How 'game' are we in the UAE?
Gamers in the UAE are a dedicated demographic, and their passion is driving the demand for video games in the region, especially in the mobile and online gaming segments.
Developers and retailers have taken note of the growing legions of gaming fans in the region, and have accelerated their efforts to cater to the needs of the gaming population, promising regional releases that are simultaneous with international launches, and the latest products as soon as they hit the market.
A report by newzoo found that in 2016, the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region was one of the fastest growing gaming regions in the world, with 26.2 per cent year-on-year growth. The region's 301.4 million gamers were estimated to have spent a total of $3.2 billion in 2016, making up three per cent of global revenues. The report also noted that the mobile segment will remain the largest category, with year-on-year revenue growth rates between 30-60 per cent in the coming years. This is facilitated by quickly increasing smartphone and mobile Internet penetration.
"The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region has enormous potential, as about half the population of nearly 400 million is younger than 25 years of age," said Jeroen Schlosser, MD of Equinix for the Mena region.
Newzoo's 2016 version of the 'Global Games Market Report' also found that the top five countries in the region generated more than 60 per cent of all MEA gaming revenues. Turkey is the 16th largest games market worldwide and the leader in the MEA region with $755 million in revenues. Saudi Arabia follows after Turkey, with revenues of $502 million. The UAE comes in at fourth position in the MEA region, with revenues of $249 million, trailing slightly behind Iran at $270 million.
Schlosser noted that the Arab online gaming market is growing at an exponential rate due to the robust increase in Internet users. "The mobile market is also one of the fastest-growing media segments in the Middle East. Smartphone penetration in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has surpassed 75 per cent of the population, with more than 55 per cent of users accessing the Internet every day on a smartphone. Gamers are therefore more inclined towards online and mobile games, weaning away from the consoles and pre-installed PC games."
He also pointed to a movement towards more immersive digital entertainment, from movies to games. Virtual reality, he said, will go from solitary to shared. "The future of VR will be about being transported to another place and doing something cool with your friends.Physically collaborative games where body will be more than just an anchor to the physical world will become more popular."
Gareth Evans, Mena territory manager at Ubisoft, is of a similar mind, saying: "We are expecting more growth on current platforms; with the previous launches of the PS4 Pro, and VR platforms such as Oculus Rift, PSVR, HTC Vive, in addition to the start of new life cycles on systems such as the Nintendo Switch, Google Daydream, and Microsoft's Xbox One Scorpio."
He further revealed that the UAE continues to be a strong market for video games and a key focus for Ubisoft as it looks to support the launches of key franchises in the coming years.
"Ubisoft has a very big focus on the UAE and Middle East, with a business team based in Dubai to support the growth of the region as we continue to localise, promote, and support the games we release. In addition to that, we have a development studio in Abu Dhabi, in partnership with TwoFour54, celebrating their fifth year anniversary this year, who previously launched CSI: Hidden Crimes, and NCIS: Hidden Crimes on mobile platforms and Facebook, and are leading live operations for Growtopia, a free to play game Ubisoft had recently acquired, in addition to working on some pretty exciting projects for the future. Late last year, we had also announced a partnership with the IMG theme parks, in bringing the Rabbids, Assassin's Creed, and Just Dance franchises to the parks as part of their IGM World of Legends expansion," he said.
Further elaborating on the popularity of online gaming in the region, Evans said: ""Most games now come with some sort of online component offering the consumers further experiences when you play or compete with the wider world, expanding the life of a game. There is an incredible amount of choice when it comes to online gaming allowing the players to compete in extreme sports, and car races or battle it out in numerous time periods. Online games are also becoming synonymous with sports, under the banner of 'eSports', with competitions happening all the time online or at events being hosted in the UAE and across the Middle East."
When it comes to online gaming, however, there is nothing that universally frustrates gamers more than lag. Every gamer has experienced lag in some way shape or form, Schlosser says.
"Whether they're unable to micro their units, missing that critical hit, or simply waiting for an update to load - it is the number one cause of frustration for online gamers. In fact, a game server that lags or crashes on game launch can expect to be quickly shot down by reviewers and gamers alike. You need a gaming infrastructure that can scale to handle millions of new users, with world-class reliability. Platform Equinix data centers and Equinix Performance Hub can help companies reduce latency to reach the world's top markets in less than 10 milliseconds and significantly improve content and application acceleration and gamers' quality of experience," he said.
Platform Equinix data centers scale access to a variety of gaming options for multiple device types and provide world-class operational reliability and security by interconnecting the various businesses that are required to make the online gaming experience a seamless process
"It is also essential for gaming companies, especially in a high growth market like the Mena region, to work in concert with content delivery networks, social networks, game console companies, cloud service providers and smart phone device platforms to reach an expanding customer base. They also must support various monetization models, such as subscription and free-to-play, to further grow their customer base and revenues," he added.
Sharing his thoughts on gamers in the region, Kishan Deepak Palija, MD of Geekay Group, said that gamers in the region need all the latest gadgets and games that release on day one, and that some go to unimaginable lengths to acquire them.
"Having said that, being the premier gaming retailer in the region means it is our duty to fulfill these wishes and so far we have been able to bring all the gaming products under one roof at our Geekay Games and Geek Nation stores at the earliest. The release of Nintendo Switch in UAE is a testimonial to the fact that Geekay Group believes in bringing the latest and greatest in gaming to the region on day one. We were able to bring the console to all our stores on the official release date," he shared.
Palija also noted that sales for all gaming consoles and games this year have seen strong growth, and that he was confident that the trend will continue with the new releases coming up.
"Geekay Group has witnessed growth year on year and this year too, we seem to be on track to do better in terms of volumes and profitability. So far, all the gaming eco-systems have witnessed growth and with the release of a new player in the form of Nintendo Switch, competition is getting fierce for game companies to bring better and bolder exclusives for their consoles. Exclusivity will dictate which consoles have the upper hand and with the E3 convention and game announcements around the corner, we will know by mid-June which system will take the lead in terms of sales," he said.
Asked about recent gaming trends in the UAE, Palija said that with the release of the PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and other VR headsets, gamers were fascinated by the ability of immersing themselves in the virtual world and enjoyed every second of the experience.
"Thanks to games such as Resident Evil Biohazard, VR Worlds, etc. the content was available readily and with future projects in pipeline, this experience is only going to get surreal and more thrilling," he said. "Thanks to Pokemon GO, we have also witnessed a rise in Pokemon fans leading to increase in the sales of our range of Pokemon trading cards, merchandise and games. Gamers can't seem to get enough of their favorite Pokemon characters and so far we have managed to satiate their thirst for all things Pokemon and intend to do so in the future as well."
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