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The Middle East region, overall, has been one of striving for exponential development and technological upheaval over the last few decades. Erecting tremendous cities testament to the region’s wealth, nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have modernized at breakneck speed.

With nations like these already boasting world-leading internet penetration rates, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that modern entertainment platforms are also on the rise in the region.

Gaming has been a staple, if not a niche staple, of the Middle East since the 80s. While the arcade was the primary port of call for much of the pre-00s era, big-name consoles like the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and PC titles found an audience in the region – particularly as the bootleg market was so successful. Gaming was very much kicking before even the PlayStation entered the market.

Now, with accessibility at an all-time high, gaming is surging across the Middle East, propping it up as the fast-growing market in the world.

A fast-growing market that demands attention

Back in 2017, the Middle East gaming industry was tipped as a key region for growth. The reports suggested that 60 percent of the 587 million-strong online population were playing games, with mobile, console, and PC all being popular among gamers. At that point, year-on-year growth was clocking in at 25 percent – well ahead of all other regions.

Coming into 2022, the games industry was expected to hit $4.4 billion, with figures such as this finally shining the spotlight on the ever-growing, dedicated gaming community present across the region. Reports from 2021 suggest further rapid growth of 12.1 percent CAGR through to 2026.

Headlining Middle East gaming right now is Saudi Arabia. Primarily a mobile gamers’ market – of which there are 21 million of in The Kingdom – 2021 saw on-the-go gaming eclipse $520 million in revenues generated. The entire market, however, saw nearly $950 million in consumer spending last year, showcasing the breadth of the market. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been investing in several major game companies in the US.

As is common in most countries, app games offer the lowest barrier of entry, enabling it to garner more players, but with some 45 percent of spending going to PC and console, it’s clear that Saudi Arabia has a well-developed market. The UAE and Iran are also positioned as major markets in the Middle East.

The gaming that drives the Middle East

For a long time, the main inhibitor of gaming reaching people in the Middle East was the need to translate to Arabic. In the late 80s and early 90s, Sakhr Software Company did a great deal of translating in the video gaming space but couldn’t keep up with the pace at which the industry was developing in the east and west.

Knowing that language was one of the major barriers, early movers like the online gambling reviews for Arabic players' platform was quick to address this. It specializes in finding casino gaming and betting sites that offer a secure, Arabic-tailored service. So, payment options need to accept players from the Middle East and VPN-accessible. Sites such as this serve an important function to help curate the available services on offer.

As mentioned before, Saudi Arabia is the leading market in the region right now, with UAE close behind. Here, where mobile gaming captures the majority of gamers, it’s the puzzle games that reign supreme, with shooters, strategy, and then battle royale titles all joint-second. PUBG Mobile, Yalla Ludo, and Garena Free Fire stand as The Kingdom’s highest-grossing mobile games early in 2022.

Across the region, however, driving and sports games are the outright most popular. Censorship and potentially offensive depictions of the region in western games may inhibit many of the big shooter releases – which is still quite a popular genre overall – but accessible and lifelike driving and sports games certainly stand as the most popular.

In Iran, a nation subjected to US sanctions has greatly been cut off from much of the most commonly used and leading gaming software applications. Even here, though, gaming has become a hot hobby. Many cite the 2010 release of Garshasp: The Monster Slayer from Fanafzar Sharif as the catalyst for the burgeoning gaming industry in Iran, with the Persian mythology-based hack-and-slash title selling over 300,000 at home alone.

The point here is that the Middle East isn’t solely reliant on imports. Perhaps most telling of this is the eSports scene, especially with several backers like Dubai’s W Ventures, who pledged $50 million to the scene in 2019. Twitch and Facebook Gaming engagement are huge in the region, and Dubai even has plans to construct a dedicated eSports stadium.

For the global gaming market, all of this means that there’s another region to sell to and to select as a host of major eSports competitions. This could mean expanding into the localization of games for the region, as well as sending more scouts for top gaming talents to the Middle East.

For consumers elsewhere, this could mean an increased look at utilizing the region as a setting, as was done with the remake of the popular Prince of Persia. With the gaming market in the Middle East taken seriously, creatives may craft titles more appealing to their players, only resulting in a more exciting and diverse entertainment scene.