The MENA games market is THE fastest growing in the world – up nearly 7% in 2023!
Whether you’re looking for investment, new ‘blue’ market opportunities, development talent or fresh ideas – you need to be thinking MENA. PG Connects Jordan and the Leaders Summit in NEOM offer a great introduction to the space.
Whilst many parts of the global games market are still feeling the turbulence of a post-Covid high recession with investment funds tight, projects delayed or cancelled and staff laid off, the MENA region is absolutely bucking the trend.
Here’s 7 reasons why you cannot afford to miss out on this region…
1. THE fastest growing market by revenue for the last 2 years
As last year’s ever decreasing Newzoo forecasts outlined, the overall games market faced its first downturn for 25 years in 2022, yet the MENA market (comprising Middle East and Africa) continued to expand at a sizable rate, up 5.8% to around $6.8 billion. In 2023 the same analysts predict it will accelerate even faster, growing 6.9% to over $7.2 billion.
Obviously, compared to an overall estimated industry forecast for $188 billion in ‘23 this is still a minority figure, but it is expanding fast and represents a far ‘bluer’ ocean than many of the more mature and stagnant markets in the US, Europe and parts of APAC.
2. The fastest growing player base too and now the second biggest in the world
Crucially this growth is powered by a rapidly expanding player base, predicted to grow an immense 12.3% this year to 574M as more of the population become converted to gamers. And that certainly is no minor number, it represents 17% of the addressable global market according to Newzoo, placing it second only to the sprawling APAC (53%) and well ahead of Europe (13%) and matching North America (10%) and Latin America (7%) combined.
3. A younger, fresher player base (who like esports!)
This new audience is also trending much younger than Europe and the US. The median age in Arab regions, for instance, is 22, compared to a global average of 28, and 60% are under 25! This means potentially more time to spend on entertainment like games.
Indeed gaming is definitely a young person’s hobby in the MENA region, with 76% of gamers in the MENA-3 market of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt alone being under the age of 35. Read more in Niko Partners’ second annual report covering the MENA region.
What’s more, they have a competitive streak too, with 73% of the population engaging in esports, which is perhaps no surprise when you have huge events like the eight-week-long Gamers8 tournament boasting a prize pool of $45M dollars and major companies like mobile operator Zain operating their own esports academy.
(Infographic data source: Niko Partners)
4. MENA is Mobile-first
Like most emerging markets, MENA is very much a mobile-first market in terms of revenue, with over 65% coming from the mobile platform. And mobile users in the region are ravenously consuming new apps and games downloading more than 26,200 apps per minute.
What’s more, there’s plenty more growth ahead, the number of smartphone users in the MENA region is expected to reach 565 million by 2025, a 200 million increase from the current figure.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a PC or console presence of course, the likes of Sony, Ubisoft, Epic and EA all have offices in the region and there is definitely a ‘hardcore’ base of players on bigger screens evolving alongside the esports scene.
5. Investors Are Connecting… and Spending!
Whilst the flood of games investment may have slowed to a trickle in much of the world, that’s clearly not the case in the MENA market, particularly not in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
With games and esports forming one of the pillars of a huge policy to transform society and diversify the economy as part of the Vision 2030 project, it’s no surprise that the mighty Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) would flex it’s financial muscles to back the objective. However, even by Saudi’s opulent standards the declaration of a $38 billion war chest to invest in the ecosystem, events and acquisitions via its Savvy Games vehicle certainly drew industry attention. Following the initial purchase of ESL in 2022 and reported stakes in multiple larger games companies such as Embracer (to join separate PIF investments in the likes of EA, Nintendo, Activision Blizzard, Take 2 and Capcom) Savvy completed their largest investment yet in 2023 with the acquisition of mobile publisher Scopely for $4.9 billion, bringing with it titles such as Stumble Guys, Monopoly Go, StarTrek Fleet Command and Marvel Strike Force.
With plenty still left in the Saudi coffers and considerable investor appetite also on display from neighbours in the Emirates such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi (who outlined their own gaming initiative in 2021), this makes the region hard to ignore for those seeking fund-rounds or even exits.
6. Games are a Gateway for Societal change
We’ve mentioned above that the games industry is seen as a key part in the Saudi Arabian 2030 vision for diversifying the economy and progressing society. And it’s clear that the ideal is not limited to just one MENA country, the games industry represents more than just pure entertainment here, as wider businesses and culture are very much getting in on the act. CEO of MENATech – a part of GGTech Entertainment – Mario Pérez sums up the mood of the region; “The surging popularity of esports in MENA, especially the gaming segment, has led the corporate sector to explore a crossover between technological capabilities and gaming trends, as businesses seek new ways to connect with consumers.
“With interactivity and immersion being the latest trend and rage, this trend [of gamification] is catching up across sectors including education, healthcare and construction, besides functions such as advertising and marketing,” he added.
Gaming has also become a much more widely accepted career and recreational activity in the MENA region. Chief esports officer at the Saudi Esports Federation, Faizal Bin Homran, when asked about the social acceptance of esports and gaming in general, said, “I think in the past three years we’ve found a lot of challenges conveying this message and what we believe about these players being real athletes. But with the progress we’ve had in Saudi, the community has changed – and I don’t mean themselves – we’ve noticed a lot of parents supporting their kids right now. Because, I think they saw some – in their opinion – defining proof. “For example, when they heard there was a national gaming and esports strategy they were thinking ‘It’s not a joke, it’s a real sport now!’”
7. Rich History and a Fantastic Place to Visit
Whilst there are plenty of business reasons to engage with the region, there’s also a strong work-cation angle too! The region has a rich heritage of culture to explore, many awe-inspiring sights (like Petra, one of the wonders of the world), incredible cuisine and more than a little fun to be had (ever tried your hand at dune-buggying in the desert or camping overnight under the stars?). Most of the major spots are typically pretty easy to access with direct flights (e.g. to Amman Jordan, Dubai, Riyadh etc), simple visas and nothing in the way of vaccines.
Connect with the region directly
All in all then it’s clear that the MENA region is a vibrant and growing market with huge potential and plenty to offer visitors both on the business and personal fronts. Naturally, as with any territory, it’s not all upside and there’s plenty of nuance and detail to be considered if you’re to properly enter the market and take advantage of the opportunities.
We have a mission to cover the MENA market more extensively in coming months on PocketGamer.Biz and sister channels and hope to provide more insight to help this, but ultimately nothing can beat a trip to see the space first hand and talk to the local experts. PG Connects Jordan (Nov 5-6th) offers a great way to get a first taste of the region and meet regional talent within the confines of a familiar 2-day conference format (and easy flight connections), as well as offering a chance to see one of the modern wonders of the world at Petra and enjoy a dip in the Dead Sea along with some winter sun. Meanwhile, for those of a C-Level persuasion we will also have our Leaders Summit, taking place against the emerging backdrop of Neom, Saudi Arabia in December.