Far East Asia, Western Europe, and North America are the primary regions that come to mind when we picture bustling gaming scenes. These long-established markets have risen to the fore by being early adopters of PC and console gaming, but now, there’s a revolution afoot. With the new low-entry level established by smartphones and gaming apps, people in nations that aren’t overly familiar with gaming have become hotbeds within the global industry.
Within the 2020 global games market, which generated over US$159 billion last year, the Middle East and Africa region grew by nearly nine percent itself – the highest rate of all regions. Not long ago MENA was all-but ignored by gaming’s major players. Now, it’s proving to be one of the fastest-growing regions for entertainment, showing a tremendous amount of potential for coming years.
Embers of early gaming become a raging fire
In terms of its media, the Middle East has historically been very receptive to foreign imports, as shown by the popularity of Japanese, Western, and Soviet cartoons through the 1980s. When video gaming started to spread around the world, the Sakhr Software Company opted to switch from mostly translating content into Arabic to making local content, developing educational games, and introducing the region to its first game console.
Sakhr faded through the 1990s, with the company’s talent being dispersed due to the first Gulf War and a need to move from Kuwait to Egypt. By this time, Nintendo and Sega were able to introduce their absurdly advanced systems to the region, along with several knockoffs and later the PlayStation. With the advent of online gaming at the turn of the millennium, gaming changed again in MENA, with internet cafés popping up.
As the gaming scene continued to evolve, and much of the entertainment medium soared in price, several of the markets within MENA weren’t deemed viable for major launches. Then came smartphones, widespread mobile internet connections, and the low-entry level of free gaming apps. The increasingly necessary devices helped to reawaken the potential of gaming in the region opening people back up to the whole scene.
Now, there’s a tremendous push across MENA to build up the industry again, having recognized the considerable level of interest in gaming. Several gaming conventions take place across the region, as shown by the three-day event Insomnia Dubai, and internet penetration across the region is among the highest in the world. Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE all boast over 90 percent internet penetration.
Given the rapid rate at which necessary infrastructure has been built, as well as the fact that activities are restricted to indoors for substantial spells of the year due to the heat, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that gaming is rapidly growing in popularity. Average income lends the nations of the Middle East to the more expensive lines of the entertainment medium, but audience continues to grow in North Africa, too.
MENA exploring all lines of gaming
Preferences in gaming are diverse across the MENA region, with the preference going to PC gaming in Levant and consoles being the platform of choice in the Gulf. The most popular games stand as the big-hitters that proven popular in the more seasoned markets. League of Legends, Fortnite, FIFA, Minecraft, and Rocket League continue to reel in MENA players.
An aspect that previously held back the growth of gaming in the region was the perception that it’s only for young people, but that hasn’t stopped adult forms of gaming from coming to the fore. The online casino gaming audience in the region has grown substantially, with https://arabianbetting.com/ showing that several sites have adapted to offer their services in Arabic across the region. With the demand being met by many sites, platforms compete for MENA players by offering welcome bonuses, such as free spins on games.
Even more accessible than the online casinos, however, are the mobile app games. Smartphones allow any user to download and play a massive selection of games for free. The highest-grossing across the region is PUBG Mobile, but beneath the battle royale title, the national preferences shine through. For example, in the UAE, it’s Yalla Ludo and the surging Empires & Puzzles Epic Match 3 which dominate, while shooter Garena Free Fire and Lords Mobile are the big hitters in Egypt.
Just as important as the games being played in the modern industry, MENA has also taken to eSports and watching gaming content. Awareness of leading video game streaming platforms continues to rise across each nation, with Facebook Gaming being the most famous in Egypt, YouTube Gaming boasting heavy engagements from the UAE, and Saudi Arabians being keen users of Twitch.
The MENA region has already demonstrated that it’s open to all forms of gaming. With its rapidly growing, engaged audience, more major developers will soon be looking to create more localized content and get a foot in the door.