Our goal is to create a gaming world where the enjoyment is mutual - players should find as much delight in playing our games as we do in creating them.
February 1st, 2024
Hello everyone, and welcome back to our exclusive “Insiders Info” interview series, where we share with you unique insights into FunPlus, FunPlus People, and our Games!
Today, we’re thrilled to introduce Mustapha Mahrach, a seasoned game development virtuoso whose journey from the bustling streets of Casablanca to the innovative hubs of Montreal has been nothing short of extraordinary. With a career spanning over two decades and contributions to some of the most iconic titles in gaming history, Mustapha has now joined the ranks as the new Game Creative Director for FunPlus’ Lisbon studio.
As our new Game Creative Director, he will be working with Alexandre Amancio, our Senior Vice President and head of World Building & IP Strategy (find out more about Alexandre’s vision in this exclusive ‘Insiders Info Interview).
Are you ready? Let’s get started!
“My vision is to create games that are not just played but experienced, remembered, and cherished by our community.” – Mustapha Mahrach
Q: Hi there! Welcome aboard, Mustapha! Can you please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from?
A: Hi, my name is Mustapha Mahrach, I’m originally from Casablanca, Morocco and I have been living in Montreal, Canada for 18 years now.
Q: Tell us, what will you do in your job?
A: As the Game Creative Director, I will lead the development of a cross-platform game, ensuring a smooth and engaging player experience across all platforms.
A primary responsibility of mine is to establish the vision and direction for the game, setting a clear and innovative path for its development. I will collaborate with artistic, design, and technical teams to translate this vision into compelling game experiences. This involves guiding the conception and creation of game elements, ranging from character design to game mechanics and monetization strategies. Engaging with the player community is another vital aspect of my job. I will absorb feedback and iterate on the game design to foster a devoted and growing player base.
My role also involves collaboration with the world-building team to ensure that the game’s characters, story, and settings resonate with players and remain consistent across all touchpoints. I will drive innovation in the free-to-play space by identifying trends and leveraging emerging technologies to keep our games at the forefront of the industry.
Q: What excited you the most about joining FunPlus and contributing to its future success as one of the leading developers and publishers in the industry?
A: The chance to be part of the creation of a new studio and develop a new IP with a team of skilled and enthusiastic professionals represents a remarkable challenge, one that I am confident FunPlus is well-equipped to excel in.
My role as a creator goes beyond just making games; it’s about immersing ourselves in the originality of ideas and finding joy in bringing them to life. This process of creation is not just about developing content; it’s about innovating the way we craft and deliver new experiences to our players. Our goal is to create a gaming world where the enjoyment is mutual – players should find as much delight in playing our games as we do in creating them.
My passion lies in building games that offer a cohesive and engaging experience that goes beyond. We aim to weave together captivating narratives and immersive gameplay, creating worlds that resonate with players, including those who play occasionally. This approach aligns perfectly with FunPlus’ commitment to developing original IPs.
The positive interactions I’ve had with the FunPlus team have only solidified my enthusiasm for this role. Working with such a passionate, talented, and motivated group of individuals to bring FunPlus’ vision and goals to life is an opportunity I look forward to with great anticipation.
Q: Amazing! After hearing about your enthusiasm for joining FunPlus, I’d like to take a step back and understand the path that led you here. Let’s start at the beginning of your story! Could you share with us a brief overview of your journey in the gaming industry up to this point?
A: Certainly! My journey in the gaming industry has been a remarkable blend of creativity and strategic development, extending over two decades.
It began with my role as a Game Designer & Level Designer on Donald Quack Attack in 1998, where I first discovered my passion for crafting immersive game worlds. Moving to Ubisoft Montreal, I was deeply involved in the Assassin’s Creed series. In Assassin’s Creed Revelations, I focused on enhancing the game’s verticality in Constantinople, ensuring that exploration was a fluid and joyous experience. This unique approach in design significantly contributed to the series, especially in endearing players to Ezio’s journey.
For Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, I played a pivotal role in world and mission design, introducing a rhythmic breakdown of gameplay that became a standard in Ubisoft. The seamless integration of land and naval gameplay in the Caribbean world was a groundbreaking achievement and remains a memorable experience for players.
In Assassin’s Creed Origins, I redesigned a systemic open world full of surprises, set in Ptolemaic Egypt. The exploration of deserts and the lush Nile, along with the storytelling, was praised globally for its engaging and immersive experience.
I also had the privilege of contributing to other renowned titles such as Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell, each challenging and enriching my expertise in unique ways.
Most recently, at Google Stadia and TIMI Montreal, my role expanded beyond design into strategic studio development and talent recruitment. At TIMI Montreal, I played a key role in founding the Montreal studio, focusing on developing a new IP for a Free-to-Play Live Open World game.
Throughout my career, I’ve been driven by a passion for creating gaming experiences that resonate with players worldwide. My aim has always been to push the boundaries of what’s possible, and I’m excited about the prospect of bringing this experience and enthusiasm to FunPlus.
Q: Can you share a memorable moment from your career where you felt particularly rewarded or fulfilled?
A: Sure. One of the most memorable moments for me occurred after my involvement with the Assassin’s Creed Origins Historical Discovery Tour. I had just joined the core team for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and we successfully convinced the executives to set the game in a Viking setting. However, despite this success, I found myself at a crossroads, feeling somewhat like a dinosaur in the industry. This led me to consider leaving AC Valhalla and even going back to school.
But instead, within Ubisoft, I embarked on a solo venture, a significant departure from my usual role of leading large teams. I began developing a multiplayer concept: drafting the pitch document in the mornings and hands-on work with Unreal Engine for the prototype in the afternoons. This initiative was a stark contrast to my previous experiences, as it started as a one-man project.
As the concept evolved over a couple of months, I began sharing my progress with colleagues and gradually built a team around the idea. The concept gained traction, with two studios expressing interest and offering support for online features and machine learning integration. Marketing conducted a study, revealing a potential player base of 26 million, excluding mobile platforms. The game’s cross-platform design and art direction even showed promise in the Chinese market, especially with its free-to-play business model.
However, despite the excitement and potential, the project faced an uphill battle due to budget constraints, as it was the only new IP in development without an established budget. Eventually, the editorial team, citing a pipeline already full of new IPs, asked me to adapt the concept to an existing IP. Although I did so, the project was unfortunately cancelled after about six months.
Despite the project’s cancellation, this experience was incredibly rewarding for me. It reaffirmed my love and enthusiasm for game development. It proved to me that I still have the drive and passion for creating games, removing any doubts in my heart. This journey was a testament to my commitment to innovation and creativity in the gaming industry.
Q: Reflecting on your career path and that rewarding moment, let’s look forward! As our new Game Creative Director, what is your vision for storytelling and player engagement in our upcoming projects?
A: My vision for storytelling and player engagement is centered on creating worlds and objectives that are not only immersive but also emotionally resonant and valuable for the player. To me, the key elements of this vision are:
Personalization: I believe in crafting content that feels tailor-made for each player. It’s important that players feel the game is speaking directly to them, creating a deep and personal connection.
Empowerment: Players should feel in control of their destiny within the game. It’s crucial to design experiences where players can set and achieve their objectives, feeling powerful and accomplished.
Connection: I envision a world where players’ contributions are visible and impactful, fostering a sense of global community. It’s about making each player’s actions count, not just in their own game but in the broader player community.
My high-level intention is to deliver a cohesive and focused experience. I aim to avoid creating a ‘Frankenstein’ experience, where players feel lost, as well as steering clear of a ‘vanilla’ experience that might be acceptable but is ultimately forgettable.
In any game we create, I adhere to certain principles and pillars that guide both the overarching experience and the moment-to-moment gameplay:
Rhythm and Pace: This involves careful consideration of game patterns, structure, and how the game evolves over time or ‘seasons’.
Challenge Quality: It’s crucial to know our audience, master the difficulty curve and build-ups, and always respect the player’s ability and intelligence.
Emotional Connection: Clarity and consistency are key. We need to be credible, or if we choose not to be credible, we should embrace that fully.
Focused Experience: My goal is to make our game a reference in the industry at least in one significant aspect.
Community: I believe in being data-informed, using player feedback and analytics to continually refine and enhance the gaming experience.
In summary, my vision is to create games that are not just played but experienced, remembered, and cherished by our community. I want to push the boundaries of what games can be, making each title a unique, engaging, and emotionally impactful journey for our players.
Q: How do you plan to foster creativity and innovation within your team here at FunPlus?
A: Fostering creativity and innovation in a team is all about cultivating the right environment and mindset. My approach is threefold:
Experience, Iterate, and Have Fun: I strongly believe that the key to creativity is to experiment, learn through doing, and enjoy the process. Innovation often comes from a willingness to try new things and not be deterred by the fear of failure. It’s about creating a culture where the team feels safe and excited to explore new ideas and approaches.
Lead by Example: Leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone for a team. I plan to be hands-on, showing the team that I’m one of them. I’ll be ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into the work alongside everyone else. This approach helps in building mutual respect and a shared sense of purpose.
Build a Talented Team: I believe in hiring people who are more talented than me in specific areas. This isn’t just about skill – it’s about attitude and perspective. We’re aiming to make a mark in the industry, and to do that, we need the best and the brightest, people who bring diverse skills and ideas to the table.
Assume Responsibility for Decisions: An essential part of fostering an innovative environment is taking responsibility for the decisions made, especially the ones that don’t pan out as expected. If I approve a piece of work that fails, I will own that decision. I will never blame the creator. This stance encourages the team to experiment and innovate without fear of failure.
Ultimately, my goal is to create a team culture at FunPlus where creativity is not just encouraged but is a natural outcome of our work environment. It’s about striking a balance between having a clear vision and being open to new, sometimes unexpected, paths to achieving that vision.
Q: Awesome! Well, let’s turn now to the industry’s evolution. What trends in the gaming industry do you find most exciting right now, and how do you see them influencing your work?
A: There are several exciting trends in the gaming industry right now that I find particularly stimulating and see as influential in shaping future projects.
Small Team Dynamics: The traditional model of large teams driving major game development is evolving. We’re witnessing a surge in successful games developed by smaller teams and even solo developers. These smaller teams are able to create personal, focused experiences that resonate deeply with players. The agility of smaller teams allows for quicker adaptation and innovation, something I find very exciting. It emphasizes the value of each team member’s contribution and fosters a more intimate development process.
Generative AI: The emergence of Generative AI in game development is a game-changer. It opens up possibilities that were previously limited to imagination and theoretical concepts. Generative AI can revolutionize the tools we use daily as developers and, more importantly, enable us to offer new, unprecedented experiences to players. It’s about harnessing this technology to enhance creativity and bring to life ideas that were once deemed unfeasible.
Social and Community Integration: Games are becoming increasingly community-oriented, transcending the traditional boundaries of gaming to become platforms for social interaction. This trend aligns perfectly with my vision of creating games that are not just games but experiences that foster community-building. I see our games and IPs as potential social hubs where players can significantly influence their gaming environment in novel ways. This approach will redefine player engagement, making it more dynamic and interactive.
In my role, I plan to leverage these trends to not only stay relevant in the rapidly changing landscape of gaming but to lead and innovate. The goal is to blend the agility and personal touch of small team dynamics with the cutting-edge possibilities of Generative AI, all while cultivating rich, community-focused gaming experiences. This approach, I believe, will not only meet but exceed the expectations of today’s gamers.
Q: Lastly, when you’re not immersed in the world of game development, what are your personal interests or hobbies that fuel your creativity?
A: Well, outside of work, I have a few hobbies that keep me entertained and creatively charged. I’m an avid gamer and also enjoy watching TV shows and anime. But I must admit, I’m guilty of repeatedly returning to favorites like Elden Ring and One Piece. There’s just something about them that keeps pulling me back, sparking new ideas each time.
Driving or riding my motorcycle while listening to audiobooks is another way I unwind and keep the creative thoughts flowing. And then there’s my bit of a tech hobby – tinkering with my PC. It’s meant to be just a bit of relaxation, maybe optimizing here and there, but it usually ends up with me adding a new piece of hardware.
I also spend some time writing. It’s a space where I can freely explore and flesh out different concepts and ideas, which is really refreshing. It’s a nice change of pace but still closely tied to my love for game development.
Q: One last question! Promise! This is our trademark question for the “Insider info” interviews. 🙂 Fun to you means?
A: Fun, to me, is all about the thrill of exploring new ideas. It’s jotting down thoughts for a potential project or getting lost in a game like Elden Ring. Fun is that sense of deep engagement and excitement, where I’m both challenged and delighted. It’s in those moments of being immersed in a game world, a gripping story, or the flow of creative thinking, that I find the true essence of fun. It’s the intersection of imagination, challenge, and joy.
And that’s a wrap on our deep dive with Mustapha! We extend our heartfelt thanks for his time and also to you, dear reader.
Reflecting on the extensive and insightful conversation with Mustapha Mahrach, it’s clear that his appointment as Game Creative Director at FunPlus marks the beginning of an ambitious and innovative chapter for the company. His vision for storytelling, player engagement, and fostering a culture of creativity and innovation is not only inspiring but also indicative of the groundbreaking experiences that lie ahead for players around the globe.
Keep an eye on this dynamic force in the gaming industry as he continues to blend art, technology, and community to redefine what it means to play. Stay tuned, we will tell you more about it in this space!
Game Creative Director for FunPlus’ Lisbon studio.
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