Gaming in the Middle East and Africa: the stats you need to know, from average spend to numbers of gamers

The region is home to 14 per cent of the world's gamers, but only 3 per cent of the industry's profits

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 17 OCTOBER 2019. INSOMNIA Dubai, the region’s largest gaming festival held at Meydan. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: None. Section: National.
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Gaming is the most profitable form of entertainment in the world, with the industry split into mobile games, E-sports streaming, console purchases and more.

Worldwide, the gaming industry is worth $148.8 billion (Dh547 billion), while in the Middle East and Africa, the industry's value is $4.8 billion – 3 per cent of the global total.

But, as Tom Wijman, senior market analyst at Newzoo, said while presenting statistics at Dubai event On.DXB today, the region is also the fastest growing in the world in terms of potential.

Mena's gaming industry is forecast to swell by 12.1 per cent between now and 2022, said Wijman: that's the strongest growth rate in the world.

In the region, mobile and tablet games make up 58 per cent of the market, console games 20 per cent and downloaded/boxed PC equal 20 per cent, while traditional PC games account for just 3 per cent.

Within the region, preferences are diverse, too, according to Wijman. In the Gulf, the console is the preferred device, in the Levant, the PC is king, while in African countries, mobile is the most popular segment.

In the GCC, shooter and sports games are the most popular genres, with Fortnite, Fifa, Overwatch and Rocket League the biggest games. In the Levant, multiplayer online battle arena and shooter games are on top, with League of Legends, CS;GO, Minecraft and Fortnite the favourites. Meanwhile, in Africa, arcade, strategy, sports and casual are the top genres.

When people talk about the Middle East and Africa in terms of gaming stats, Mena is the true hub, making up 80 per cent of the region's action, with Sub-Saharan Africa just 20 per cent.

The region is home to 14 per cent of the global population of gamers, but just 3 per cent of revenues, because gamers in the Middle East and Africa region spend the least overall, with the annual average spend of a gamer here $29.1 (Dh107) per year, just 10 per cent of what the average North American gamer spends.

"In terms of spend, it's a very diverse region," added Wijman. The average gamer in the UAE spends $115 per year, in Saudi Arabia that figure is $68 per year, while in Nigeria it's $9 per year and in Kenya it's $7 per year.

'A lot of western developers don't pay enough attention to Arabic'

As Vincent Wang, Head of PUBG MOBILE, Tencent Games, said at the event, the UAE is far from the "desert of gaming".

He said further infrastructure is needed here to support the industry more holistically, adding that 200 tonnes of equipment was shipped in to make the 2018 PUBG Mobile Star Challenge global final in Dubai possible.

That event was attended by 5,000 people, and was viewed by more than 60 million people online.

He added that “we will need a lot more investment from government, from different stakeholders – media, education, event management" to build a full gaming industry in the Middle East, adding that Tencent, the world's largest game, development, publishing, and operation platform, is "pretty open to partnership opportunities" here.

Talking about localisation in games, Wang said that PUBG mobile has invested a lot into making the game relevant to people in the region. "It's important, especially in this region," he said.

They spent time making sure the game could be played in Arabic, which was difficult due to things like the language being read from right to left. "A lot of western developers don't pay enough attention to Arabic, and only publish in English."

He said that offering regional gamers their own local servers was also very important, and took "five to six months ... to make possible". This means gamers here can now play PUBG at a ping rate of 16 milliseconds, rather than the 277 millisecond speeds they would find if they tried to connect to North American servers, for instance.