Online Gaming in The Arab World and Middle East

19 Jun, 2010

(ArabCrunch is opening guest posting again for entrepreneurs and Industry executives and insiders. Today’s guest post is by Sohaib Thiab, he is a serial internet enterpreneur, internet marketer, SEO specialist and social media enthusiast, started online in 2003, launched over 50 websites and hi newest compnay is Wizards Productions, the 1st Arabic MMORPG gaming company he is also a blogger in his personal blog. Follow him on ArabCrunch.NET here. If you would like to be a guest writer to ArabCrunch you can email us your bio and the topic you want to write about. Posts from guest writer do not necessarily represent ArabCrunch point of view.)

Online gaming in the Arab world has been growing quickly in the past few years, something that makes sense with the explosive growth ( 1,648.2 % in the past 9 years) of internet users, there are currently 57 million internet users according to Internet World Stats in the region, the MENA region which includes north Africa (mostly Arabic speaking countries) has 85 million internet users! The Arab region witnessed the highest increase in internet users compared to the rest of the world.

It is estimated that there are 1.6 billion internet users world wide that play games, 38% of which are from the Arab world. And that is only going to grow.

The market has been mostly ignored by the big gaming developers due to copy right issues in the region, however this was not a problem for MMORPG’s that entered the market 5 years ago, since most of these games are free to download or play online, so copying them is not an issue!

Travian was the 1st MMORPG to enter the Arabic gaming market in 2005, Travian remained the only game in the region for around 2 years, according to sources from Travian, the Arabic version was generating more revenue than all of the other Travian versions combined which included more than 15 other languages!

This indeed opened the eyes of the bigger companies in the US and Europe on the market, companies like Bigpoint and Gameforge started to quickly localize their games into Arabic and launch them in the region, this also spurned up local companies such as the company I co-founded (Wizards Productions) based on my experience in the browser gaming business from Go3 Media, smaller companies are also entering the market, whether on their own or through partnerships.

Due to the nature and background of Arab users, not everything that works for the rest of the world work here, religious and cultural aspects need to be taken into consideration.

This quick and huge growth also inspired other secondary support services, mainly payment processors such as Cashu and Onecard which are prepaid cards made popular by this new gaming market, users dont tend to use or own credit cards in the Middle East, unlike the west, and services such as Paypal dont work in most of the region, that also helped SMS payments to gain popularity despite its high costs on both the user and the high fees that operators charge.

Gate2play is also a new payment hub that should be launching soon which will hopefully help online gaming publishers to consolidate their payments in one location.

I’ve seen a number of new payment operators launch in the region, mostly prepaid cards focusing on the gaming market, social games on Facebook  are also immensely popular, 3D MMO’s are growing in popularity with around 8+ Arabic MMO’s that are all localized from other languages, browser based games however are still more active due to their low internet speed requirements.

The online gaming market in the Middle East is still mature by all standards, it still has a whole eco system to develop, hosting infrastructure especially for 3d MMO’s are missing, market research and accurate numbers are also hard to come by and find if any, social games on Facebook rely on indirect payments for almost 50% of their revenue by filling out surveys from companies like Rock you and others (according to Emarketer), something that Arabic games will not be able to rely on due to the fact that such companies dont exist.

It is expected that 3D MMO’s will keep growing in popularity with the increase in broadband internet subscribers in the region and the development of local hosting environments as well as payment systems.

It is also expected that gaming ads will see an increase in popularity within the digital advertising industry, this has already started in the US and Europe and its expected to move to the region as well, studies have revealed that gamers presented with a brand during playing a game in an entertaining way are more likely to remember and purchase the brand and associate its positive attributes as well.

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  1. Samer  |  June 20th, 2010 at 5:54 PM #

    Very cool info and great to read someone else is interested in this neglected market for the Arab World!

  2. Karim  |  June 21st, 2010 at 9:20 AM #

    many thanks for the article but there is a major error:

    you wrote: “It is estimated that there are 1.6 billion internet users world wide that play games, 38% of which are from the Arab world.”

    correct: “38% out of the 1.6 billion internet users are playing games online”

    This number has nothing to do with the Arab world as there are just 400.000 people living there including babies 😉

  3. Sebastien  |  June 22nd, 2010 at 11:36 AM #

    Well I’ve read similar things for at least the past 2 years. On paper, there’s a potential, but in reality… slow and darn expensive internet connections, payment systems which are either not in place or really not consumer friendly, local regulations, you name it… For an MMORPG to be profitable, it must be “massive” as its name indicates. We’re not there yet, I think. But I also have hopes

  4. Sohaib Thiab  |  June 23rd, 2010 at 12:34 PM #

    Hey Karim, your absolutely right, I will get the right stat and try and update the article ASAP.

    @Sebastien, if your talking about 3D MMO’s you have a point but i still argue that 3D MMO’s are on the rise in the region, I personally know that the 3rd biggest clan in Fiesta is a Kuwaiti clan, but browser based MMORPG’s are extremely popular in the region.

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