What would you say would be your greatest achievement by the time you’re 17? For some it could be a high GPA. For others, it could be getting over 1,000 followers on Instagram.
But it’s not every day you hear that someone’s achievement is being the head of a game development team, at the age of 17. A development team that has already created three games and is working on its fourth. It may surprise you that that someone roams this very campus and may even sit next to you in class. That someone is 17-year-old Saudi Arabian Bader Alqatani, CEO of Expa Entertainment.
It was around the tender age of 7 when Bader took a keen interest in Dragon Ball Z animes. The design of the characters fascinated him. It didn’t take too long for him to start sketching his own animations. Bader described these early drawings as “not too good.” Nevertheless he kept drawing and never lost his interest. He began learning more about game design through YouTube videos. Then in 2013, with the help of his best friend, Bader created his first game called Mist.
“To be honest, it can’t really be called a game,” he said, looking back. “It was that bad.”
But it was an important stepping stone for what was to come.
In 2014 he launched the first game created by Expa Entertainment, which at the time comprised of just him and one other person. The game was a reinvention of Dragon Ball Z called Dragon Ball Z: Retro Battle X, created using the Mugen Engine. The game turned out to be a smashing success, gaining popularity on Twitter and YouTube.
Bader didn’t stop there.
He went on to create an improved second edition to the game, with features that allowed players from all over the world to play against each other.
“The second edition blew up even more than the first,” Bader said.
He kept going and began to develop a third installment. It was at this juncture that he realized he needed more hands on deck. He recruited some of the big names in anime development and that’s how he went from having a team of two to leading a team of 20 talented designers. It took a lot of grueling hard work and devotion to develop the third installment but it seems it all paid off, as third edition is the most successful game yet, with over 100,000 players worldwide.
This journey wasn’t always a smooth ride. Bader recounted an especially difficult time in his life. “I remember it was around the time we were working on the third edition in 2016,” said Bader, “I went through depression — I mean my grades were dropping because I was focused more on developing the game and it was just a difficult time.” Bader admitted that although his family motivated him, he knew that his parents didn’t fully support his dream. Bader said, “My parents wanted game design to be more of a hobby, but for me it was more than just a hobby. It’s my passion.”
It was this passion that kept him going in the rough early stages when his classmates bullied him for being different. According to Bader, the most respectable work in Saudi Arabia is engineering and thus most people aspire to go into that field. For him to be interested in game art and design was thought by his classmates to be weird and they harassed him for that. “They would ask me what I wanted to be in future and I would tell them I wanted to be a game designer,” Bader said. “Then they would burst out laughing and tell me it was never gonna happen.” Some of this ridicule even escalated to cyber bullying. “People created fake accounts just to post things like ‘your game sucks’ and stuff like that,” Bader said. He persevered through it all. “I turned my hate into my motivation,” he said.
When asked where he sees Expa Entertainment in 10 years, Bader replied “Hopefully we’ll be developing games in a more advanced engine and we’ll be able to make 3D games that will blow the fans away.” He encourages kids his age and those even younger to pursue their dreams. “Whatever people say just don’t give up because your hate is your motivation.”