The Big Winners: Saudi Arabia Gaming readies to level up
What happens when the future of gaming is translated into the future of Saudi? The projected monetary gain is almost $21Bn by 2030, but with every radical shift in the Kingdom, the impact is far wider.
In an interview with the Arab News, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, the president of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports and the Arab eSports Federation– an avid gamer– projected that the gaming industry will contribute 1% of the Kingdom’s GDP by 2030 (estimated to reach $1.86Tr).
While this value seems astronomical, the gaming industry is known to be a strong catalyst of evolution across the globe. It would be no coincidence that the momentous market validation for the AR/Metaverse revolution was in 2016 when some 500M downloads were garnered for Pokémon Go- the game that captured, polarized, entertained, and enhanced the world in record time.
There is something fascinating about envisioning the future. This has been a long inspiring feat for gamers across the globe who get to create & run avatars, build and immerse in extraterrestrial worlds, or simply explore the multifaceted human creativity in various storylines. In Saudi Arabia, this has been a feverish engagement for more than 50% of the population, which brings forward the next generation of gamers and gaming enthusiasts.
At a time when VR/AR technology has been introducing new possibilities to submerge the real world with our ever-growing virtual one, Saudi Arabia is also merging two worlds to build the future, or rather, gamify it.
On the financial front, Saudi Arabia has acknowledged the grave potential of the gaming industry and has been allocating assets and frameworks accordingly over the past years. In a market study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), it is projected that video game consumption in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $6.8bn by 2030, growing at a compound annual rate of 22%. Surely, through investment funds like the PIF, Saudi Arabia is rapidly claiming its stake in accelerating the sector.
Earlier this year, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced the launch of Savvy Games Group, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which soon acquired and merged German esports organizer ESL FACEIT Group [EFG] (ESL Gaming) and British esports platform FACEIT. The Saudi-based gaming group also acquired several multi-million dollar stakes in gaming publishers and studios globally, including Electronic Arts (EA) and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. from the U.S, as well as Capcom and Nexon from Japan.
These recent maneuvers are a base build to Saudi’s already burgeoning gaming ecosystem. While Saudi harbors 30% of gamers among the top 3 markets in MENA (along with Egypt and the UAE), it garners the lion’s share of gaming revenue (61%) in 2021, as reported by gaming market intelligence provider Niko Partners earlier this year. The Kingdom is already housing many of MENA’s most renowned gaming publishers with multiple flagships under their belt including Semaphore Productions which has been around for more than 10 years and has released multiple titles including its shooter and RPG series Badiya: Battle Royale and Badiya Desert Survivor, and UMX Studios which has introduced its localized entertainment simulator Climbing Sand Dunes (CDS)- taking the full Saudi desert experience to the global screen.
This presents the most exciting proposition for gaming in Saudi Arabia.
Not only is the gaming ecosystem one of the most dominant in MENA, but publishers are finding ways to localize talent, production, and surely gaming content. One particular example of the rising Saudi flavor comes to mind- quite literally.
One of the 10 gaming studios we graduated from the Gamechangers acceleration program, which we designed and ran for the Saudi Ministry of Communication and Information Technology last year, found a way to give the globe a taste of the famous Saudi dish Kabsa in its Endless Runner game ‘Kabsa’.
Meaad Aflah, a young entrepreneur and avid gamer, founded Starvania Studio as part of the accelerator program and soon moved on to take the studio to new heights. In conversation with our team, Meaad was not only happy to explain how a run-through in a typical Saudi neighborhood introduces the world to Saudi traditions in gamified mediums, but how the female participation in the program is reflective of the larger diversity drive across the ecosystem as a whole. Recent studies showed that almost 45% of Saudi gamers, with a high concentration in the 21 and 35-year-old age bracket, are female gamers with a knack for showing up and breaking records. In 2020, Saudi Arabia celebrated Najd Fahd, its first female FIFA eSports world champion.
In conversation with Prince Faisal Bin Bandar bin Sultan, WIRED called it Saudi Arabia 2.0- a youth-driven wave of gamers shaping the new culture. Today deconstructing a long Arab tradition of ostracizing gaming as a distracting pastime, the Saudi direction sees potential in enriching the culture and even further enriching and diversifying the economy. With the region’s highest internet and mobile gaming penetration, Saudi Arabia is ready to take its gaming ecosystem to the next step- but is the Saudi infrastructure and inter-communities prepared for the plunge? We’ll explore it in the next one.