DWGE: Interview with Steve Tsao, CEO of Tahadi
CEO Steve Tsao talks to us about Runes of Magic and upcoming MMOs.
Founded by former Maktoob CEO, Samih Toukan, Tahadi will focus on online gaming. They’re at the Dubai World Game Expo showing off their latest game, an Arabic version of popular MMORPG Runes of Magic. Tahadi’s management team is lead by CEO, Steve Tsao, a hardcore gamer and MMO enthusiast. We had a chat with him about Tahadi and what the gaming community can expect from the company.
MEGamers: Steve, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with Tahadi.
Steve Tsao: I have a bit of a boring background. I am a chemical engineer and I’ve worked for big boring companies before but I’ve always been a hardcore gamer. First online game I played was Ultima Online pre-alpha. I was one of the first players to play it and our guild was responsible for killing Richard Garriot’s character Lord British. This was back in 1996. So, I’ve always had a passion for the games industry. For the last five years, I’ve been working with partners in Asia building online games companies.
We have on that previous life 13 million registered gamers and 100,000 concurrent gamers. We were able to build that over two and half to three years time. That included publishing over ten different gaming deals over six different countries. So, when the founder of the Maktoob group and now The Jabbar Group contacted me to talk about the Middle East market, I thought he was crazy. I come from a naive perspective in terms of what do I expect from the Middle East and thankfully, Mr. Samih Toukan showed enough trust in me and I was able to trust him as well to explore this opportunity.
From a global perspective it’s one of the last high potential huge markets that hasn’t been developed yet. There’s an absolute lack of good gaming or media content in Arabic. And when we’re sitting comfortably in Dubai as expats, you can access anything you want across the world. If you’re taking a macro perspective and say how do we really raise the industry and market here in the Arabic Middle East, you’re talking about approx 350 million people and it’s pretty safe to say that they need the Arabic market. And that’s our job to try and bring it to them.
You’re launching three games. Tell us about them.
Our announced games so far are Ragnarok Online which is a big game from Gravity with 60 million registered gamers online, Crazy Karts from Shanda, one of the largest gaming companies in China. What we’re really excited to talk about today is Runes of Magic from Runewaker in Taiwan. The reason we’re so excited and I say this both professionally and personally. On a professional basis, it’s one of the largest up and coming online games there is, one of the top games in Europe, second only to World of Warcraft, the top online game in Japan and one of the fastest growing in Asia and the United States.
On a personal basis, I’m a hardcore World of Warcraft player. I run the number four guild in the world. I showed the game to my guild mates and they thought maybe it was the next expansion. And I have been playing right now. I’m not going to say it’s a replacement but it’s of that world-class caliber. That’s not just from me as a WoW player but from what the market is saying in Europe, Japan, and other countries.
The game is free to play and it has features such as player housing, guild housing, guild casltle wars, so it’s your guild house vs another guild house, with guild mates running amok and trying to kill each other. It has customizable pets, customizable and legendary weapons, dual class systems so that you can play a rogue and a scout or a mage and a knight, crafting system where you do not have a limit on professions. You have a wide array of user addons as well.
The most exciting part is that this is a very passionate, aggressive developer so you have new content coming out every few months, all free of charge.
How do you earn revenue if it’s all free of charge?
Virtual item goods. It’s been the dominant business model for every game except for that game in there (points to the guys at Blizzard who are conducting a seminar on World of Warcraft).
Do you think this is an east vs west trend where in the US, you have online games following a subscription based model while in the far east, developers prefer an in-game item sales model?
Even in the States, I would argue that the trend in shifting, especially if you look at the Facebook platform games there, it’s micro-transactions. Micro-transactions is not a new thing in the States. For instance, iTunes is micro-transactions. So, it’s not that foreign of a business concept. But for games and as gamers we know that if you’re playing a shooting game — if I’m not that good, I will buy some potential power ups or boosts to help my team so that I am not a dead weight to my team. For racing games, you can buy improved customizations, cooler cars and it’s fun.
We don’t expect everyone to pay and we’re perfectly happy with the non-paying players as we are with the paying players.
Do you actually host your servers here?
I cannot get into that because there’s some technical confidentiality. But we look at this as a dynamic landscape and if the perfect solution is not here today, we’re working with partners to get to the perfect solution down the road.
Are you looking to actually develop games in this region rather than just Arabizing existing games?
That’s one of our visions and passions. Our tag line is very simple — to bring the best games to the MENA market. Step one of that is licensing. But we certainly see talent and capability here to develop content as well, not just for the Arab region but also to be expanded out.
The first step to doing that is to create a market and the space. It’s going to be very difficult to any developer to develop under a vacuum. One of the things I was saying in my talks earlier is that if you want to create a really good chef, he has to taste some really darn good food left and right, and not just live off his mom’s cooking all the time.
That’s one of the things we’re trying to do. We want to bring in the best now, to make it as future compatible as possible.
How big is your team?
Our team at the moment is about 30 employees spread across the Middle East. We’re working with customers, developers, there’s a marketing group, tech group, a localization group and so on.
In terms of localization, do you just translate games to Arabic or is there more to it?
It’s not just language. As you know by looking at a lot of games, some of them are violent or graphic and some games have a strong religious reference which needs to be addressed. In our games, we’re respectful of the prayer times during Ramadan. During prayer times, we don’t do player activities at that time. It’s not much but we’ll build more complicated systems down the road.
When can we see these games out in the market?
Ragnarok is freely available right now, Crazy Kart will be later this month. We’re starting the closed beta process for Runes of Magic next month as well. We welcome the ME Gamers community to participate in it.
Sounds great. If someone from the ME Gamers community wants to participate in the beta, how do they do that?
They can sign up at Tahadi.com. We’ll set that up for you right away.
Finally, we’re here at the DWGC. What do you think of it?
It’s a growing process. I think the organisers have done a great job. The participants seem excited about the industry and we’re glad we’re the only online games shown here.