“I was a kid in Jordan saying that I wanted to make videogames in Japan. People thought I was crazy”
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
In the late 1980s, Fawzi Mesmar was a 5-year-old boy in Jordan playing his first video game, Atari 2600's Space Invaders, and dreaming of making games in Japan. 30 years later, Fawzi is a mentor and a speaker, who will open up about his 20 years of experience as a Game Designer and Creative Leader for companies such as Ubisoft, Ubisoft, EA, Activision Blizzard, Gameloft and Atlus in The Middle East, New Zealand, Japan and Europe.
Enjoy this intimate conversation we meet the kid gamer and videogames leader Fawzi Mesmar before his upcoming talk at Friday Stories. Join on this journey from independent studios in Jordan to industry giants in Europe.
A crazy kid that didn't grow up to "get a real job”
When Fawzi was a child he dreamed of working with video games. “Japan was this magical place where all the cool stuff came from. “Not only were some of my favorite games like Space Invaders and Mario Japanese, but also my Walkman, my TV, my dad’s car, and all the cartoons that I grew up watching,” he recalls. What seemed in Jordan like a child's crazy dream was Fawzi's drive to learn Japanese –to work in Japan–, improve his English –to play RPGs–, learn music –to play soundtracks of games like Final Fantasy–, and be an avid reader of books and magazines.
The first encounter of Fawzi’s with game design was also pretty early. He grew up reading and admiring the videogame strategy guides in the American and British magazines imported to Jordan, so he filled his school notebooks with guides in Arabic to help his classmates to finish their games. In the mid-’90s, the first Resident Evil came out on the PlayStation, and a committed 12-year-old Fawzi was sitting with his notebook and controller writing the strategy guide. As he traced the dimensions and drew the map of the mansion of this videogame with a very intricate design –full of locked doors, hidden keys, puzzles to solve, and monsters to defeat– he realized that someone somewhere came up with all of this.
"Before, I thought it came out of nowhere through some kind of magic. That was the first time I realized what game design means and that I wanted to work with it."
Later in life, Mesmar learned that game design is an aspect of game development that involves conceptualizing and designing videogame experiences.
People used to ask Fawzi: “When will you grow up and get a real job?” After working on more than 20 games, a 19-year career, and 25 years after his first encounter with game design, Mesmar grew up to be the Game Design Hero 2020 and one of the gamesindustry.biz 100 game changers of 2020 after his efforts to share his knowledge and experience.
Geography has been his biggest career challenge. “Not having access to industry knowledge, mentors or funding.” This experience has motivated him to contribute with mentoring, lectures, and talks in more than 10 institutions around the world, and for his book "Al-Khallab on the Art of Game Design," the first book about game design written in the Arabic language.
A 20-year Game Design journey from Jordan to Japan and Europe
At 16 years old, Fawzi Mesmar was studying Computer Science at the University of Jordan and Japanese in an initiative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In those classes, he met his crew: a group of colleagues that wanted to make independent videogames. Fawzi joined the team to make the music and sound effects, but later his skills made him the game designer. It was the beginning of a continuous 20-year journey in the game industry.
The Middle East
Even though the projects weren't launched, this experience brought him to a new company in the region, Nassons Entertainment Studios, where he led the design and direction of multiple titles on PC and Xbox 360.
Years later, Fawzi had his life’s easiest job interview because he had virtually no competition. The Japanese company ATLUS was looking for an experienced Arab game designer to help them understand the local market. When he answered in Japanese, the job was his.
After working and living between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a job opportunity brought him to the other side of the world.
Fawzi arrived at 25 years old with little to no knowledge about the country, his suitcase, his guitar, and less than USD 2.000 to be a Game Designer in Gameloft. He worked in video games of TV shows, movies, and toys, such as Minion Rush, Ice Age Adventures, The Amazing Spider-man 2, Littlest Pet Shop, and the game he is most proud of, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
“It's the game I'm most proud of because it simplifies what my job is. We don't always make games for ourselves, we make games for other people, and we need to understand what they want. I started working without any clues, so I had to research the franchise, dig into the forums, get all the toys, and see everything to make a good game for the fans, who are not just little girls but also the Bronies (adult fans of over 35 years). The game was one of the most successful for the company that year, financially and in player satisfaction."
During his time in New Zealand, Fawzi traveled to Japan on vacation and took the opportunity to meet with an old friend and mentor, who invited Fawzi to his office. Mesmar arrived with his vacation looks on (shorts and flip-flops) to the studio on the 39th floor of a luxurious building in the middle of downtown Tokyo, where Google and Apple’s offices were also located. They talked about game design for a while, and suddenly, he was offered a job as Creative Director of enish Inc.
Thus this visit became the job interview that opened the door to his childhood dream: making videogames in Japan. Between age 28 to 30, he lived this dream, but then a new goal attracted him: the video game industry giants in Europe.
In 2016, Fawzi moved to Germany to work at King. A couple of years later, in 2019, he moved to Sweden to work as Head Of Design for EA DICE, where he looked after games that he used to play, like the Battlefield and Battlefront Franchises.
Since November 2021, Fawzi has been the VP Editorial of Ubisoft, where he supports creative teams around the world with their projects.
"I work with them to bring their creative vision to life."