Activate Games was once an idea being tuned in a Winnipeg shed.
Now, the interactive gaming company is set to open in the Middle East and Africa, following rapid growth across North America.
Buy/sell, rent/lease residential &
commercials real estate properties.
Activate Games has inked a deal with Majid Al Futtaim. The Dubai-based corporation owns shopping malls, movie theatres, the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort and Dubai’s first indoor skydiving centre, among other things.
“They have the capability of opening (Activate Games sites) very, very fast just due to their sheer size, and their ability to get real estate,” said Adam Schmidt, co-founder of Activate Games.
Currently, Activate Games has 21 locations, Schmidt said — 12 in Canada and nine that a partner operates in the United States.
Activate Games buildings house gaming rooms; each room comes with several challenges.
The challenges have garnered interest across the globe. Videos of people jumping through a floor-is-lava style room have gone viral; one reel on TikTok, a social media platform, has 45 million views.
“We get inundated by franchise requests,” said Schmidt.
Majid Al Futtaim contacted Activate more than a year ago, he added. Majid Al Futtaim was unavailable by print deadline.
The Middle Eastern company will act as a franchisee, creating and operating Activate Games at its discretion — and with the Canadian founders’ blessings — across the Middle East and North Africa.
“We wanted to have a replayable experience, an active experience (and) a place where we could change games without having to change the physical space.”–Adam Schmidt
Its goal is likely to open between 60 and 90 locations, Schmidt said.
He believed Dubai would be the first in the continent to unveil Activate Games’ tech-filled climbing wall, laser rooms and basketball hoops. A site may open by mid-2024.
Rob McMenamin, Majid Al Futtaim’s director of leisure and entertainment, called Activate Games a “state-of-the-art active gaming facility.”
“We’re excited to be the exclusive provider of this innovative concept in the region,” he said in a news release.
Activate opened in both Houston and Atlanta in the past three months. The company began in Winnipeg, on Portage Avenue, in 2019.
Schmidt said he’s in talks with several potential partners to bring Activate to various world regions. He didn’t give details.
The founders patented Activate Games’ name and all of its rooms, Schmidt noted.
“It was absolutely in our plans to franchise this internationally,” he said.
Over the past year, Activate’s crew has tinkered with the company’s English system, working so it can convert to other languages.
The games, the room layouts, the scoring systems — all will be identical around the world. Schmidt hopes to host international Activate Games competitions in 2025.
The former commercial pilot and his wife Megan, a trained physiotherapist, originally wanted to expand The Real Escape — the escape room business they created — but found the sector already crowded.
By Schmidt’s recollection, the couple and their co-workers spent two years designing Activate Games’ business model and rooms. They rented space north of Winnipeg’s airport, erected walls and developed new games and programming.
The collaboration led to climbing walls where users grab rocks when lights flash, grid floors to jump across and enclosed spaces filled with buttons.
“We wanted to have a replayable experience, an active experience (and) a place where we could change games without having to change the physical space,” Schmidt said, adding that to change an escape room, you’d need to create an entirely new room.
New challenges at Activate Games come when different programs are input; it can be done easily, Schmidt said.
“Activate is really trying to become a significant employer in Winnipeg,” he stated.
In two years, the company’s headquarters has added 100 staff, he estimated. Game room parts are built in Winnipeg; Schmidt said he plans to keep it that way.
He expects a need for more game designers and support technicians in the coming years. The company’s second Winnipeg location, which opened in Transcona last March, now doubles as a training school, he said.
“We want to get out there as a Winnipeg original,” Schmidt stated. “We want our company name scattered across the planet.”
He attributes the growth — which was “stunted” during the pandemic but has since escalated — to the company’s novelty and its combination of video games, exercise and socialness.
A typical location sees 130,000 people annually, he said.
Economic Development Winnipeg has never had a local tourism partner expand to the Middle East and North Africa.
“The expansion into the Middle East for Activate Games is a sign that strong businesses can not only be built here in Winnipeg, but thrive and succeed,” Amanda Macdonald, Economic Development Winnipeg’s vice-president of business development and market intelligence, said in a statement.
She called Activate Games a success story.
“We’re always excited to see a local business grow its international presence,” she wrote.
Sean MacDonald, a University of Manitoba business professor who’s taught in Israel, noted there are many barriers for a company to set up internationally.
“There is almost always a local advantage, as the host country has a better understanding of the nuances of the culture,” he wrote in an email. “To simply move to another place can be problematic.”
Majid Al Futtaim is responsible for the day-to-day operations of their ascribed region, Schmidt explained.
The Middle Eastern corporation’s consolidated revenue last year was roughly $13.5 billion CAD, according to a financial report.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.