Let's Play: Why Dubai Is Well-Positioned To Deliver The MENA Its Own Gaming Industry
Considering that Dubai Economy predicts the GCC's gaming industry to increase from $1.3 billion in 2019 to $4.5 billion in 2025, the opportunities for global and regional game developers is incredible.
Any perceived age limits on video games have officially lifted in recent years. The advent of mobile gaming and gamification have embedded gaming culture into our daily lives, resulting in a US$152.1 billion global market in 2019, according to Dubai Economy.
Advancements in technology have transformed the complete gaming experience into one that extends beyond the physical game. Video games now tell evocative stories, adapt to each player's decisions, and have a movie-like impact with sound, visuals, and dialogue. The prevalence, ease of availability, and often free-to-play models of mobile games reduce barriers to entry and pave the way for casual gamers, while esports deliver new avenues for connectivity, marketing, and engagement.
High internet penetration rates add another layer to accessibility, quality, and competition. According to The Global Consumer Survey by Statista, nine out of ten adults in the UAE alone play video games, while 90% of respondents consider themselves gamers. Such an extensive audience helped the UAE rank 35th in the world's top 100 gaming markets by revenue in 2019, according to Newzoo. Considering that Dubai Economy predicts the GCC's gaming industry to increase from $1.3 billion in 2019 to $4.5 billion in 2025, the opportunities for global and regional game developers is incredible. The crucial gap to fill is localization.
The promise of personalization
Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific market. It matters because it helps brands directly engage with individual markets, nurture closer connections, and deliver products that resonate deeply.
The potential audience for localized gaming is massive, given that Arabic is the fifth most spoken language globally. The Middle East itself is rich in languages and cultures, histories, and ambitions. Our countries boast diverse geographies and landscapes that can make for poignant content and storylines that can resonate with customers in the region. And brands can no longer sleep on this audience.
Some brands have already begun filling this space. Among the earliest was Sony Computer Entertainment which launched its first Arabic gaming title This is Football in 2004, and even introduced the first professional online tournament for the Middle East, the Arabian Dota League. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Origins transports players to Egypt, where they can see famous landmarks and choose to simply tour Egypt's history, while F1 22, published by EA Sports, features Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit. Even China Tencent Games, known for major hits like PUBG, have a headquarters in Dubai.
The need for reliable narrators
To truly capture the nuances of local cultures, environments, and stories in video games, people immersed in those very cultures, environments, and stories must tell the tale. There have been instances in popular culture where depictions of the Middle East have not been well-received by local audiences, and for good reasons too. Misconceptions, assumptions, and a lack of cultural translation alienate more than they embrace.
Considering the city's cosmopolitanism, business landscape, and connectivity, Dubai is well-positioned to own this space. We are already at the forefront of developing content in Chinese, Hindi, Tagalog, German, and more, and, naturally, Arabic is as vital to regional communications as English. Dubai's ranking as "the capital of Arab media" in 2020 and 2021 is a reflection of our capabilities. From my vantage point at Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City, and Dubai Production City, I see the plethora of a global and regional companies, entrepreneurs, and independent creative talent developing original content across a range of mediums.
Along with the talent already available, Dubai's renown as an emerging tech hub due to Dubai Internet City presents an attractive opportunity to game developers, coders, and the like. TECOM Group's GoFreelance package also makes it easier for independent talent to set-up freelance gigs in media, design, and tech, while the Remote Work Visa has helped Dubai earn its position as the third-best city in the world for digital nomads. Paired with the city's high quality of life, safety, and opportunities, it is no surprise we are attracting businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors of every size.
An existing ecosystem for success
Dubai has earned its position as a global business capital due to world-class infrastructure, supportive government policies, and a competitive landscape. Sector-focused business districts like our own, Dubai Internet City, and others similar provide a platform for business to hit the ground running.
In fact, Dubai Media City's strategic position near Dubai Internet City enables the convergence of industries. Leading and regional tech corporations and startups work alongside counterparts in media and content creation, providing an environment conducive to localized gaming, which requires both the creative elements of storytelling, design, sound, and visual, as well as the technical capabilities of coders and developers.
Developments in artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and the like, which are set to play a major role in the future of gaming, are being innovated by companies at Dubai Internet City in real time. Even incubators such as in5, which specialize in startups in media, tech and design, are providing an ideal framework to allow entrepreneurs in the industry to easily set up their businesses, use fully equipped creative facilities and studios, and seek investment opportunities.
A forward look
Games revenue in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE alone are expected to exceed $3 billion in 2025, according to Niko Partners' MENA Games Market Report, with over 85 million gamers playing across mobile, personal computers (PC), and consoles. The rise of esports and gaming events continues to underline Dubai's attractiveness, opportunity, and investment in the field. For instance, the Digital Games Conference MEA brought together more than 500 gaming-related companies from over 30 countries to Dubai Media City this June to help facilitate partnerships in the Middle East.
With rapidly increasing smartphone penetration in the GCC, and the fact that the mobile games have a high penetration versus PC and console gamers, the regional gaming population is expected to continue growing. It is the ultimate opportunity for publishers and developers to focus heavily on the region, and deliver gaming content that appeals to MENA's expansive markets. Game on!