Inside the Gaming Scene in the Middle East

2020 has been a big year for the gaming industry, particularly here in the Middle East. Consumers across the region have taken up gaming in a big way, and the market has grown by 25% to emerging as one of the fastest-growing this year.  

Gaming is now undergoing exponential growth in the MENA region, setting new trends and opening opportunities for expansion and mass marketing.  

Gaming’s biggest year to date 

The MENA (the Middle East and Africa) region may be the newest emerging market in the global gaming industry, but it has gained immense traction this year, with many forms of gaming now considered a mainstream form of entertainment. With an increasingly tech-savvy population for whom playing video games or mobile games is a go-to form of entertainment, gaming revenues in the Middle East have been able to shoot up 25% year-on-year in 2020.  

Many of the usual high-profile titles are in play here, with Middle Eastern gamers making significant contributions to League of Legends’ $1.6 billion revenues this year, for example. Candy Crush Saga, too, is as ubiquitous in the desert as it is in the towns and cities of the UK and US.  

The growth of gaming in the Middle East has not gone unnoticed by game developers either.  

Both Epic Games and Supercell have recently introduced Arabic language options in their smash-hit titles Fortnite and Clash of Clans, a move that has been particularly welcome in Saudi Arabia, that forms the biggest gaming segment in the Middle East. Now, it’s the turn of Chinese game developers Tap4Fun and Menamobile to develop new gaming titles solely for the Middle Eastern market.  

The most dominant gaming trends 

In contrast to the most dominant trends in western gaming this year, which includes games and platforms as diverse as major console titles through to real money poker sites, in the UAE there’s been a big surge in Virtual Reality that’s bleeding through into the gaming sphere.  

The Dubai Mall is already setting the trend for VR location-based entertainment with the world’s largest VR park within its walls, and now Abu Dhabi will emulate it with the first-ever VR-based eSports academy. This will be supported by an additional VR park and events space at Al Qana, which is expected to be completed before the year is out.  

Meanwhile, Robocom VR has just confirmed a partnership with global gaming brand Hasbro to produce an exclusive Transformers VR game solely for the Middle East region.  

There is one globally dominant trend that’s also big in the Middle East: Mobile Gaming. Smartphone usage doubled in the MENA region between 2014 and 2019 and although the final statistics aren’t available yet, undoubtedly smartphone penetration will have been on the rise again in 2020. 

According to Habib Chams, head of Digital at ITP Gaming, the mobile gaming market in the Middle East is worth as much as $4 billion annually, with the potential to double over the next few years.  

Being an emerging market, gaming may still have its detractors in the Middle East, but the rise of gaming on the go and the more immersive VR gaming experiences available here are going a long way towards changing negative perceptions.

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