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What You Need to Know About Breaking into the Arab Market

December 10, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Local stories and creatives

Another way developers can take an extra step to strengthen bonds between Arab players and their games is to draw inspiration from the history and stories the regions. Tousi calls the Middle East North African region the "greatest reservoir of storytelling ever. All of the three main religions, and a number of massive books of mythology all hail from that part of the world."

And because of a shared history in terms of stories between the Middle East and the West (e.g. Arabian Nights, the Bible), that kind of content won't necessarily alienate players outside of the region. "All of this historical culture and storytelling is actually very in common and speaks really well to the West," says Minton. "It's less unique than going, for example, between China and America, which is a tougher bridge in terms of finding commonality of mythos."

Game makers who decide to go down that road stand to gain a lot by partnering with local content creators -- not just in having access to people who know the stories, who know how to deliver products to that market, and who know how to shape those projects for local audiences, but also in collaborating with people who are motivated to contribute and produce great work.

"It's good for developers to work with regional content creators or people who are in the business of creating content that's rooted in that region because they get access to a very, very rich universe, which I think is going to completely excite them to actually do the work," points out Tousi.

"What we always forget is that the business of gaming is far beyond dollars and cents. It's a creative environment, and it's driven by creatives. What is exciting about this region is that it's rich in terms of content for creatives who want to create that type of content. And I think that content can relate to a far greater market than just simply that region."

Even though the Arabic region is diverse, comprising different countries with extremely different cultures and dialects, working with a content partners in one of those countries could still go a long way toward helping a game from a Western team find an audience in the broader market. Their proximity to the other countries and presence in the same cultural milieu are advantages that shouldn't be discounted.

Tousi says this idea of entertainment crossing local borders easily is older than gaming: "If you look at some of the most successful soap operas in the Middle East, they are Turkish soap operas that are dubbed into Arabic. Obviously we have tons of soap operas in [North America]. Why wouldn't they be dubbed? Why wouldn't they be successful? What we read into that is cultural relevance and proximity is key and very important."

Common pitfalls

Publishers looking to break into the Arab market and maintain a sizable presence there need to realize that significant investments in building and fostering relationships are required. Companies shouldn't presume that they can fly in a single licensing person who will make business deals and head back home. They have to send in senior people to meet with gatekeepers, telcos, payment providers, and other partners.

"It's an area that really requires sustained business development and personal connections," says Minton. If you're "very used to having a person jump off the airplane, expect that they can go around, shake a bunch of hands, sign a contract, and leave," he says, "That's just not the way it works."

"You need to have sustained involvement. And so then there needs to be the understanding, or the calculation as to whether or not that is worthwhile to the business. If you're not going to do it yourself, you need to find someone who is in the region who you can really use as a partner."

Minton reminds game companies that when they handle these arrangements themselves, they're not just signing a blanket deal that gives the Middle East rights for their title to a single publisher or a distributor.

"[They need to take] the time to look at the folks who are selling products there, and deciding who to align with," he says. "This is a day and age where you're creating a mobile game for example that you may well end up signing 22 different deals to take on the entire world as opposed to giving the product to one entity and expecting that they're going to do that. It's unlikely that any one entity really can."

Onur also re-emphasizes her point that developers need to have a strong understanding of local audiences, warning them not to make the same mistake some major Western publishers have made in Asia: "Consider PopCap or Zynga, who have launched their very successful franchises in China on platforms like Tencent. They've failed miserably and couldn't scale."

Meanwhile mobile developer Robot Entertainment, which has worked with local publisher Yodo1 to bring its game Hero Academy to China, was able to find commercial success by making considerable efforts to adapt its game to the country's culture, incorporating Chinese-themed fantasy characters and providing region-appropriate marketing.

Peak's chief strategy officer says the struggles of major Western companies in China underscore that emerging markets are "very, very different from what Western developers are accustomed to for North America and Europe, because these countries and geographies have different histories, different language, different political systems, different economies, and different religions. Everything is different."

Another mistake Onur has seen is developers not thinking about or investing in local support services: "A lot of the time, I think global companies out there provide America or Europe more service than in emerging markets, especially because they can't monetize these users. But it's a chicken and egg situation; if you can't provide the necessary service that they deserve, they're not going to be loyal users.

"We consider gaming as not only a technology business but also a service business, games as a service. So, starting from customer support to community management to payment systems to payment platforms, you have to be able to answer the questions of the people you're addressing on every step of the way."

Whichever platform or genre developers decide to pursue, they're likely to find an audience with Middle Eastern gamers, according to Onur. But she says "They're just looking for high quality content that they can relate to, and then the service. If you have these two issues under your belt, it's possible to scale really, really effectively."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Localization Coordinator


Mohamed Almonajed
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Let's see what the future is hiding for us in that region :)

Bram Stolk
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I did the opposite, and yanked my game from the Saudi market (where it was really popular, btw), after getting really upset about crap like this:

Google Play lets you publish on a per-country basis.

People get upset about sexism in gaming (quite rightly so), but it is NOTHING compared to the oppression that women undergo in the arab world.

Amir Sharar
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If you were to consistently apply your logic, you'd ban your games from countries like Canada because they've implicitly supported the use of cluster bombs.

What governments do, especially when it conflicts with the will of the people, would never affect which markets I decide to sell my products to. Otherwise I'd have to ban my product from 95% of the countries out there, including the United States.

Diana Hsu
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I think your sentiment is wonderful; however, often it's the exposure to outside influences that help people in the most unlikely ways. For example, having a TV in the house in Indian families (controlling for income and other factors) has been shown to be related to literacy rates in girls.

Amir Barak
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Eh, you've got a slightly logical fallacy there mate... Bram is clearly against oppression of women, he never mentioned cluster bombs anywhere. Also, what's wrong with using cluster bombs? Unless of course Canada is using cluster bombs to oppress their women...?

Amanda Fitch
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Bram, thank you for being an awesome man!!!

Kyle Redd
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"People get upset about sexism in gaming (quite rightly so), but it is NOTHING compared to the oppression that women undergo in the arab world. "

Good luck trying to get anyone in the games industry to acknowledge that fact. I learned very quickly that, for those on the left, when women's rights comes into conflict with political correctness (or "cultural sensitivity," which apparently is why the abhorrent treatment of women in much of the Arab world is largely ignored), women will always get the boot.

Ahmad Jadallah
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I think this situation is not quite like it sounds at first. In Saudi Arabia there is a sponsor\sponsored system in place. A sponsored person cannot leave the country without the sponsor issuing an "Exit\Re-Entry Visa". So consider the following cases:
1- A person (any gender) below 18 needs to get an exit\re-entry visa from their sponsor (parents in this case)
2- An employee (again, any gender) needs to get an exit\re-entry visa from their sponsor (company in this case)
3- An employee spouse (any gender) needs to get an exit\re-entry visa from their spouse (who in turn is sponsored by a company).

It might seem complicated but this process is done online and is quite easy. I am not here to defend any practices but this specific scenario does not strike me as something "women specific"

Chris Christow
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@ Kyle Redd

Are you sure? Watch youtube! So many happy Christian women happy to marry an Arab man and live according to Shariah rules :)

Alexander Jhin
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Punish not the people whose governments screw them over. Does pulling your game affect the Saudi government? No. Does pulling your game affect the Saudi people (those being hurt by the government?) Yes!

Additionally, how do people even know you pulled the game in protest? I know because I read Gamasutra, but I doubt the Saudi government does.

While the cause is probably righteous, the protest is ineffective. Perhaps more effective would have been to release a Saudi Arabian version of the game that calls out what you perceive as unjust, then lets people play as normal. If it gets censored by the Saudi Government, then good job, you did something that got the Saudi govt to pay attention. But pulling the game yourself doesn't get any attention at all.

Amir Sharar
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@Amir Barak

The comparison between oppression of women and cluster bomb usage is done because both things are WRONG. And why is cluster bomb usage wrong? Because it kills scores of innocent civilians. Look at it's use by Israel in Lebanon and the number of civilians killed through its usage.

I'm actually appalled that anyone would back Bram's bigoted perspective, thinking that the people in these countries should be punished for what their backwards governments are doing.

Candide Kirk
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The first thing you need to know about the Arab market is that it does NOT include Turkey. Turkey is a huge Middle Eastern market, but speaks TURKISH. Peak Games happen to operate in both Turkey and the Arabic speaking markets, but the majority of what you're quoting Ms Onur on in your article relates to Turkey.

It's interesting that in a 3 page Gamasutra feature you do not speak to a single Arab game developer. Can we just assume that we know our market a bit better than someone in a New York office? Thank you.

Yes, the Arabic speaking games market is growing, and is certainly worth looking at. Yes, we've always said that if you can kick it, shoot it or drive it then the game will sell well, but that's only because those three genres are particularly low on language count and can intuitively be played even if your English is very basic. Arabic is the key here. To successfully enter the market, the language HAS to be there. The irony is that the more affluent the country is, the higher the language barrier (Gulf states especially). I fully agree with Rena that local holidays and cultural references make all the difference - Halloween means nothing here. Neither does Thanksgiving.

The local development community is thriving. We (the Arab game developers) host regular game jams across the Arab world, we have players in the indie social, mobile, web, mmo and console spaces and we're always looking to partner and help global companies enter our markets. The consumers are very mature gamers and contrary to what is implied in the article, include a substantial core gamer audience with typical households in the more affluent regions owning several consoles (i.e. not an XBOX vs. PS vs. Nintendo market, rather all three would be owned by the same family).

For a local perspective on the opportunities, read:

Bob Charone
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"The consumers are very mature gamers and contrary to what is implied in the article, include a substantial core gamer audience with typical households in the more affluent regions owning several consoles (i.e. not an XBOX vs. PS vs. Nintendo market, rather all three would be owned by the same family). "

But how common are those typical affluent households in a poor region?

According to Capgemini there are
3.4M millionaires in North America
3.4M in Asia
3.2M in Europe
0.5M in Latin America
0.5M in Middle East
0.1M in Africa

Especially considering that North America and Middle East have a similar number of people!

Candide Kirk
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@Bob Charone

Not sure where you missed the memo on the rich Arab stereotype, but I wouldn't classify the Arab world as "poor" (again, note major difference from Middle East) which boasts 3 countries in the top ten GDP per capita globally

Of course that is not to say that there is no poverty across many Arab states, but certainly not the richer Gulf countries.

But none of that is even remotely important because since when do you have to be a millionaire to afford video games or to be considered affluent? Disposable income is the key here and yes it is abundant.

Bob Charone
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Egypt is 101st in that ranking and has far more people than those tiny top Arab states combined. Also if you look at the top 10 the only populous nation is the US. The are plenty of rich Arabs where I live so I'm unfortunately too familiar with that stereotype.

My point is the Arab world is not as rich as the developed world. Even in those tiny, tiny "rich" arab states most of the wealth is held by a tiny fraction, so please exit your reality distortion field!

As far as owning consoles, a third of the world's home gaming consoles are owned by people in the US alone, the rest are in Europe and Asia (excluding Middle east)!

Candide Kirk
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"Reality distortion field" ? How rich... Excuse the pun!

The above was released during the famous PSN outage. Quick math puts total Arab country accounts at around 1.1M, but this doesn't even take into account the number of people in the region with US or JP or UK accounts who'd either set them up before PSN was officially launched in their countries, or who'd kept those accounts for catalogue availability reasons. I'm also ignoring any growth in the past year and a half (although the ME territories still boast much higher growth rates than the plateaued traditional ones).

Again, what's your point? Are you making an argument against localising to Arabic or arguing the premise of the article? The headline clearly targets those who are in fact looking to "break into the Arab Market"

Bob Charone
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WOW 1.1 million in the entire Arab world! About as many as a small European country! And did you happen to notice the 31 million in US, a nation that has fewer people than the Arab world, and its not even popular there. I'm not against trying to appeal to Arab gamers but frankly its not a very big market despite its large population.

Ahmad Jadallah
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@ Bob,

1.1 Million is several times bigger than Poland, Portugal and Turkey (It equals them when you combine all three of them!) and yet each of those countries always get the games localized into their own languages and they get XMB Localization support as well. In the case of the Arab world, all you need is to do the effort once as they all speak one language. And that is not even counting XBox 360 which should make a better case for multiplatform titles as well.

EA fully localized Fifa and Need For Speed and for Fifa its the second year in a row. They wouldn't be doing that if it didn't sell good.

Mobiles and Tablets are very popular as well and people here have higher tendency to spend a lot on such devices to get the higher end models.

Candide Kirk
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I fail to see the relevance of US numbers in the context of this article, but in any case best of luck with your English only titles. With the industry shaking up in its traditional markets let me know how that works out for you.

@Ahmad - to further support your argument, I have it on good authority that Arabic XMB is coming soon. XBL has already officially launched in KSA and UAE. I'd say these decisions are not taken on a whim and both MS and Sony see the growth and potential of the market.

Bob Charone
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Its not the article, it is your stupid comment on the wealth of Arabs! It is a touchy subject as there are many wealthy Arabs here in Paris and yet if you visit one of the few 'rich' Arab nations you quickly see that most are not affluent as the west, that is why I truly believe you are living in some sort of bubble or are just ignorant!

As the numbers supported by both of us have posted only a tiny minority (much smaller than Europe and US) are affluent enough own one console let alone several! And if you want to talk about a language worth considering (regardless of actual sales number) there will soon be more middle-class Chinese than total people in the Arab world.

Ahmad Jadallah
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I have to agree with Candide here. Its great that you featured Peak games but they cover a specific market (social games) and are based in Turkey.

Candide's company Quirkat developed an Arabic PSN title based on a local card game (Basha). We are a Saudi Arabian developer based in Riyadh and we are developing an episodic action adventure that targets PC\Mac\iOS\Android\PSN\XBLA\Facebook and Cloud Gaming ( which , in addition to Arabic in voice and text, features 21 languages for subtitles in an effort to reach a global audience with our local historical figures and culture.

While I have to admit that Turkish and Iranian developers are more active than us Arab developers and admire the great work they do, I think its not fair to present them as the sole front of the region. Having read the article I got out with a different impression of the industry than what I see is a reality in my daily job. Specially ideas like "Don't Translate into Arabic cause its cooler for kids if its in English" strikes me as the reason we don't get Arabic translated games in the region (if thats the advise companies are getting from those eemm New-York based "Consultants")

Muhammad Al-kaisy
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I agree on the last part about not translating to Arabic. As evident from our games such as Need for Speed Most Wanted and FIFA13, sales for these games have not been as good as they are now that they got proper localization.

Chris Christow
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Oh, yeah! Time to make CoA: Modern Warfare the Arab way! :) That'd be an amazing fun! :)

Ayman Awartani
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We're a game development company based in Middle East, We can help you in Planing and Research, Execution, and Optimization via offering Market Research, SEO Research, Keyword Analysis, Search Query Analysis & Expansion, Website localization, Media localization, Proofreading & Editing, translation and culture related studies.
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