Saudi Arabia leads as MENA region sees gaming boom

4 min read
Gamers8 Festival in Riyadh showcases the region's gaming prowess with a US$45 million prize pool.
  • The MENA region's gaming revenue is set to hit $7.2bn in 2023, representing 17% of global gamers, while Saudi Arabia's market may hit $1bn mark this year and triple by 2030
  • Spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, the region's gaming renaissance reshapes the global landscape, with Gamers8 festival showcasing the region's growing influence in the sector

ABU DHABI, UAE — The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is witnessing a digital revolution, with electronic gaming at its forefront. With revenues projected to hit US$7.2 billion in 2023, the region now accounts for a staggering 17 percent of the global gaming population.

A whopping 574 million individuals are engrossed in electronic games, and this number is growing at an impressive annual rate of 12.3 percent — the highest global increase this year.

Several factors are driving this gaming boom. The rapid development of advanced internet infrastructure, especially via smartphones, has made gaming more accessible. These devices, available at reasonable prices, combined with the affordability of electronic games, have positioned gaming as a preferred entertainment choice for many.

Saudi Arabia is emerging as the epicenter of this gaming surge. According to Newzoo’s Games market data, the nation’s electronic gaming market is currently valued at US$1 billion. Ambitious plans are underway to triple this figure by 2030.

The Saudi Savvy Games Group, backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), has earmarked a staggering US$8 billion to acquire global video game brands. Furthermore, a colossal US$38 billion fund has been set aside for investments in the sector.

The PIF’s strategy is clear: establish 250 gaming companies, create 39,000 jobs, and boost the sector’s GDP contribution to SAR 50 billion (US$13.3 billion) by 2030.

The Number Game
* Annual growth rate in gamers in MENA is 12.3%, the highest globally.
* Saudi Arabia's electronic gaming market valued at US$1 billion.
* Ambitious plans to triple Saudi gaming market to US$2.5 billion by 2030.
* Saudi Savvy Games Group earmarks US$8 billion for global game brand acquisitions.
* A colossal US$38 billion fund set aside for investments in the gaming sector.
* PIF's strategy: Establish 250 gaming companies, create 39,000 jobs, and boost GDP to SAR 50 billion by 2030.
* Global electronic games sector to reach US$187.7 billion in 2023, projected to rise to US$212.4 billion by 2026.
* Smartphones dominate consumer spending in gaming, followed by gaming consoles.
* Saudi Arabia leads MENA's gaming revenues in 2023, expected at US$1.9 billion.
* Other MENA countries' gaming revenues in 2023: Egypt (US$956 million), Iraq (US$417 million), UAE (US$359 million), Kuwait (US$110 million), Qatar (US$105 million).
* Gamers8 Festival in Boulevard Riyadh City hosts 1,000 events across 40 gaming zones.
* Gamers8 Festival offers a total prize pool of US$45 million.
* Key tournaments: FIFAe Nations Cup 2023 (US$1 million), Fortnite (US$2 million prize pool), Tekken7 (US$1 million prize).

Globally, the electronic games sector is on an upward trajectory. Revenues are expected to reach US$187.7 billion in 2023, with projections indicating a rise to US$212.4 billion by 2026.

Smartphones continue to dominate consumer spending in this sector, accounting for nearly half of the entire market. Gaming consoles like PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch follow closely.

However, the road ahead isn’t without challenges. The introduction of VAT in GCC countries could impact digital content purchases. Technological communication issues might emerge, and the region’s strict stance on content security and public morality could hinder digital content transfers. Moreover, the cultural perception of e-sports, especially when compared to the historically popular football, could slow its acceptance.

Statista’s data further underscores Saudi Arabia’s dominance in the region’s gaming landscape. In 2023, the nation’s gaming revenues are expected to lead at US$1.9 billion, followed by Egypt at US$956 million and Iraq at US$417 million. The UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar trail with revenues of US$359 million, US$110 million, and US$105 million, respectively.

Challenges faced by the gaming sector include VAT introduction in GCC and cultural perceptions of e-sports. (WAM File)

Amidst this backdrop, the Gamers8 Festival in Boulevard Riyadh City became the summer’s highlight. From July to August 31, the festival, illuminated in neon, hosted around 1,000 events across over 40 dedicated gaming zones.

The opening ceremony was a spectacle, featuring pyrotechnics, a drone show, and performances by Afro-pop sensation Tiwa Savage, DJ Vinyl Mode, and Rabih Saqr.

The festival was a gamer’s paradise. The Angry Birds pavilion offered virtual reality experiences, while the Powr Villa provided tips from local gaming experts. The Pac-Man pavilion presented a real-life maze challenge, and with a total prize pool of US$45 million, the event attracted the crème de la crème of the Esports world.

Key tournaments included the FIFAe Nations Cup 2023, a US$1 million event in collaboration with EA Sports, and the Fortnite tournament, which boasted a US$2 million prize pool. Tekken7 also made its debut at Gamers8, with 16 national teams vying for the US$1 million prize.

To sum it up, the MENA region, with Saudi Arabia at its helm, is reshaping the global gaming landscape. As challenges loom, the region’s commitment to fostering a robust gaming ecosystem remains unwavering. The digital revolution is here, and it’s game on for MENA.