot of people tried our game there and they really liked it. People who tried it during the first day were present at our stand in the next two days,” says Ayoub Ben Thabet, head of marketing. He says Nuked Cockroach is the first video game studio from the MENA region to take part in Gamescom. The game was also free to try in another exhibition here, Comic Con Tunisia, earlier this year.
The designers hope the game will benefit from being distributed through Steam, a digital platform that provides a multitude of services and features for more than 125 million users. This enables game developers to reach a much larger audience than by going through more traditional marketting. “Though this is not the first Tunisian game available on Steam, it’s the first one of this caliber,” says Ben Thabet. The game received the Steam Greenlight, meaning it is now listed in the Steam Store, and it has reached the top 15 most anticipated games. The only hiccup came when one of the designers mistakenly released the game too early, leaving people trying to download it confused when they were unable to do so. “We had one million views and hundreds of comments from people who didn’t understand what was going on,” says Bouchrit. On the plus side, he says, that temporary glitch helped get them noticed by Steam users. “To put it into perspective, it’s like the Tunisian movie Nhibbik Hedi winning the award at the Berlin Film Festival,” says Ben Thabet.
Designers hope also they will score points because the game is direct and simple at its core. “The idea is actually quite simple and yet no one has thought about it. It’s a competitive, fast-paced shooter game with a top-down view. There’s plenty of similar games but they’re always set in fantasy worlds, while ours is based on bullets and modern weapons,” says Bouchrit. The game could be described as a mixture between popular games like Counter Strike and League of Legends, and features First Person Shooter games moves from a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena top-down view, such as headshots where a player can kill his opponent with one single, well-aimed bullet. Several game modes are also available, and experienced players won’t be surprised to discover the classic Capture the Flag or Team Deathmatch.
From players’ perspective, Tunisia is lagging behind several Arabic countries. Despite that, some Tunisian names have already started to shine in the international scene. Amine Ben Messaoud was the first Tunisian to win the first place in an international championship, the 5,000$ prize money for Hearthstone at the International e-Sports Federation 2014 World Championship in Azerbaijan. Another Tunisian, Mouadh Yaacoubi, was also the first Arab to receive a certification from the same federation’s academy as a semi-professional shoutcaster.