How Manga Productions is bringing manga, anime and games to the Middle East | CEO interview

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Manga Productions is playing a unique role in the ambitious goal of bringing Saudi Arabia‘s entertainment industry into the modern world.

There are many bigger companies in the country that outshine this maker of manga, anime and video games. But few carry as much hope, ambition and alignment with what the country’s leaders say they want Saudi Arabia to become.

The newfound obsession with entertainment like video games, anime and manga has deep roots. Saudi kids grow up engaged with this content, which is largely created in Japan and other parts of Asia. While the Saudi Arabian market is small by global standards, it is a wealthy one, and it’s one reason why the Saudis think big investments in games will pay off for them.

They also know the world will move beyond oil, and they need to diversify their economy and create the jobs of the future. While big financial empires that sprawl across the world can be run out of Riyadh, companies like Manga may be the ones that create jobs inside the country.


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The challenges

Deera Square is a public square in Riyadh where public executions are held. The religious police, now defunded, occupied the building on the right.

There is a lot of drama around the Saudis. Critics say that the regime of Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud doesn’t respect human rights. As crown prince and prime minister, he was connected to the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 via alleged killers who had ties to the crown prince.

Accepting funding from the Saudis under such a regime represents a moral quandary, as the Saudis have become a big source of funding in their efforts to diversify beyond their dependence on oil, which the world is in the process of moving away from in pursuit of clean energy. Saudi defenders say that all major sources of money in the world are tainted in some way, and accepting an investment from the Saudis does not mean you have to accept interference from the Saudis or embrace their agenda.

But the 38-year-old crown prince, known as MBS, said in a recent Fox interview that he is a gamer and he spends hours playing. Since a kid, he was a gamer and he enjoyed disconnecting from reality. He noted how esports is growing and some streamers are beating Hollywood with billions of views. As such, he identifies more with the new generation, rather than those who are stuck in the past.

The promise

Gamers8 had a $45 million prize pool. It was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Gamers8 had a $45 million prize pool. It was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

And the Saudis are blazing their way through deals across the world. It’s like they believe that games and other entertainment like movies, manga and anime will bridge cultures and change the world.

Savvy Games Group acquired Los Angeles-based mobile game publisher Scopely for $4.9 billion in April, and it bought a $1 billion stake in Sweden-based game publisher Embracer Group. It also acquired ESL Gaming and FaceIt in esports to create ESL FaceIt Group. Of Savvy’s 4,000 employees, about 200 are in Saudi Arabia.

And the Saudis have also bought stakes in Capcom, Nexon and Nintendo this year, building on stakes it acquired previously in Activision Blizzard, Take-Two Interactive and Electronic Arts. All of that has made the gaming world take notice.

Savvy’s big stakeholder, the Public Investment Fund (run by the Saudi Arabian government) is flush with cash from the oil boom and it has set aside $37.8 billion to build up Saudi Arabia’s presence in the global games industry – with $13.3 billion of that earmarked for acquiring a major publisher.

All of these deals represent forces that will produce change. There are still those who would prefer to see gaming marginalized. But they are a vanishing breed in the world.

Kate Edwards, CEO of consultancy Geogrify, said in a panel at the Next Wrld Forum in Riyadh that games have become a “cultural artifact of any place where they’re created, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, United States, Germany, China and elsewhere. It’s a cultural artifact on the same caliber as film, television, literature and art. We have to treat it as such.”

And she noted that “all content carries culture,” and that content is an ambassador of who we are as creators.

Organic growth with Manga

The Middle East and North Africa are growing fast.

While much attention has focused on Savvy Gaming Group, a division of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that is investing billions in video games, Manga is a lower-profile company that is also very busy making comics, anime films and video games including original content for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The company is opting for organic growth — creating jobs the hard way.

It turns out that young Saudis — and there are a lot of them, as 70% of the country is under 35 — are hungry for MENA-focused content. And what is striking about Manga Productions is that you can see the larger change across the country reflected inside the company itself.

Manga Productions has been around for six years, and it launched the anime film The Journey, which focuses on ancient Arabic lore. It is making an anime series dubbed Grendizer U, named at a 40-year-old Japanese series Grendizer, for which Manga acquired the rights. It’s also making a Grendizer game.

Manga also signed a publishing deal with Microids to distribute the Smurfs Kart video game based on the Smurfs franchise in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The game debuted in the region on August 22. The company is also working on Flashback 2 under another deal with Microids. It will publish, distribute and localize the game in the MENA region for the consoles and PC.

I traveled to Saudi Arabia recently and spent time with Manga Productions, a Riyadh startup that is a subsidiary of the Mohammed bin Salman “Misk” Foundation. I also attended the Next Wrld Fest, a high-end business event focused on games and esports at the swanky Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh. I was fascinated by the speed of change in the country when it comes to modernizing the culture and the ambitions to build brand new cities — as well as the conflicts between tradition and modernity. I felt it wasn’t just a land of stereotypes; it has its own local twist on culture, entertainment and gaming. The Saudis are building brand-new cities and they see games and esports being an integral part of that.

Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy Games Group, told me he has witnessed a lot of change in the last five years, and he’s excited to be part of that change for the long term.

I interviewed Manga’s CEO Essam Bukhary and Abdulaziz Alnaghmoosh, director of marketing and business development, at Manga’s headquarters in the guarded diplomatic quarter in Riyadh. Aziz also took me and a group of game industry folks on a short tour of Riyadh, where Saudi youth still flock to physical stores to buy their games. The company’s aim, of course, is to show visitors the change that is happening fast in their country and that they can be a source of talent, not just money.

An eager market

Sony's PlayStation rules in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Sony’s PlayStation rules in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Market researcher Niko Partners estimates there are 67.4 million gamers in the Middle East North Africa (MENA, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt) market and revenues of $1.8 billion. Within the next five years, that could grow to 87.3 million gamers and $2.8 billion, said Lisa Cosmas Hanson, president of Niko Partners, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Saudi Arabia is the largest market in the MENA by games revenue, with growth driven by mobile gaming as well as public and private sector investment and esports. About 76% of gamers in the MENA-3 region are under the age of 35. About 73% of gamers in the region engage with esports in some way.

“The MENA region has emerged as a powerhouse gaming and esports market in a very short time,” said Hanson. “As we watch Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt collectively grow 56% from 1.8 billion in 2022 to $2.8 billion in 2026 gain $1 billion, the world will also watch and participate in MENA’s high revenue esports tournaments that are putting the region on the map.”

Cosmas Hanson started covering the MENA region a couple of years ago because she had a gut feeling it was like China when she started covering its game market 21 years ago.

“There is a lot of organic demand, which I believe is imperative for success,” she said in an interview with GamesBeat. “There is also this top-down support from Saudi agencies.”

The games are popular and localized, but the region needs an upgrade with its server infrastructure so that online games can function better.

Cosmas Hanson was impressed that the Saudis have also used Western advisers like Jessica Tams, who formerly organized the Casual Connect conferences, to solicit advice from the West. At the recent Next Wrld Forum event, there were dozens of executives and CEOs from U.S. game companies and other game companies from around the world in attendance.

The Saudis have to also decisively decide how they view content, and whether they want to control it like China does or let game creators and fans govern themselves, Cosmas Hanson said. And while attitudes about games may change, young Saudis don’t want to wait for a generation for change — nor does MBS.

“It’s going to take a generational change,” she said.

As for Manga Productions, Cosmas Hanson said it was interesting to see most of the art department was women and more than half of the company was women and that the company had such close ties to companies like Toei Animation in Japan.

Organic growth with Manga Productions

Noura Alzahrani graduated from the anime/manga training program.

Manga Productions has more than 70 people (more counting contractors), and more than half of them are women. That’s remarkable in a country where it’s only been five years since women have been allowed to drive. Yet the contradictions are clear, as many women still wear veils when out in public, even as they pass by a Victoria’s Secret store at the local mall.

Bukhary is one of the people trying to make that change happen faster. While there, I watched a unique graduation ceremony. Manga Productions worked with universities to create a contest for students. More than 500 people applied for the internship program and about 50 were chosen to learn how to create anime and manga. The young people I interviewed were ecstatic about getting the chance to be creative.

Again, half of the students were women, and they studied under Japanese anime and manga professionals. I had no idea that Saudis grew up with Japanese anime and there was such a close bond between the countries. The students trained for a month, and some of them may be invited back for jobs. That’s how many of Manga’s developers have been hired. That represents some real change in a country that has been criticized for its record on human rights and censorship for creative arts.

The women I interviewed at the company said their dream was to be able to create manga, anime and games based on their culture and everyday lives. And Bukhary said his dream is that Manga Productions will play the same role in the entertainment industry as Saudi Arabia’s oil company, Aramco, did in the oil industry. In fact, he wants Manga Productions to be the Disney of the Middle East.

“It’s our mission at Manga Productions to inspire the heroes of tomorrow,” Bukhary said. “We’re not making manga or anime or video games. We’re making the next generation in Saudi Arabia and the region, and of course around the world.”

I talked Bukhary and Alnaghmoosh about these subjects. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Interview with Manga CEO

Essam Bukhary is CEO of Manga Productions in Riyadh.

GamesBeat: How long were you in Japan?

Essam Bukhary: It was 19 years.

GamesBeat: Where did that all come from?

Bukhary: When I graduated from secondary school, I had three options. One, to study medicine. It was the wish of my father and my mother to go to America to study engineering. Or to go to Japan. After consulting with many friends and people I trusted, I decided to go to Japan. That was in 1996. The reason is, in the G7, Japan is the only Asian country. It has something unique and different compared to other western countries. If I could speak Japanese in addition to Arabic, I might be a unique person in the market. Of course, I had a passion about Japan, how Japan made it work after World War II and how we could apply this to Saudi Arabia. I decided to go to Japan, and I’m very glad today that I’m participating in making Vision 2030 in Saudi.

GamesBeat: When did you start enjoying anime? Was it during those years? What were you watching?

Bukhary: Since my childhood. I grew up watching Japanese animation, like Grendizer. Many generations in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world are the same. After I went to Japan, I watched the anime that I’d watched in Arabic in Japanese. It was a tool for me to learn the Japanese language there. I was very happy that having this knowledge about anime helped me to make friends in Japan, international friends over there.

After I entered university, I spent my time reading manga and watching anime. It was a part of my life there. But I was more of a consumer of anime and manga. After I graduated with my PhD, I worked as a diplomat, a Saudi attaché in Japan. My job was to take care of 700 Saudi students there. I also promoted culture between the two countries. At the time a number of my students were studying anime and manga. At the same time, we published a number of manga to promote Saudi Arabia. That was the start. This was between 2015 and 2018. My last seven years in Japan were diplomatic work, although I also worked in content creation for a number of Japanese companies during that time as well.

When I finished my diplomatic work, I came back to Saudi Arabia I was asked to lead a company under the Saudi social media group. It was in the field of manga, comics, animation and video games. I worked there for a year, and after that I moved to Manga Productions.

In 2011, March 2011, there was the big earthquake in Japan and the Fukushima disaster. The earthquake, the tsunami, and the radiation problems. The first time you saw three disasters in one crisis. At the time, many countries sent their students back to their home countries or moved them to other countries. When I was a cultural attaché, I had this discussion with the ministry of education.

I said, “Don’t do this. Let’s send more Saudi students to Japan.” They asked me why. I told them, “For many years we thought the Japanese miracle was amazing, after World War II. Japan will make a new miracle after Fukushima. This is a golden chance for our students to see this miracle, to learn and participate, and create our own miracle.”

What I’m trying to say here, the Saudi students we sent over at that time, they’re the ones working with me here at Manga Productions, leading the collaboration with Japanese companies.

The Journey
The Journey

GamesBeat: How long did you know you wanted to start your own anime company?

Bukhary: It’s not my own company. I was asked to start in the job of CEO. In 2017, when I came to Manga Productions – I had that passion. When I was a diplomat, I hoped that I could do something great to inspire young generations. My mission in life is to inspire and empower leaders and talents. I’m writing that in my Twitter account right now. I built content, is the real power.

I remember I met the former prime minister of Japan, Taro Aso. He told me, “We’re very proud of our manga, our content. Half the players on our national team decided to play football after reading Captain Tsubasa.” When I was studying in the school of engineering, many of the professors had statues of Gundam or Grendizer in their laboratories. They saw mecha anime and they wanted to be in that field. It’s our mission at Manga Productions to inspire the heroes of tomorrow. We’re not making manga or anime or video games. We’re making the next generation in Saudi Arabia and the region, and of course around the world.

It was a passion. Anime is a great tool in order to achieve that dream.

GamesBeat: It feels unlikely, but did you run into a lot of skepticism about this? How did you convince people that you could get this done? That it wasn’t a crazy idea to do this.

Bukhary: In 2017 I started at Manga Productions. There was no studio, no employees, no school to teach animation or games or manga. All we had was a vision, a dream. They said, “We need you to deliver this level of quality. Your job is to empower this.” I started in my job by visiting Japan, meeting Toei Animation and negotiating with them. My first condition was that I needed opportunities for internships for my young talents. They accepted.

Then we opened two competitions at the end of 2017. One was for character designers and animators. We had Shinji Shimizu, who’s the executive producer of One Piece. He was visiting the kingdom. The other competition was for video game developers. It was with Yosuke Matsuda, the former president of Square Enix. When we had those two competitions, it was my way to headhunt and hire the winners to be on my team. It started from there.

The year after, we started sending our students for internships at Toei Animation, Square Enix, SNK and other companies. After that we hired the best of the best to be with us. It’s all about people, all about talent. If you ask me as a CEO, after seven years now, what is my greatest achievement, I’ll tell you that it’s building this team. Those talents are not the most important asset for Manga Productions. They’re the only assets I have in this company.

More than half of the employees at Manga Productions are women.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting that the population here was being trained for this by being fans growing up. I’ve studied other countries that have strong video game markets. The United States, Japan, South Korea, they’re all very strong in video games because they grew up playing them. By contrast, India had more trouble getting into games, or at least came later, because they didn’t grow up on games. It’s one of the requirements for being able to have enough talent to get started. Somehow each country that moves into games or animation starts with these people who were fans first.

Bukhary: One point here. What was the situation before Manga Productions – we had three main challenges. The first one, we had no high-quality productions for creative content, whether for anime or manga or games, from Saudi Arabia or the rest of the Arab world. We had some productions, but of very low quality. The second challenge, we had great talent, but they didn’t have opportunities where they could practice, where they could develop their skills.

The third one is we had some content trying to talk about the Arab peninsula, the Arab world, but it didn’t represent us in the right way. It was more like the Arabian Nights. Deserts, camels, that sort of thing.

GamesBeat: Too many stereotypes?

Bukhary: Thank you. After Manga Productions started, we knew we could prove to the world that we have talent that can lead. We have qualities that we’re very proud of. When The Journey won Best Experimental Film at the Septimius Awards, the first time in the history of Arab films, being on 52 platforms globally, being the first ever Arab and Saudi content on a Chinese platform, and more than 20 platforms in Japan – it was the IP that had the most likes on Netflix in June in MENA. Of course, you saw that evaluation of the IP. Doing that with our first movie is a great milestone.

We believe that the distance from zero to one is longer than the distance from one to 20. Our dream is 10,000, 100,000, one million, one trillion. It’s only the start for us.

Manga Productions is in the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh.

GamesBeat: You’ve been attracting a lot of people from around the world now to the company. Is there something interesting about the message that you have to get those people to join?

Bukhary: We should think about it on a bigger scale. It’s not only attracting people to Manga Productions, although that’s very important. We’re very proud of our talent from Saudi Arabia, from other Arab countries, from Japan, from Europe. We even have people from the U.S. But it’s not only that. Look at what we did with Toei Animation, for example. I think The Journey – it’s not a made in Saudi IP. It’s not a made in Japan IP. It’s a new concept. We have different cultures, different languages, different art styles, even different ages. In Japan the creators are in their late ‘40s, 50s, 60s. Our young talent are in their 20s and early 30s. We had a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. But we could overcome all those challenges to deliver this piece of art.

What we’re doing now with Microids, publishing their Grendizer game, and what we’re doing with our friends at Dynamic with the new Grendizer, it’s all about working as one team. Even if we’re from different countries, different cultures, we have one passion, one dream, and one goal, to deliver high quality content to inspire the people and the fans. This is the important message. We believe this is a new model of co-production, of co-creating this new value.

GamesBeat: I noticed from some of the other interviews – I guess there’s a tightrope to walk in some ways. There are issues around censorship and creative freedom. The talent wants creative freedom, but there are local customs in Saudi Arabia and other places that you need to respect. Likewise, when you take this content to China you have to walk the tightrope there. How do you thread these needles around trying to make each party satisfied?

Bukhary: Now we have two aspects. The first aspect is when we’re producing something original. When we’re producing something original, we’re applying the Japanese style. We’re respecting the opinion of the creative teams and experts there. But at the same time, we have to deliver something real from our side. With Journey, our team made 52 videos just to explain the body language of the Arab world and Arab culture. Believe it or not. We had location hunting. We did very specific studies. We asked historians about the clothing at the time, the names, everything. We wanted to be very specific about those aspects.

At that time, we have to take care, because if we want to succeed with our original work, we won’t succeed by bringing the stories of Japanese or American culture. It should be from our culture. When we take that to different countries, we need to understand the audiences there. Some work, if we take it as it is, translate it as it is to Japanese or Chinese or Malay, they won’t understand it. Some things that are unique need to be customized to make them easier for some audiences.

Manga Productions is making anime, manga and video games.

Even if you look at a number of the Pixar movies – I think it was Inside Out? There was broccoli in it. Kids in the U.S. supposedly don’t like broccoli. In Japan, they love it. They changed that scene to match the Japanese market. We’re doing the same thing when we go to different places. That’s one thing.

The second aspect, when we’re doing something cooperative, a co-production – with Grendizer it’s more of a global IP. We can share our suggestions, our thoughts. We think applying this or that may make the IP more successful in a global market. We discuss this as partners, as one team. Sometimes they listen to us and sometimes they say, “Yes, we’ll do it that way.” It’s more of a constructive work, a collaborative approach.

The comic book Bissa

GamesBeat: You mentioned your dream earlier, could you talk more about that for this interview?

Bukhary: If you think about what’s the biggest difference between Saudi Arabia and other countries, now Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for anime in the region. We’re the biggest market for video games in the region. We’re one of the fastest growing markets globally. You can see the real evolution everywhere in the kingdom. For long years we’ve been a country that consumed content. We were content consumers. We need to change that. We’ve started to change that. Now we’re producing content and exporting content. This is very important.

I believe Manga Productions, in my personal opinion, is playing the same role as Aramco in the oil industry. Aramco started, supported other companies, and empowered Saudi talent. Then we had this leading position globally in the oil industry. We’re trying to do this in the creative content industry. We have a great environment. We have the talent. We have the vision to do that. I hope that Manga Productions, with other companies, we can be the Disney of the Middle East, in terms of inspiration and business opportunities. Not only for Manga Productions, but all other Arab and Middle Eastern companies.

GamesBeat: If you move up the food chain, if you diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, you wind up changing society.

Bukhary: Of course, of course. It’s all about that. It’s all about inspiration. It’s all about how we can give and create a positive impact among these young generations. We’re very proud of our partnership with the ministry of education and the ministry of culture in Saudi Arabia, providing online manga courses for three million Saudi students. It might be the first time ever to find manga education in official education for public schools. If you ask me why, it’s because this is the time of AI. It’s the time of big data. We need to invest in the imagination, to empower the imagination of those young generations.

In the ‘70s, maybe the ‘80s, it was the time of hardware. The ‘90s became the time of software. Now we’re in the time of brainware. We’re investing in the brains of our young generations.

Riyadh is full of modern sights.

GamesBeat: Women seem to be part of this plan as well. You have a lot of women working here, a necessary part of the talent.

Bukhary: I’m very proud to say that almost 55% or 60% of our employees are women. They’re very talented. They’re our secret, one of the biggest secrets behind our success. They’re more organized than us, the men. I appreciate their great work.

When we had The Journey movie, when we had the first draft – Toei Animation sent us the first draft. Our women here in the next room, they stopped the movie second by second and started given their retake requests to Toei Animation. Toei called me. “Please do something to help us. Your team is looking for a very high quality. Even in Japan we’re not thinking about that.” This is the power of women. I’m very proud of all the talent here in Saudi. The young women, the young men, they’re our real investment here.

Let me say this. Personally, I believe the real key to the success of a leader is preparing the next generation of leaders that can exceed him or exceed her. The happiest day in my life is when I see these young talents exceeding me, taking Manga Productions, taking the Saudi and Arab creative industry to new horizons.

GamesBeat: Do you see the video game opportunity in particular as bigger than animation? What do you see as the real opportunity to grow a large company, large revenues? I wonder which will take you there, or if it’s the combination.

And it has a lot of Saudi tradition as well.

Bukhary: If you look at the data – let me say one thing before I answer that. I’m very proud to say that–I’m very happy that in each field in Manga Productions, everyone is an expert in their field. More than me. I’m always very happy to ask them, “Teach me.” I believe in reverse mentorship. I’m not only in the position to mentor, but to learn from my team members. My job is always about empowering them to solve problems in their work.

But to answer your question, if you look at the data, the local video game market is bigger than animation. This is a fact. However, for Manga Productions it’s all about IP. It’s IP management. That’s the secret. Between 2017 and 2020 we were an IP creation company. In 2020 we tried to ask other companies to do the distribution for us, but those companies didn’t really succeed. In 2021, when we decided to start the distribution of The Journey movie, we made the strategic decision to do it by ourselves. The team studied by themselves, and you see the results.

Manga Productions’ Future Folktales.

Going back to your question, I’ll use the example of Grendizer. With Grendizer we’re distributing and licensing that new animation globally, except in Japan. At the same time, we’re doing the publishing of the Grendizer game from Microids in France. When we did both, we had that synergy. The great performance of the video game gave a very positive impact on the negotiations for the distribution and licensing of the anime. And the great performance of the anime made a very good impact on the deals around the video game.

If you look at it as IP management or IP licensing, IP utilization, from that point of view it’s all together in the ecosystem. That’s why, even for Grendizer, we had that Grendizer statue at Boulevard World in Riyadh. That’s why we’re having the Grendizer experience in Boulevard City. We’ll take all the measurements we need to maximize the value of our IP.

Abdulaziz Alnaghmoosh: When we started to look at what survived in the last 20 years and didn’t die off, consoles died off. Brands of consoles. The Neo Geo disappeared. The Dreamcast disappeared, Sega consoles. The solution wasn’t in consoles. We looked at the Dragon Ball model. Dragon Ball, for more than 30 years, has passed through six generations of consoles and is still viable. What does that mean? The last time Dragon Ball was aired, Dragon Ball Z, was in the ‘90s. But the games were still being made in 2018 when Dragon Ball Kai, Dragon Ball Super aired. Why did it survive so long? Because it was an IP. It wasn’t tied to anything. It wasn’t tied to a certain technology or a single concept.

So, what established that? It was the animation that struck a chord with young people. I watched Dragon Ball when I was six years old, and I still play Dragon Ball games when I’m 31 years old. The idea is to always establish an IP. The easiest way to establish an IP is anime. You can distribute it everywhere. It’s easy to access. Today, when I was talking about games, even though games are the biggest medium that makes the most money, you still have to have a phone. You still have to have a high-end phone, usually. Maybe the game doesn’t run well on Android, only on iOS. Maybe it’s on PlayStation, but not on Xbox.

There’s still a big diversion when it comes to games. You can’t establish a good IP there and then transform it into animation. It’s only happened maybe two or three times. How many anime have become games, successful games? Tons of them. Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece. The only thing that’s translated very well the other way recently was Mario. That’s why we see anime as the easiest way. And by the way, it’s also the cheapest when it comes to production. You can do a ton of revenue with $20 million.

Bukhary: That’s why if you look at our original IP, Future Folktales, we had the anime. We had three mobile games. We had the merchandise licensing for our characters in the market. It’s all about the IP management concept.

The Journey is an anime film set in ancient Arabia.
The Journey is an anime film set in ancient Arabia.

GamesBeat: If you grow a really large company, does it need to offset the oil industry? Do you have to create something that’s as momentous as what oil brought to Saudi Arabia in order to be successful? That’s a heavy responsibility. It almost seems like an impossible task. What do you think is realistic for that part of the goal, offsetting oil?

Bukhary: We’re one company. Of course, it’s not our responsibility as one company to do this. If you look at the Vision 2030 plan, it’s not about offsetting oil with only the creative industry. We have many other initiatives, many other movements in the country. If you look at the growth Saudi Arabia recorded in the last few years, you won’t believe what’s happening. Maybe five years ago, we didn’t have cinemas here. It was banned. Now the sales of Saudi movie theaters are almost 55% of the whole MENA region, and still growing.

Look at tourism, what’s happening in Riyadh and other areas. Look at what’s happening in football. We’re not here to do something in the short term. We’re looking at the long term. We’re here to compete and set global standards. If we’re doing something, it should be the highest quality, or we shouldn’t do it at all. We’re one part of a greater ecosystem doing this. Our investment is in our talent, our human beings.

Let me say this, as my personal dream. When I went to Japan at the end of the 20th century, the reason was because I wanted to study the secrets of the Japanese miracle. I’m 100% sure that after a few years, we’ll have students coming to study in Saudi Arabia to learn the secrets of the Saudi miracle. What we’re doing here, we’re trying to inspire other countries. It’s not about oil. Yes, we’re doing that with oil, but I’m sure what we’re doing in Saudi Arabia, all other nations can apply in their own way. It’s more about inspiring, about giving hope to all nations to have a better world for everyone. I believe content is the passport to a peaceful world.

Manga Productions’ Future’s Folktales.

Alnaghmoosh: It’s not just the oil industry. It’s also the steel industry that’s coming up here. It’s also the car industry, producing and manufacturing cars. All these other sectors are developing and pushing us. I hope games do perhaps 5% of that. But that’s a very challenging task.

Bukhary: The experience of Manga Productions in publishing games–before Manga Productions started, most of the big companies were trying to do that from outside Saudi Arabia, or relying on international teams that don’t really understand the market. But doing that with our talent, people who understand the market, we have had great performance and sales. This is only the beginning. I hope we can have more and more success stories to share with our partners.

Disclosure: Manga Productions paid my way to Saudi Arabia.

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