LEVEL UP IN THE MIDDLE EAST : the video game industry keeps growing in the region

Two worlds meet. The scents of spices, traditional objects and the hustle and bustle of Beirut's souks will soon be joined by the psychedelic colors and retro sounds of the imposing Cosmo City arcade. This $6 million project is in line with the meteoric rise of the video game industry in the Middle East.

Increasingly focused on the gaming sector, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region accounts for 2.5% of the 135 billion in sales generated by the global market, according to a report produced by Newzoo. Following in the footsteps of Sony, Microsoft and Electronic Arts, new companies specializing in electronics and entertainment are making their debut in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, the videogame landscape has changed a great deal in fifty years. In the golden age of connected devices, the patriarch of video games predicts the advent of a society dedicated to communication.

High Stakes : Saudi Arabia takes Pole Position in the Video Games Race

As the No. 1 player in this regional competition to dominate the video game industry, Saudi Arabia is actively developing its eco-system. With the purchase of Electronic Sport League (ESL) and Faceit, two European e-sport companies, the oil-rich kingdom is also piloting Savvy Gaming Group. Wholly owned by the national public investment fund, this e-sport company represents a major economic asset in a young country, where the average age is 30. Thanks to the many investments made in this field, the Saudi video game market is expected to reach nearly one billion dollars by 2023.

The current dynamics of video games are closely linked to the widespread availability of mobile Internet access. In Saudi Arabia, mobile traffic, which is currently estimated at 75.18% according to Statcounter, is encouraging greater access to online gaming platforms. This strategy of opening up the entertainment sector is proving highly successful. In 2021, foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia rose by a spectacular 252% year-on-year, with gross fixed capital formation reaching US$218 billion and annual growth of 19.4%.

Optimistic projections for the next five years testify to the continued growth of the video games market in the MENA GCC region. According to Ericsson, the number of smartphone subscriptions is set to increase from 65 million to 73 million in GCC countries by 2027, while the MENA region's compound annual growth rate is set to rise from $5.71 billion to $9.63 billion between 2023 and 2028, an increase of 11.01% according to data from Mordor Intelligence.

A rising regional trend in gamification

Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, which organize cultural events around video games, are also on board. The enthusiasm generated by the Middle East Gaming Festival in Beirut in 2018 has been warmly echoed by the Yas Gaming Festival in Abu Dhabi in 2023. The United Arab Emirates continues to invest actively in the sector. Across borders, these unique events have brought together enthusiasts and the curious around racing simulations, virtual reality games and cosplay sessions, reinforcing the region's position as a hub of gaming culture.

The Gulf State predicts an average annual expenditure of $115 per gamer.  It was with this economic outlook in mind that Fakhra Al Mansouri seized the opportunity to promote local culture through the new educational leverage provided by videogames. Five years ago, the Emirati developer set up her company Hybrid Humans Game Studio with the aim of bringing her culture to the rest of the world in an innovative way. This mobile games platform is notably behind Falcon Valley, awarded the title of "game of the day" by the apple store in 2017.

More and more international partnerships : new players join the game

At the heart of this cultural transition, young local programmers, including the talented Fakhra Al Mansouri, are helping their nations emerge on the international scene. This evolution is remarkably reflected in the meteoric rise of partnerships. In May 2022, the Middle East marked a significant breakthrough in video gaming with the successful expansion of Indian e-sports platform Gamerji. Having already extended its operations to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Gamerji recently inaugurated its services in these countries, with a clear vision of continued progress over the next three months. Meanwhile, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Saudi Ministry of Investment (MISA) and South Korea's WEMADE in 2023 is a major step towards the introduction of blockchain in Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East continues its fast-paced ascension in the world of video entertainment. As new adventurers enter this virtual sphere : investors, programmers, even government bodies, the excitement of video gaming continues to drain development opportunities. Stay in the game.

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