Sandsoft Games CEO David Fernandez Remesal has told us that:
- Sandsoft wants to be a global player to rank alongside EA, Activision, Tencent and NetEase in five years
- It’ll open a new studio in Europe this year, and will expand into one more territory every year thereafter
- Sandsoft is on the hunt for acquisitions, and is also investing in high potential games and teams
- The firm’s financial backer, a Saudi-based family, is “fully supportive” and “thinking really long-term” about investment
David Fernandez Remesal has been working in mobile since the very dawn of the industry, starting at THQ Wireless before moving through companies including Digital Chocolate, Nokia and King.
When he was appointed Sandsoft CEO in 2021, Remesal cooked up a long-term strategy that starts with mobile game publishing in the MENA region and ends up somewhere quite different: duking it out with Activision, EA, Tencent and NetEase as a top player on the global stage.
“We are part of a large corporation, a large family business in Saudi Arabia and they’re fully supportive,” says Remesal. “I mean, they are trying to create a games business in a country where there is no games industry. So they are thinking really long term on that front.”
Sandsoft is part of a wider network of businesses owned by a Saudi family, and is not part of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund behind new Scopely owner Savvy Gaming Group. But it is involved in the country’s overall efforts to diversify its economy.
“There is a big country plan around the games industry,” says Remesal. “We are part of that. It’s a combination of our own resources and how the country can support Sandsoft Games as well. So with a combination of talent and resources we feel we can be competing in the global ecosystem.”
So of course we have to ask: what kind of a budget does Sandsoft have to make all this happen?
“There’s not really a figure on the investment front,” says Remesal. “We prefer not to, at this moment, propose restrictions. Once you have a budget, once you have a figure, then you restrict yourself. I think we are more opportunistic.”
But let’s start with the here and now. Sandsoft is currently publishing games in the MENA region on a case-by-case basis, and is open to co-developing games from scratch. Investment in games and development teams is also part of Remesal’s near-term remit.
“We are being conscious…is this a game that we think we can grow? Or is this a team we think we can invest in that has an opportunity to create the next big thing for us?” says Remesal. “We are exploring both opportunities.”
Right now, for example, Sandsoft is working with Dodreams to build Drive Ahead’s presence in the MENA region, and has just started a codevelopment project with Netmarble and Saudi media firm MBC.
It also has a development team in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that is “experimenting a bit with some game ideas, mostly in the strategy genre,” says Remesal, but is still at the prototyping stage. That team is particularly interested in more “socially enabled games”, he says.
Currently Sandsoft has that Riyadh studio of around 40 people, plus eight people in Barcelona, three in Shanghai and two in Helsinki. And there’s plenty more to come, starting with a new European studio this year.
“We have a head of studio role open and we’re equally happy with this person being based in London, Helsinki, Berlin or Barcelona, which are the four locations we are looking into,” says Remesal.
Opening up shop in Japan, Korea and China is also part of the plan, before expanding westward into the US. “We are considering a new studio per year,” says Remesal. “And then subsequently one game from every studio around after three years from when the studio was started.”
He also expects the Riyadh studio to grow from 40 to around 100 people by the end of this year, before “doubling in size every year for the next three to five years”.
Remesal still sees opportunities in “mobile free to play, core and midcore game experiences” – mainly in RPG, strategy, sports and racing titles. Sandsoft is already working with GT Manager and F1 Mobile Racing maker Tiny Digital Factory in racing, and has an RPG in the works with a UK studio.
So Sandsoft already has plenty going on, and will soon look cross-platform too. “We say we’re mobile first,” says Remesal. “But similarly, we are trying to think about how we can expand those games that make sense to other platforms as well, so PC and console will play a role at Sandsoft for sure.”
And if we fast-forward five years, with the backing and ambition it has, Remesal sees Sandsoft as becoming a global player to rival some of the industry’s biggest publishers.
“Our ambition is to be a leader in the mobile games industry, from our region to the world, in the same way that you have in the US not just mobile, but larger organisations – you have the Activisions, you have the Take-Twos, you have Electronic Arts,” adds Remesal.
“Looking to China, you have Tencent and you have NetEase. We want to be one of those. We want to be one of these global companies that has global impact but we are similarly conscious we are part of Middle East and North Africa.”