Gaming. As one of the largest sectors of the entertainment industry, which is now standing as rival to both the film and music industries, gaming has become a core part of every day life for many in the 21st century. Video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry, with the global market projected to topple 86 billion by 2016. Whether it is for simple recreation, strict competition, or momentary escapism – video games have become a shared link of indulgence for people all across the world. Gaming in the Middle East has long been an under-developed industry, and just in recent years the area has begun being recognized as the untapped opportunity for expansion that it is. Just look at the numbers. With many Arabic countries having over 50% youth populations, over 200 million mobile phones, and a craving for technology that is only increasing, the capacity for a strong video game presence is clear. So, why the wait?
Well, many are done waiting. The video game market in the Middle East is now expected to grow 29 percent annually, but one of the main reasons for the hesitation of expansion is the daunting complexities of Middle Eastern societal and cultural expectations. Many things that would prove successful in Western Audiences would fail terribly in Middle Eastern audiences, and, because the social and cultural guidelines are not consistent across all of the Arab world, many Games that would prove successful in one Middle Eastern country may not succeed at all in another. Because of this, thorough research and accurate understanding of these cultures is crucial when developing a game. Normally not having such importance in the process of game development, this creates a new level of difficulty for developers hoping to gain a footing in this open market.
So, what has been working? Mobile gaming has so far shown to dominate in the Middle East. Because there are very few console games and many Mobile phones, the access people have to these games is much larger. These games are also often much cheaper and more casual than console or PC gamers, giving players a less committed opportunity to play. I was interested to learn that the biggest consumers of these mobile games and apps in the Middle East are women, something I had not expected. The explanation for this may lay in the cultural role and expectations that women have in the Middle East, but that is a whole topic on it’s own (If you would like to read more on this, I would recommend the blogs on this topic by my classmate Camille Smith). Looking to the future, the increase in video game expansion in the Middle East seems inevitable. The population, demographics, and culture all necessitates it, and though the hurdles of understanding the societal and cultural intricacies are high, once accurate understanding is achieved there will be nothing more in the way. I expect the next decades of gaming to be explosive in the Middle East, and it will be interesting to see exactly how it unfolds.