Gaming Trends in The Middle East

The countries of the Middle East region are not often discussed in the gaming space. Usually, places like North America or Japan are considered the largest markets, but lately the trends in the global market point to the Middle East aggressively closing the gap. Certain countries in the region are showing annual market growth rates of around 25% which greatly outpaces the global average of 8%. There are many factors contributing to this phenomenon but rapid growth in internet connectivity and booming smartphone markets are the most important elements fueling this growth. Additionally, there has been increased investment in development of games in the region.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran are at the frontline of this trend contributing about 2 billion of global gaming sales. An increasing interest in major gaming tournaments is currently reshaping the Middle East’s global image with the introduction of the Dubai World Game Expo, Games Middle East, and the IGN Convention Abu Dhabi.

Middle East Gaming Barriers

Despite an online gaming community of about 600 million, the Middle East has had many challenges to overcome in reaching this large number of players. The hurdles to gaming include local laws, entrenched cultural beliefs, and competition from conflicting entertainment sources. Recently many of these factors are trending in the other direction and fueling extraordinary growth in the industry.

Gambling Restrictions

Legal restrictions are perhaps the most significant barrier to growth. For instance, most local laws forbid online gambling with real currency while allowing free gaming services. These local ordinances are difficult to enforce as technologies such as VPNs become more widespread.  The issue of locally restrictive gambling regulation is not unique to the Middle East. The United States also has similar issues but the Federal government has allowed localities and states to regulate their own gambling markets with local laws. The success of the American model will hopefully spur similar local laws in the Middle East. The significant growth in eSports betting throughout the world should be a logical part of the future of video gaming in the Middle east too.

Cultural Limits

Gulf countries are highly associated with their strong cultural beliefs, which have shaped a unique social life and media culture.

Some of these countries have banned megahits that have had extreme graphic content that conflicts with cultural norms. The banning of global titles such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, and Battlefield II had blocked significant global heavyweights for many years. However, the laws are beginning to change, God of War being among the lucky.

eSports’ Influence in the Gulf

Online eSports betting in the Middle East is on the rise, complementing growth in revenues and audiences. Being an economic giant in the region, the UAE has attracted significant investments, shaping a promising future in terms of popularizing gaming.

One of the recent establishments is Zain eSports, which is introducing a regional eSports tournaments calendar to the Middle east. The brand is owned by one of Kuwait’s telecom giants.

Many global game developers are recognizing the trends and are seeking to establish more presence in the Middle East. For instance, Activision has established physical Call of Duty servers in Jeddah and Riyadh and Riot Games has done the same for its game Valorant.

This growth is evident in online games participation, as witnessed in Twitch. The mega platform attracted over 4 million users who watched Arabic streams from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman, in 2020.

Most popular games in the Middle East

Fortnite Battle Royale

Fortnite has had its fair share of influence on the global gaming industry as well as the UAE. The game has a free model which makes it playable in countries that have banned currency gaming. It also supports up to 100 players per match, making it highly influential. 

Fortnite Battle Royale is playable on Xbox One, PS4, Personal Computers, Mac, and iOS. The company is also working on a mobile version, which will benefit from the growing popularity of smartphone gaming.

FIFA 18

Like all previous versions of the game, FIFA 18 has defended the title heavily. But besides the brand, football as a sport is popular among Arabs and Islams, who mostly occupy the Middle East. In fact, the hosting of the World Cup has further inspired popularity in the game, across all types of fans.

The game is playable on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PCs.

God of War

Despite the long ban, God of War has managed to influence a massive audience in its short legal market existence. The ban was originally triggered by rising concerns over its religious and social portrayal conflicting with the Arabic lifestyle. 

However, the National Media Council revoked the ban, a significant step towards a new media culture. However, the game is only playable on PS4, which means it can challenge higher-ranking rivals when made playable on more devices.

The UAE is embracing global ideologies to secure its share in the growing tech world, although leisurely. But the longer they take, the harder it will be to shape it as they prefer.

Written by
GLYFE a gaming culture and lifestyle brand. We live to game. Visit GamingLyfe.com for all your latest gaming news, reviews, Esports highlights, live streaming news, Cosplay, and GLYFE Merchandise.

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