Game developer

The country’s first mobile game development company was born from a programming book bought from Nilkhet

Tanveer Ahmed’s Free Pixel Games Ltd is the first mobile game development studio in Bangladesh born out of a love for computers and a failed outsourcing business

September 04, 2022, 09:00

Last modification: September 04, 2022, 3:35 p.m.

Tanveer Ahmed recently posed for a photo in his Banani office with the company’s flagship mobile game, Dragon Village. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Tanveer Ahmed recently posed for a photo in his Banani office with the company’s flagship mobile game, Dragon Village. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

It was 1998. Tanveer Ahmed was a sophomore at Notre Dame College. The college had just introduced a new subject – computer science, in addition to statistics and biology, as an optional subject. He didn’t really have a clue about the new topic, but decided to go for it anyway.

A month later, he learned that a computer fair would be held in the city.

“I decided to participate in the fair with a project by all means. But I had neither programming skills nor a personal computer,” said Tanveer Ahmed, general manager of Free Pixel Games Ltd, the first development company of mobile games in the country, sitting at his desk in Banani. The company creates mobile games that are played in the United States, Australia and Europe.

A thought crossed his mind. One of his uncles owned a used computer hardware store – Well-done Computers – in Kamlapur. He borrowed a computer for a month from his uncle. However, he had no coding skills, so he went to Nilkhet in search of a book on coding.

“I bought a book on programming – Visual Java++, from a sidewalk store and studied it for a whole month. It helped me develop a dynamic website,” said Tanveer, 40 years, who established Free Pixel Games Ltd in 2009, a time when only a handful of people in Bangladesh used smartphones. “My only goal was to participate in the fair.”

Tanveer, along with others, participated and exhibited their project at the fair. To his surprise, his website project won an award. Six months later, his father bought him his first personal computer. He quickly got to grips with software and then got into the outsourcing industry.

The creation of Free Pixel Games Ltd

“My taste for software grew over time. Nevertheless, I never wanted to be a software engineer, but a software businessman,” Tanveer said.

He made a profile on E-lance in 2001, a freelance site. He started outsourcing work to other freelancers through his profile. At that time, he had already enrolled in the prestigious business school, IBA, at the University of Dhaka. Through outsourcing, he started earning dollars.

“After I graduated in 2004, my father wanted me to take care of our family business in the textile industry. It was a local business, but my dream was to venture into the international market”, said Tanveer. He also did an internship in a textile factory, but he didn’t like it.

A year later, he set up an outsourcing office, ITIW with a small team and only eight computers. The new company saw its business explode. In three years, the number of employees has increased from 8 to 45.

In 2008, as the whole world fell into an economic recession, the company’s profits began to decline. Offering salaries to 45 employees was draining the company’s savings. Many employees were also quitting for better options.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

“Clients were hesitant to give us work because they were also suffering from the recession,” Tanveer said. This prompted Tanveer to come up with its own product, instead of participating in other people’s work processes.

“We have started looking again for emerging sectors on E-lance,” he added. He noticed that the iOS mobile operating system had recently started and was booming. His company developed its first mobile application for iOS in 2009 for a foreign company. People depended on website dependent software until iOS came along.

They decided to work on mobile phone applications from then on.

game theory

In the same year, Tanveer transitioned from mobile application development to mobile games. Only a handful of people were using smartphones in Bangladesh and the Apple App Store started to gain popularity. They started looking for a programming language with which to create mobile games and discovered that they needed a game engine for it. They discovered a game engine called Cocos2d.

“Games are easier to understand and have universal appeal. On the other hand, apps are utility,” said Tanveer, who also enjoys playing games.

“Super Mario is played in Bangladesh, the United States and Japan. It doesn’t need customization. But the apps do, depending on the country it’s being used in,” Tanveer said. “A utility application in Japan will not be the same in the United States.”

Tanveer bought Cocos2d from its developer who lived in Germany for $50.

“We developed games using the engine and released some games in 2009,” Tanveer said. “In just two or three months, we noticed that we were earning more than we could from E-lancer! So we completely focused on game development.”

Free Pixel Games still uses Cocos2d to develop some of its games.

In 2010, his passion for software/game development brought him to Apple’s developer conference, Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs was a presenter. He was the only Bangladeshi among the nearly 2,000 people who attended the conference.

Till date, Free Pixel Games Ltd has developed and launched 15 international standard games on Google Play and Apple Store like Dragon Valley [their most popular mobile game]Halloween World and Dino Village Tycoon etc. The export-oriented mobile development company mainly develops role-playing games and racing games.

“It takes us between 6 months and 12 years to develop a single game,” Tanveer said. “And there are about 100 prototypes behind a single successful game,” he added.

The company now employs about 80 employees with a salary ranging between Tk 25,000 to Tk 1.5 lakh. The average salary is 60,000 Tk.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Games are categorized by their complexity and playtime. Categories include Hyper-Casual, Causal, Mid-Core, and Hard-Core games. The company develops games that fall between the Casual and Mid-core categories. However, mid-core games require courage to grow, according to Tanveer.

Most of the revenue generated by the company comes from the US, EU, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. The mobile game development industry in Bangladesh is in its infancy, Tanveer said.

“The game development industry is a high-risk, high-reward industry worldwide,” said Tanveer Ahmed. However, Tanveer’s future plan is to establish a video editing and animation studio, develop an e-learning platform, and further expand the mobile game business.