x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

As UAE smartphone gaming grows MC Hammer helps reward players

The Life: The US-based company Kiip, which boasts American rapper MC Hammer as an adviser, is looking to make smartphone gaming more rewarding in the Middle East.

Eamonn Carey says the Middle East is a massive market but must show to brands that consumers are playing games. Charles Crowell for The National
Eamonn Carey says the Middle East is a massive market but must show to brands that consumers are playing games. Charles Crowell for The National

Smartphone gaming is a growing business in the Middle East - and one US company wants to make it more rewarding, too.

Kiip, pronounced "keep", works with brands and applications developers to offer free gifts when gamers complete certain levels.

Typical prizes include a can of Pepsi or a free latte, with Kiip charging brands to appear at this happy moment and splitting the fee with the game's developer.

The smartphone rewards network was founded by the tech entrepreneur Brian Wong as a teenager. It even has the American rapper MC Hammer on board as an adviser. Here, Eamonn Carey, Kiip's director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, talks about the company's business model and plans for the Middle East region.

Why was Kiip founded?

We thought mobile advertising was an 80 or 100-year-old technology compressed into a tiny screen. If you're playing a game and you hit one of these ads by accident, it disrupts your normal activity. It makes people hate the brands. So Kiip offers a way for a brand to get in front of people at that moment of achievement, when they are engaged with the game.

What's your impression of the mobile gaming market in the Middle East?

We have been tracking the Middle East numbers reasonably closely for the last two months. This is a massive market for games and I'm optimistic about this part of the world. What we need to do is show that return on investment and prove to brands that consumers are playing games.

Have you had any campaigns in this region?

In Kuwait we ran a campaign with FastTelco, around Ramadan. You donated the value of that reward to [a diabetes prevention] campaign. That was our first toe in the water in this region. And hopefully we'll start to do a lot more. Partnerships with games developers come as a major part of that. I'm conscious that there's a massive requirement to have games that are popular in Arabic. We've started to talk to some of the bigger players in this market. So there will be, hopefully, some interesting little test campaigns.

You've got MC Hammer on board as an adviser. What's that all about?

He works with a lot of companies in Silicon Valley as an adviser and as a link between big companies and start-ups. And he's massively involved in the technology scene, as an adviser and investor. Brian Wong, our [chief executive], was introduced to him and told him the idea behind Kiip. And he loved it and started getting excited about it and telling his friends.

We've not heard about him since the prime of "Hammer time" in the 1990s.

I guess everyone remembers the parachute pants. Once you've seen them it's seared into your memory. But he is one of those characters and it is interesting to watch people's reactions. We get a lot of requests from people saying, 'Hey, can you introduce us to MC Hammer?' He's been a great supporter of ours from the start and appears in some of our promo videos every so often.