A local startup seeks to replace cell phones in the Saudi living room with family games.
“We’re not connecting with each other anymore except through social media,” says Rola Badkook, cofounder of Rock Paper Scissors (RPS).
The new enterprise aims to create localized games that help stimulate minds. “I believe children should play with their parents and engage all family members. I become sad when I see children playing with their maids and not with family members. It’s quality time you can spend with your kids.”
One prototype soon to be launched is a multiplayer challenge with a chance to ask individuals questions that have open-ended answers in an attempt to bridge the gap in relationships.
Rola says, “It helps you open conversations, understand the person deeply and allow them to be imaginative.”
According to studies, the longest period two individuals connect without interruption is only a few minutes. “It’s a global issue,” adds Rola.
Among the new line they are producing are educational games that allow people to engage with the world around them.
Games and toys are much more than entertainment; they have a strong impact on healing and therapy, according to cofounder Rafah Sahab, who holds a degree in play therapy.
“It’s a process that engages clients in a playful process to help them heal, transform and know about themselves through games using materials.”
“I share the same interest,” says Rola, who has previous experience in business. “I was fascinated by children’s museums in the US. I was full of ambition when I returned. I believe all children have the right to play no matter what their socioeconomic background is.”
She adds, “The accessibility to such places is very exclusive in our society, whether it’s after-school activities or entertainment or amusement parks, which only middle and upper classes can afford. Prices are an obstacle.”
However, what is missing in the shelves of toy stores are games relating to local culture and language, going as far as translating board games into Arabic with a foreign context.
“We knew there is a huge gap in the market,” says Rafah. “Most of the toys are imported. The content doesn’t suit us or relate to our culture.”
Their latest creation in their studio is an activity multiplayer game with references to Arabic sayings and proverbs.
Rafah adds, “The MENA region is second in the world in spending on toys only after the United States.”
Despite having a market share estimated to be worth billions of riyals and a population of a majority of young people, local manufacturers of toys are scarce and lacking in quality.
In their studio, RPS has shelves of imported games and playing tools as well as coloring books for adults that tend to be in popular demand lately.
“But we decided to stop importing and focus on making toys and games locally,” says Rola. “As a startup, we have a chance to experiment and pivot the business in another direction.”
“We wanted to establish a concept that helps families engage in a playful, nonjudgmental environment,” adds Rafah.
After seeking experts’ advice and pilot family workshops that produced positive feedback, the entrepreneurs of RPS took their project further by seeking manufacturers in China. “We went to factories there to make conscious choices about the working conditions there and also look for quality,” says Rafah. “We prefer to work with local manufacturers but only when they have the capability.”
RPS plans to launch games in three lines: in connecting families, engaging people in educational games, and healing.
The games RPS produces aim to support local artists and graphic designers to support Saudi talent. “We think we have a responsibility to promote local artists and have them recognized,” she adds.
When asked about the entrepreneurial environment in Saudi Arabia, Rafah said it was growing and improving, especially in training and mentorship programs but still lacks “brave investors”.
Saudi investors are too conservative and seek safe business ventures, a challenge many entrepreneurs encounter when introducing a brand new, innovative idea unfamiliar to the market.
Rafah says, “We believe in creativity. We wanted to create something new and fill a gap. We believe people are hungry for such games. For children, there are many resources and possibilities. For teens and adults, there aren’t any localized games.”
Rola adds, “We like the process. It’s magical because at the end of the day, it’s something that can hold.”