I’ve been doing a research project about Iran’s video games history focusing on how it began, and how it evolved. Through the course of my research I discovered that there were almost no articles in English on the subject, and of the few that exit, none are historical or research-based.
That’s what inspired me to create this document, which should help shine some light on the history of video games in Iran. This is just a small subsection of the larger document I am preparing (in Persian). I thought it would be interesting to compare the history of games in Iran with the recent history of the country itself, pairing important events with events in the video game timeline.
My sources include Persian-language websites about games and technology, physical paper magazines such as Daneshmand, and I also interviewed people I know from the industry, both game journalists and developers. Sometimes I simply trusted my own memory.
The accompanying image should give you a larger context not only for the state of games in Iran, but what was going on in Iran at the time.
- Daneshmand is a monthly magazine about science and technology. The first issue of Daneshmand was published in October 1963. Daneshmand is still running today, and is the oldest magazine about science and technology in Iran. For my research I used the magazine’s 50-year digital archive. Unfortunately, there’s no existing online archive for historians to browse, but there is a pack of 6 DVDs that includes every issue from the start of the magazine through 2013, which I used for my research.
Video Master by Woodrow International in Daneshmand.
Video Master, via http://www.pong-story.com
- Jun 1978, TV Game Released: In its 174th issue Daneshmand reported that another game console similar to the Magnavox Odyssey was released in Iran. The producer of this new console, TV Game, was General Electronic Kit, located in Tehran. The cost of a TV Game set was about 37 USD. Neither Video Master nor TV Game were manufactured in Iran, but they were both assembled there.
- Oct 1976, Video Master Released: In its 157th issue Daneshmand magazine published a report showing that a game console similar to the Magnavox Odyssey had been released in Iran. This seems to be the first game console released in the country. The Video Master was imported by a company called Woodrow International, with locations in Tehran and Isfahan. Woodrow International doesn’t exist today.
TV Game set by General Electronic Kit.
A TV Game set similar to Video Master assembled by Shahab company. Shahab is still operating, and now makes TV sets.
- Iran Revolution Succeeded, Iran Hostage Crisis Started, Cultural Revolution Started, Iran – Iraq War Duration: In these periods of time nothing much happened in the fields of entertainment, science and technology. During the Cultural Revolution, all universities closed down for 30 months.
The Hostage Crisis caused the U.S. to break their relations with Iran, and all official imports were shut down as a result. The Iran Revolution rendered most entertainment and even some sports illegal. This includes card games, pinball machines, chess, billiards, golf, bowling, and any kind of gambling. Some ten years later they slowly became legal again, one by one (with the exception of gambling).
When the war began, everything and everyone throughout the nation was called to arms to fight against the enemy. There was no fun to be had during the war until the Atari 2600 arrived.
- 1985, Atari 2600 Came to Iran: This was the first game console which was bootlegged to Iran after the Revolution, and the price was about 120,000 Rl, or more than 200 USD. Since this was was after the Revolution, most of the electronic companies of the past were shut down, and official imports from the United States were impossible (just as it is today). So for many years every video game and computer related product had to be smuggled in.
- Nov 1988, First Video Game Reviews Published in Computer Magazines: In its 93rd issue, Elm Electronic va Computer (Electronic Science and Computer) magazine published a video game review. The review covers two Amiga games. This may be the first game review ever published in Iran, and is certainly the earliest that my colleagues and I could find.
When the war ended a flood of entertainment came to Iran, including game consoles, PCs, toys, VHS players, movies, and so on. Almost everything related to entertainment was smuggled in to the country. This isn’t distant history either - most PC parts were bootlegged up until 2007, aside from some Korean monitors officially imported by LG and Samsung and, some printers like HP and Epson. So this review was likely of a bootleg copy.
Elam Electronic va Computer Magazine no. 93.
- Jan 1989, Commodore 64, Spectrum, Amiga 500, PC, and other Devices Came to Iran: Right after the war ended, even more consoles and other computer devices came to Iran. I don’t have exact dates on this because of the complicated nature of post-war unformation, but I’m working on it. I can say this influx of platforms happened some time between 1988 and 1989.
- 1992, Micro Genius, a Clone of the Famicom, Came to Iran: As far as my research tells me, there was never an official Famicom in Iran’s market, but a huge number of clones came to the country during the 90s. The first and the most important was Micro Genius, made in Taiwan. After Micro Genius, some infamous clones like Dendy and Super Semtoni became available, both of which continued selling until 2005. During the Micro Genius era Nintendo games became popular in Iran. Mostly Contra, Mario, Duck Hunt, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Mega Man, and so on.
But the problem was the cartridges! They were expensive and rare to find. Because of this, people used to exchange their game cartridges to each other (this trend repeated itself with the release of the PlayStation 4). Gamers in Iran had to rely on the pack-in games from their Famiclones for the most part.
- Dec 1996, Tank Hunter Released: In the mid-90s we see the first serious attempts at local game development. A game studio was established called Honafa. Honafa was the first game studio which developed a few games for governmental institutions including the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Iran Drug Control Headquarters.
Seyedof, the engine developer at Honafa told me: “Honafa was the first real Iranian game company in existence, and was active for more than 5 years, and developed several finished and polished games.”
Honafa had both a production and R&D team. The production team was busy developing their current projects, since the R&D team was doing research for game engine and 3D technology.
The Tank Hunter was their first release. It was an endless 2D game for MS-DOS in which a man with an RPG destroyed the enemy’s tanks. This game was dedicated to Iranian martyrs and the heroes of the Iran – Iraq war.
Tank Hunter by Honafa Studio.
- Ali Baba Released: Ali Baba was released some time after Tank Hunter, and was developed by Ramin Zafar Azizi, who is not in video games anymore. Ali Baba was a 2D side scroll platformer like Prince of Persia, released for MS-DOS.
Ali Baba by Ramin ZafarAzizi.
- May 1998, Devil's Death Released: Another 90s game made by Honafa studio for Iran Drug Control Headquarters to promote their anti-drug messages. It was a top down shooter in which the player would destroy smugglers trucks.
In 2019, Ali Seyedof, the game engine developer of Honafa, left Iran for Europe.
Devil's Death by Honafa Studio.
- Apr 2001, Bazi Rayane Publishes its First Issue: Bazi Rayane was the first Iranian magazine completely dedicated to video games. It was first published in April 2001, using the license of another magazine called Tabarestan. After publishing 4 issues the Tabarestan license was seized by the government and Bazi Rayane stopped publishing for nearly 4 years. At the beginning of 2005 Bazi Rayane resumed publishing using the license from another magazine called Ettela, and continued till 2014. On August 2014 Bazi Rayane shut down forever due to economic problems.
You may be wondering about this license thing. In Iran all magazines and periodicals must acquire a license from the Ministry of Islamic Culture. If the Ministry doesn’t grant a license, it is possible to publish your periodical using another periodical’s license as a “special issue.” This is what Bazi Rayane was doing in order to get published. In later years Bazi Rayane was able to get its own license.
- Sep 2005, Donyaye Bazi Founded: Donyaye Bazi published its first issue in September 2005 using its own license. In September of 2014, after publishing 176 issues it closed down forever due to economic problems.
Another magazine was Bazinama, which published its first issue some time in 2005. Bazinama still publishes today, but it abandoned the paper version in September 2019 and turned to digital.
Two issues of Bazinama Magazine and Donyaye Bazi Magazine.
- 4 Oct 2005, Quest of Persia: The End of Innocence Released: Quest of Persia: The End of Innocence was the first 3D game from Iran, developed by Puya Arts. The chief developer was Puya Dadgar. QoP: The End of Innocence also was the first game developed after a five year break in game development in the country, and was the first Iranian-developed game released since the 90s. In 2011 Puya Dadgar, the lead developer of this game, left Iran for the US.
Quest of Persia: The End of Innocence by Puya Arts.
- 2006, Tebyan Started Investing on Video Games: The Tebyan Cultural Institute existed under the control of Iran's Islamic Development Organization, which was established in 2001. In 2006 Tebyan started developing some video games and during 8 years of activity developed about 25 of them, including Nejat e Bandar (Saving the Port), Moghavemat (Defense), Afsane ye Nowruz (Legend of Nowruz), Koohnavard (mountaineer). None of these games were particularly successful or popular.
- Apr 2007, IRCG Stablished: The Iran Computer Games Foundation aka IRCG was actually approved a year before this, by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. But in 2007 the IRCG started actually operating, and in 2008 started funding some indie video games like Garshasp the Monster Slayer.
- May 2007, first Digital Media Festival Launched: The Digital Media Festival was the first festival hosting video games in Iran. One of the first games which participated in this festival was Quest of Persia: The End of Innocence.
- Jun 2010, Asemandez Released: Asemandez was one of the first video games which IRCG funded. It was the first MMO browser-based strategic game developed in Iran. Later in 2019 the main developer of Asemandez left Iran for foreign countries.
- Jul 2010, Everything Can Draw on TGS: Everything Can Draw was the first Iranian video game to appear at the Tokyo Game show. The developer Mahdi Bahrami later in 2017 made changes to the game and published it on Steam as Engare.
Engare by Mahdi Bahrami.
- Sep 2010, Entegham Released: September 2010 saw the release of the first Iranian Full Motion Video game. Entegham (Revenge) was a first person shooter similar to Mad Dog McCree.
Entegham by Phenomenon Studio (later Blazingfallgames).
- Oct 2010, Garshasp Released: In 2010 the most expensive Iranian video game of all time (up to that point) was developed by Fanafzar studio with investment from the IRCG. Garshasp 1 and 2’s combined budget was about 500,000 USD at that time (which is about 600,000 USD today). Garshasp 1 was the first locally developed video game which gained popularity in Iran, and gamers started actually playing it. Garshasp 2 was never released, because of a disagreement in contract and lack of budget.
Garshasp: The Monster Slayer by Fanafzar Studio.
- Jan 2011, Mahdi Bahrami's BO at the IGF: BO was the first Iranian game to get into the Independent Games Festival, developed by Mahdi Bahrami. BO was one of the Honorable mentions in IGF 2011. Later Bahrami sent two other games to IGF called Farsh and Engare. Both were nominated in some fields.
Farsh (Carpet) and Bo by Mahdi Bahrami.
- Feb 2011, Cafebazaar Founded: In 2011 Cafebazaar, an online market for mobile apps and games started operation. Later it became the most important market for Android apps and games, with about 40 million users.
- Aug 2011, National Institute Established: IRCG established the first video game school in Iran, called Iran National Institute of Game Development. One year later IRCG established the first video game incubator. Both the incubator and National Institute were shut down in 2019 due to economic problems.
- 2014, Golden Age of Mobile Games Started: In this year most of the game developers began making Android games and stopped PC game development. Tebyan stopped funding video games and the IRCG staff changed. New IRCG managers changed the way they were investing in video games. IRCG shut down the Tehran Game Expo which had been launched at 2011.
In TGF 2014, a mobile game section was added for the first time. In the following years of Tehran Game Festival, there was less and less PC game participation, and mobile games overcame the market and game festivals. Rooster Wars and Fruit Craft were two first mobile games that got viral and popular.
- May 2011, First Tehran Game Festival Launched: In this year IRCG launched the first video game festival in Iran, called Tehran Game Festival aka TGF. TGF continued working until 2018. Eight festivals were held but in 2019 IRCG shut down TGF due to economic problems.
Rooster Wars by Medrik Games and Fruit Craft by TOD.
- Sep 2014, Parvaneh Released. Biggest Fail Ever: Parvaneh Legacy of the Light's Guardians was a video game which had been developed with the budget of 700,000 USD (800,000 USD today) by Bearded Bird. Although Parvane broke the record of most expensive Iranian video game of all time, previously held by Garshasp, it was a huge failure. It didn’t sell at all and the developer shut down that year.
Parvaneh Legacy of the Light's Guardians by Bearded Bird.
- 24 Sep 2014, Donyaye Bazi Discontinued: After publishing 174 issues, Donyaye Bazi magazine discontinued forever due to economic problems. Earlier this year Bazi Rayane magazine was also discontinued due to economic problems. The owner of Donyaye Bazi owner left Iran for the U.S. that year and later Bazi Rayane’s owner left Iran for Europe.
- Aug 2015, Motori Published: When Motori (Android, free-to-play) developed by Glim Games was published on Cafebazaar on 2015 it quickly went viral. With 1.6 million local active users Motori broke all sales, download, and active user records within a few months. Iranian mobile game development entered a new era after Motori.
Motori by Glim Games.
- Apr 2016, Clash of Clans Published by Cafebazaar: Clash of Clans was officially published in Iran by Cafebazaar and the market boomed. It was the first big western video game which was officially published in Iran. Clash Royale was later published by the same company.
- 16 Jul 2017, 1st TCG Launched: IRCG launched Tehran Game Convention. Thbis was the first international video game convention in partnership with Game Connection France. It continued the next year but was shut down in 2019 due to economic problems.
- Apr 2019, IRCG Shut Down TGF, TGC, Game Incubator and National Institute: At the beginning of 2019 the IRCG manager announced that there won’t be any TGF and TGC this year. A few weeks later the National Institute of Game Development closed down after 7 years. The Video Game Development Incubator closed down also. All of this happened because of Iran’s economic depression and financial problems. The IRCG couldn’t afford the cost of continuing events and running sub institutes. Later this year IRCG reopened the National Institute by making a contract with Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.
For a better understanding the economic depression and the effect of the current sanctions, please take a look at the USD to Rl exchange rate I prepared on the right part of the timeline.
Arash Hackimi is an Iranian video game journalist and game designer. Arash has been a lecturer in the Iran Game Development Institute, teaching History of Video Games, Video Games Genre, and Video Games Journalism. He started working as a journalist in 2005 as an editor in Donyaye Bazi monthly magazine.
Saeed Zafarany (editor) started his work as a video game journalist at the age of 15 when he joined the web site Donya-ye-Bazi as a translator in 2009. Soon after, he became deputy chief editor and administrator. In 2014, after nearly 5 years of service at Donya-ye-Bazi, he decided to found his own media platform, and is now Co-founder and Editor in Chief at Gamenews. Saeed also took the role of Editor in Chief at Bazinameh magazine in 2019.
Brandon Sheffield (editor) is creative director of Necrosoft Games and former EIC of Game Developer magazine. He met Arash at the Tehran Game Convention in 2018, one year before it was shut down.