On Monday, the International Mobile Gaming Awards announced 52 nominees for IMGA MENA, its second annual competition for games developed in the Middle East and North Africa. Then on Tuesday, the list dropped to 36. For about a day, all the nominations from Iran disappeared. IMGA has now reinstated the nominees, citing initial problems with a license agreement.
“Our lawyer found out that there is an amendment to the license agreement between IMGA and IMGA MENA which excluded Iran,” said IMGA CEO Maarten Noyons in an email. “When he presented this fact to us — our partners and the pre-judging panel — they concluded that developers from Iran are not eligible for IMGA MENA, hence the correction on the website.”
After internal discussions, IMGA decided to reinstate the Iranian games as nominees. Noyons says that this move will have consequences for the organization and its partners, such as more financial and logistical responsibility pertaining to promotional materials. However, he stresses that none of those consequences will affect the developers and that IMGA is now working on getting their visas ready so they can attend the awards ceremony later this year.
“At this moment there are no consequences whatsoever, since the Iranian developers are back in the race and they will have an equal chance to win an award as any other developer from the MENA region,” said Noyons. “I would say that their chances are even higher, since so many Iranian games are nominated.”
Sixteen nominees are from Iran, and it’s the country with the most games on the list. When IMGA MENA opened for submissions in May, the original call for entries included Iran as an eligible country, and the developers were unaware that that wasn’t pursuant to IMGA’s license agreement. The game studios who had their nominations retracted expressed shock at the initial decision, saying that the move came without any warning and that the competition gave no reason for the removals.
“We have not received any explanation for this act,” said Mahdi Jabbari, the director of international affairs at Dream Rain Game Studio, in an email before the reversal was instated. “We believe that excluding a nominated game from a competition is a non-professional act and not acceptable.”
Dream Rain’s Save Castle, a title where you defend a fortress as an archer, was one of the games missing from the list. Ahmad Mohammadnejad, the business developer at Anashid Games, said the removal of Iranian games came as a surprise, especially since IMGA MENA contacted them on Twitter and invited them to submit their game Ancients Revival. He said that the staff was supportive throughout the submission process.
“Whole process of submitting [our game] to IMGA MENA was very easy,” said Mohammadnejad. “Even when submission portal were closed early due to site’s technical issue, they help us to submit the game.”
Mohammadnejad worries that there are political undercurrents to the initial removal and exclusion of the Iranian games, though he hopes that that’s not the case. He’s not the only one who points to politics as a potential culprit. Mohammadreza Hassanzadeh, the CEO of Ordibehesht Studio, which developed 4Wheelers, said that the retraction was “dragging people into political conflicts.”
“It was unfair and it’s really hard for us working in this situation,” said Hassanzadeh. “We are working without any investment and it’s the second time we got shot down. The first one was about removing our game in [Apple App Store] because of sanctions and now, ruining our dreams for nothing.”
Hassanzadeh and his team are happy their game is considered a nominee once again, but he finds the communication from IMGA to be lacking. Ordibehesht and the other affected developers received the news that their games had been reinstated via a group email, and Hassanzadeh says that when he emailed the organization for further information, he didn’t receive a reply.
Last year during the first IMGA MENA, Iranian games didn’t receive nominations due to the same license agreement issues. Noyons says he’s not sure why Iran is excluded. Politics are certainly a possibility, as Iran has strained relationships with its neighbors in the Middle East as well as with the West. It’s under a number of sanctions, which affect developers in numerous ways, such as when Apple moved to remove and ban Iranian apps from its App Store in August.
“I guess there are a lot of tensions in the region, which have been growing since Donald Trump started to voice strong opinions about specific countries,” said Noyons. “This creates a lot of unrest, especially in Jordan, which is a country who has always been trying to defend peace and who has welcomed millions of Syrians who fled their country.”
Though IMGA did not contact the developers initially to inform them of their removal, it’s notified them of their reinstatement. Noyons says that he hopes the competition can move forward now that the nominees are back on the list.
“I am very proud that we have managed to convince all parties involved to align on welcoming the tremendous talent from Iran and to move on to a great competition for the Middle East [and] North Africa,” said Noyons.