The Game is Always Changing in the Middle East

As of January 2021, the source estimated that the video game market in Saudi Arabia was the largest in the Middle East and North Africa region, with a revenue of approximately 680 million U.S. dollars. Following behind was the gaming market in Iran with a revenue of 431 million U.S. dollars

The Play for MENA Gaming Markets

2020 revenues for gaming globally reached over 159.3 billion US Dollars. with almost half of market earnings generated by the Asia Pacific region. APAC was accountable for almost half the total earnings, driven by key marketing strategy, enthusiastic audiences and high demand from its 1.5 billion gamers. The number of Middle East gamers as of 2021 is estimated at a little over 100 million, which in a a multi-billion-dollar industry with cult followings and a massive internet penetration in the MENA region means gaming in the GCC is as certain a growth area as any investment can be

Gaming in the MENA region is estimated to be worth $4.5bn. Newzoo reports there were 2.69 billion gamers in the world by the end of 2020. Growth has been steady with an average of 5.6% year-on-year increase. 2021 figures are forecast to reach 2.81 billion gamers that will earn the global games market an estimated $189.3 billion

New technologies are continually opening up the gaming industry to more people by offering new ways to play, pay and engage. The global video game industry is now larger than global film and music industries combined, and the introduction of new culture and technology elements, such as NFTs and blockchain services and systems, means brands can better communicate clearer and more direct to their consumers than ever.

Social media is a key resource in this consumer engagement quest. Each gaming audience uses social media differently, and learning these behaviours is crucial to knowing how to market to your audience and build up a sense of community. As a general rule:

  • More people watched gaming content on YouTube in 2020 than ever before. YouTube’s outreach in Southeast Asia and Latin America, as well as the rise of prominent esports contests now being streamed on YouTube as well as Twitch, has also helped YouTube find a huge market for mobile game streaming
  • Twitter is more commonly used for news
  • Instagram is more focused on community updates and user-generated content such as fan art
  • Facebook remains popular for studio promotions and ad placements
  • Steam, while not necessarily a social media platform, is somewhat of a Mecca for PC gamers, an amalgamation of all the latest and greatest games – both existing and upcoming
  • Discord allows brands to create their own channels and connect with fans directly; offering exclusive server-only deals and promotions
  • Native content has proven successful with Twitch streamers


The Importance of Playing with Saudi

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is pursuing investments in an industry long favored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Riyadh-based Public Investment Fund acquired more than $3 billion worth of stock in three U.S. video-game makers during the fourth quarter, according to a regulatory filing. They include Activision Blizzard Inc., Electronic Arts Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.

In November, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s charitable organization (the Mohamed bin Salman Foundation) said it purchased a one-third stake in SNK Corp., the Japanese developer of King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown. The charity, also known as the MiSK Foundation, said it would increase its stake to 51% in the future.

The sovereign wealth fund acquired 14.9 million Activision shares with a market value of almost $1.4 billion during the fourth quarter, according to a Form 13F filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Its other purchases included 7.4 million Electronic Arts shares and 3.9 million Take-Two shares worth about $1.1 billion and $826 million, respectively, at the end of December.

The PIF is a key part of the crown prince’s plan to diversify the Saudi economy from its dependence on oil. The fund has made several high-profile investments in recent years, including a $4.4 billion stake in Uber Technologies Inc. and big commitments to Softbank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund.

The big bets on gaming were the latest sign of how the crown prince and Yasir Al Rumayyan, the governor of the sovereign fund, are leading an aggressive shift in how the kingdom invests its wealth.

The sovereign investor’s role will increasingly be to develop huge new projects around the country focused on building up new industries and diversifying the economy.

Leading gaming markets in the Middle East and North Africa as of January 2021, by revenue(in million U.S. dollars)