Ask anybody with their ear to the rail of the global games industry about the MENA region and they’ll very likely assert that it offers ‘opportunity’.
The vast area has for some time now been associated with market potential that games companies from across the globe would be wise to harness.
However, the detail around what founds that opportunity, how it should be seized and the reality of its distinct challenges can seem like something of a mystery. A thorough analysis, however, reveals a region that might not be as atypical or enigmatic in its machinations as many assume.
As the oft-talked about BRIC region – ‘Brazil, Russia, India and China’ – has blossomed from ‘emerging’ to ‘emerged’, the MENA countries have been quietly building an impressive momentum of their own. And it is the mobile games sector specifically that provides the region with its most striking prospects.
By MENA, of course, we mean ‘Middle East and North Africa’. It is ultimately an area without a firm or agreed definition. But for the purposes of this article – which kickstarts a series of pieces looking at MENA – we’re considering numerous countries, including but not limited to, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates/Dubai, Bahrain, Iran and Lebanon.
Nations such as Israel, Turkey and Egypt also warrant reflection, though those are places with games sectors that are relatively well-known to the outside world and even distinct from the rest of their MENA family.
Speaking the same language
While one could spend a lifetime developing a universally agreed framing of ‘MENA’, the reality is that the opportunity for mobile games developers, publishers, platforms and service providers is significantly defined by a language; not a list of countries. That language is Arabic, and one thing is clear; the Arabic speaking world provides a substantial audience for those that make a living from mobile games to consider.
“The reason why the mobile gaming market [here] is so interesting comes from the fact that Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic,” offers Hussam Hammo, CEO of Jordanian outfit Tamatem, which specialises in publishing and maintaining mobile games in the MENA region.
“More than 70 per cent of the population of the Arabic speaking countries – around 400 million – use Arabic as their default language on their smartphones. Add to that that countries like Saudi Arabia have the highest ARPPU in the entire world, and you have a perfect opportunity.”
Record-breaking ARPPU alone should immediately prick the ears of industry observers. For while the world’s biggest gaming market China has ARPPU of around $32, Saudi Arabia’s ARPPU is a striking $270. Tamatem’s own figures, meanwhile, point to consumers in MENA spending $3.2 billion on games broadly back in 2016.
Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic.
And then there are those 400 million people keen to digest Arabic language smartphone titles. They are presently served with a bounty of gaming content; but a great deal more fails to support both Arabic language – and culture.
An appetite for growth
It seems clear there is an underserved and ravenous appetite for gaming in MENA, which means one thing; there is a generous capacity for growth. Indeed, consulting giant strategy& predicts that by 2022, mobile gaming across MENA will stand as a $2.3 billion industry.
Smartphone penetration has also hit alluring levels in many MENA countries. 46 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s 33,554,000 residents own a smartphone, according to Newzoo data. That’s just shy of 15.5 million people.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, can boast of an 80.6 per cent smartphone penetration rate. That is against a relatively modest population of 7.5 million, but it still presents a demographic worth serious attention.
Contemporary data on smartphone penetration on Jordan is a little harder to come by, but the Pew Research Center’s data for 2016 lists a 51 per cent rate. The same study gives Lebanon a slight lead at 52 per cent. Of course, not every country in MENA provides such appealing device penetration, but looking at the region as a whole, growth is forecast.
The global trade body for mobile network operators, the GSMA, counted 375 million unique mobile subscribers across MENA in 2017. They expect that number to reach 459 million by 2025. By that same year, GSMA predicts the area will count 790 million individual SIM connections, not including IoT devices. That’s a striking 118 per cent penetration rate, if you consider the region’s entire population, across all languages.
As for the make-up of mobile device breakdown in MENA, region-specific data is in relatively short supply. StatCounter figures for specific countries in the area do, however, paint a fairly familiar picture.
As of July 2019, in Saudi Arabia specifically Android accounts for 65.6 per cent of in-use handsets, while iOS trails at a still-healthy 34.12 per cent. That leaves a trivial amount of unknown and fringe or legacy OSs, including the likes of Series 40, which still has a 0.01 per cent penetration rate in the country.
Over in Jordan, Android dominates with 84.65 per cent of the market, while iOS accounts for 15.15 per cent of smartphones. And in the UAE, Android can claim 77.34 per cent of the market, with iOS holding on to 22.18 per cent. The picture appears reasonably consistent, including looking back over the last year.
The Google Play and Apple App Stores dominate, but that is a topic PocketGamer.biz will return to in-depth later in this series of features.
‘Growth’ remains the keyword if you look at MENA as a place to succeed with gaming content. And, when considering mobile specifically, that growth which will likely be significantly facilitated by providing a great deal more games in the Arabic language. Those 400 million handsets set to Arabic by default are active now, and their number is likely to climb.
Not that language is the only factor in localising a game for MENA. The region is culturally a different place from both the West and areas like China or Southeast Asia. Making a game created outside of MENA culturally appropriate for the market will perhaps offer the biggest challenge to companies external to the area.
The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans.
It’s a perfect example of the distinction between translation and true localisation. As for the key to mastering cultural localisation? Collaboration with resident MENA outfits may be an absolute necessity.
Tamatem is one of a number of companies specialising in publishing to MENA, and it’s certainly not alone in its effort. Babil Games, MENA Mobile and others are striving to connect international games companies with the local market.
Another factor central to the potential of mobile gaming in MENA is, of course, the arrival of 5G networks. GSMA points out that in some parts of MENA, 5G has already been commercially deployed.
“The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans,” confirms Jawad Abbassi, head of Middle East and North Africa at GSMA.
“Operators in MENA – particularly in the GCC States – are among the first to launch 5G networks commercially. Following these launches, operators in 12 other countries across MENA are expected to deploy 5G networks, covering around 30 per cent of the region’s population by 2025. By then, regional 5G connections will surpass 50 million. Early global 5G pioneers include the GCC countries, South Korea, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.”
Clearly, when it comes to infrastructure, much of the MENA region rivals some the rest of the world’s tech leading nations.
Ultimately, of course, MENA is a diverse and multifaceted place. Its various nations all bring their own distinct make-ups, and in taking a broad perspective this round-up has perhaps just served to highlight the fundamentals of a very real opportunity.
The figures speak for themselves. But if you want to move on what MENA offers? You’ll want a little more detail.
That is why this piece is just the start of a series of articles looking at the companies, countries and trends shaping MENA’s mobile gaming future.
So keep an eye on Pocketgamer.biz and consider joining us at Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan on November 2nd and 3rd, where you can come and meet the publishers, developers and game tech outfits that might be the future of your success in MENA.
Traditional bricks and mortar retail is under attack globally. Retailers have struggled to compete with the growing popularity of large-scale competitors such as Amazon and Alibaba. The industry is also in the grip of a revolution powered by digital technology, as people shop online rather than in stores. Millennials comprise the largest internet audience, and will have more buying power than any generation before. But they still want to touch, feel and explore products. Shopping is becoming more of an experiential activity, during which stores compete for consumers’ “share of wallet”.
Middle Eastern retailers and consumer goods companies are even more vulnerable, as the pressure from e-commerce and changes in consumer buying behaviour are compounded by rising costs associated with economic reforms, such as workforce localization, taxes, and increasing fuel and electricity prices. As prices rise, consumer buying power and confidence is becoming subdued.
In fact, our latest survey, conducted in September 2018, reveals that consumers in the Middle East are spending even more cautiously than they have in previous years. They are also more anxious: 80% of survey respondents in Saudi Arabia and 72% in the United Arab Emirates are worried about losing their jobs. In both countries, more than 40% of respondents said they’re cutting down on spending and paying closer attention to prices.
Consequently, traditional retailers have limited levers to operate in response. They have a large fixed base of assets, which they need to rethink as shoppers favour the convenience of purchasing online rather than visiting stores. It is absolutely critical that retailers think about how to operate at maximum efficiency, with a hard focus on cash and working capital, in order to survive to the next stage. They are in a paradoxical moment where their revenues and returns are declining, yet they must invest in technology. It is not always easy to justify this spend with investors. And in thinking beyond the present to the different value propositions and approaches needed to recapture the customer, they must re-skill their employees and recruit new talent.
Customers are now more interested in experiences than products. In considering how to stay with them throughout their buying journey and not just at the end of it, retailers need to make many changes in the way they reach their customer, how they interact with them, what they learn about them, and how they ultimately sell them a product, service or experience. Convenience is also becoming important to consumers as they move their retail activity online. In fact, 50-60% of consumers state that saving time is one of the main reasons why they shop online.
Digital technologies and changing shopping habits are a clear threat to traditional retail business models. But there are positive ways to respond to these trends. To embrace these opportunities, real-estate developers must get closer to consumers and figure out how to meet their evolving wants and needs.
The good news is that by leveraging their assets – physical proximity to consumers, logistics, brand, in-store experience – traditional players still have the right to win. The Middle East has a young population with aspiring lifestyle choices, and with the various macroeconomic transformations taking place, buying power will recover and grow. But retailers must be willing to undertake rapid, radical and lasting transformation when it comes to efficiency, and the ways they embrace technology and offer products.
A transformation can be designed around the following five fundamentals or key success factors.
First of all, the full leadership team – not just the Board and CEO – has to be behind the change required to turn the business around.
Second, this motivation needs to move beyond the boardroom fast and engage the front line, going deep and wide across the organization.
In the Middle East, those two elements are typically in place. It’s the following three that need more focus.
The right structures need to be put in place to ensure that any response is effectively executed and delivered – for example how the business is organized, how governance is implemented, and how objectives and deliverables are executed.
Culture is also important. This is not about how to respond from a technical point of view, but the changes necessary in the mindsets and behaviours of everyone in the organization to make the transformation a success.
The last element is identifying, developing and elevating the best people in your organization, because they are the resource who will take you from point A to point B.
There is no doubt that physical retail is here to stay, and will keep its place alongside the online marketplace. Even e-commerce giants are entering into physical retail, as digital natives invest offline – see Amazon acquiring Wholefoods, and Alibaba’s Hema concept. These new stores have decoupled the notions of “shopping” and ‘“buying”, showing the face of retail is changing. Traditional retailers’ main challenge is to accelerate the pace of transformation, while ensuring they address, in a holistic way, the growth side, cost side, cash side and re-skilling of employees, in order to deliver results.
Shadow economy or as labelled Informal Economy in the North African countries of the MENA region commands, according to the local media, some 30 to 50% of their respective economies. It has historically been taken for a long time as the main cause responsible for economic backwardness of the under-developed countries of the world. These countries’ government in a bid to reduce its importance, were at pains trying to draw sizable segments out of the informal sphere of their economies and insert them into economies that are very often stiffened by red tape and / or lacking capital fluidity.
Meanwhile, advances in technology and its increasing coverage would possibly be working the other way around, meaning towards informalizing further all economies by facilitating amongst many things the easy transfer and exchange of money, etc.
This article of the WEF by Charlotte Edmond, Formative Content is explicit about this phenomenon as witnessed in certain countries. This however would obviously apply all over the world but at varying degrees.
It is the total value of transactions by businesses and individuals that occurs “off the books”. In other words, work done for cash to avoid incurring tax and without following standard business practices.
This could be anything from paying a tradesman or a babysitter in undeclared cash to the illegal wildlife trade, counterfeiting and money laundering.
Untaxed and unrecorded economic activity boomed during the global financial crisis and continues to grow today.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade 2012-2014 estimated the global shadow economy to be worth $650 billion. While it’s difficult to be sure of the amount of business that bypasses regulators, WEF research from 2015 forecast that the cost to the global economy of counterfeiting alone could reach $1.77 trillion over the course of that year.
A large shadow economy is a cause for concern for governments that miss out on tax revenues. However, it has also been argued that attempting to curb the shadow economy can limit economic growth and hamper innovation.
We took the initiative with compliments to this gentleman, to borrow few excerpts so as to hopefully launch a debate on this report. This started with the premise that :
“The 22 Arab nations spread across two continents, Asia and Africa, have to pull together in a historic movement to declare a shared manifesto that focuses on a unified destiny.
The solution for the region’s problems, as the Arab Youth Survey sees it, must come from within this region, and not from the US, Russia, Europe or even the United Nations.“
Elaborating, ASDA’A BursonMarsteller stated that its 9th Annual Arab Youth Survey 2017 was conducted by international polling firm PSB Research to explore attitudes among Arab youth in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. PSB conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews from February 7 to March 7, 2017 with Arab men and women aged 18 to 24. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and English.
The aim of this annual survey is to present evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis. It is the largest of its kind of the region’s ‘largest demographic’, and covers the six Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) the Levant (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestinian Territories) and Yemen. The survey did not include Syria due to the civil unrest in the country.
The key theme running through this Youth Survey 2017 is a sobering one: we live in a region where young people straddle a fault line between hope and despair. A vast, important demographic that is united by religion, language and culture is increasingly separated by access to opportunity. Even today, given the conflicts, security issues and unemployment which sadly mark much of the region, the overall finding looks surprisingly positive: just over half of young Arabs as a whole still believe their nation is on the right track.
Looking at the Survey on a region-by-region, or country-by-country level, however, we see a stark divide between youth in the Gulf states, who are brimming with optimism, and those in the Levant – Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Territories, Iraq – and Yemen, who are anxious and disillusioned about the future. The real tragedy of this year’s key findings is that young Arabs are becoming more pessimistic.
“Our best days are behind us” is not a phrase any government should hear from anyone, least of all the very demographic that will be living with the legacy of their rule.
It would be easy to dismiss this divide as the result of the widening income gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those that have oil, and the prosperity that should come with it and those that don’t.
Young Arabs realise that while their elders played the victim game and sought intervention and protection from foreign allies, that strategy no longer cuts ice. The world is becoming increasingly inward-looking and globalisation is being challenged:
According to this year’s Survey, young Arabs do not see the US, Russia or other international powers as their biggest allies, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And they increasingly see the UAE as a model country – one that they would not only choose to live in over any other, but also want their own countries to emulate.
This suggests a solution: that good governance could be the UAE’s newest export. The soft power of the UAE is one of the Middle East’s greatest assets – and one that doesn’t just enrich the UAE but the whole region, through the promotion of stability and prosperity.
National and international complexities mean that a one-size-fits-all model would be unrealistic. But some aspects of the UAE model are universal: empowering youth, and focusing on enabling positivity, happiness and tolerance – increasingly in short supply across the region – would be a strong start.
The Arab Spring of 2011 is behind us, and last year’s Survey showed us youth were increasingly disillusioned with its legacy. But revolutions can take a long time for their full effects to become apparent. For better and for worse, the region is very different today than it was six years ago. It’s easy to concentrate on the ‘worse’ – the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, the refugee crisis and continued instability in Iraq, to name just a few. For better, though, we see that nations are waking up to the new reality and finally preparing their economies for the future. In Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar we see younger generations taking more prominent roles in government; in Egypt we are seeing the return of a measure of economic and political stability; in Iraq and Syria we see Daesh in retreat; in North Africa, outside of Libya, we see relative stability; and across the region we see young people increasingly rejecting the message of extremism.
Twelve years ago, long before the Arab Spring provided a wake-up call to autocratic regimes, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, sent a clear message to Arab governments: “You must change, or you will be changed.”
So what is the solution?
The 28th Arab League Summit, held in Jordan in March this year, pontificated for the nth time on the same issues, and came out with no solution. While it may sound utopian, the only real solution that has the chance to offer a candle in the sea of darkness is one led by the spirit of youth and the courage to be positive.
We in MENA-Forum accept all the report’s findings as a true picture of the current situation. For a start we would join in applauding such initiative to try and cover such a diversely endowed region by nature and millenary culture. We would nevertheless have to note that misunderstanding is however still prevailing sadly in most of its hot spots where it would certainly be difficult to extricate a happy opening for each and every side to be happy with.
For the few oil & gas exports economies, these resources exploration and trade have as we all know, brought a wealth that has never been known before its advent but with it a lot of disagreements as well. Unfortunately not only to them. The results are also “renowned for their pedagogical prowess” and the gains could be seen as merely crazy fossil loaded urbanisation of the Gulf desert shoreline and a most affordable fill up at the petrol station.
Fossil loaded Urbanisation of the Gulf Desert Shoreline ?
Seriously, urbanization we could say is in the Gulf States not much more than the rapid extension of the existing cities of the region and are therefore at the centre stage of their development. They also have a definite impact on the region’s environment and its sustainability. Honorable attempt at green development and sustainability was undertaken as in Masdar City but conventional urbanization development acceleration was, to put it simply, a response to the huge demand for housing and all related facilities as induced by the fossil oil industry. Time has elapsed and things seem to have gone full circle and the world energy is getting cleaner and cheaper but not quickly enough, lots of people were heard as saying. This is mainly our reason of committing to this movement Fossil Free UK.
We, this site team, have just sign in this petition and join in the support of this campaign in which we believe that the majority of the MENA countries should ascribe too, petro and non-petro economies alike.
We republish excerpts of this article of the Fossil Free campaign that is gaining momentum by the day. So apart from this fossil loaded Urbanisation related issues, here is :
The Fossil Free campaign is just one part of the global movement for climate justice. As long as we weaken acceptance for the industry and keep escalating pressure, we’re on the right track and gaining strength.
This is how we win.
Overthrowing the most powerful industry in history
Fossil fuel companies have arguably become the most powerful corporations in history. But their power is dependent on being seen as legitimate actors in our society.
There’s a reason why they invest millions and billions to maintain a respectable brand image through advertising and sponsorship deals.
They need to be able to recruit and keep qualified workers.
They rely on workers and sometimes the state police or even the military to cooperate to keep their operations going.
They need to have access to and influence over academic research, specific knowledge and expertise.
They need permits from various levels of government and courts.
They need investors and have to be able to get loans.
They need insurance companies to back their projects.
They rely on suppliers and business partners.
…. They need enough public acceptance to maintain a favourable legal and political framework that allows them to pollute our atmosphere unrestricted and for free, while harming our health, destroying our environment and trampling on human rights.
The more people see that the rogue business model of the fossil fuel industry for what it is – one which relies on destroying the climate and environment to achieve profit, the harder it will be for them to keep drawing on the support they need.
The fossil fuel industry knows this. Just recently, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said that waning public acceptance was the biggest challenge his company faces. The chief executive of Total, Patrick Pouyanné also recently complained that oil and gas companies were ‘accused of being the villains’ and that investments in renewables were a tool to ‘make [the] oil and gas business acceptable’. (He was quick to note that these only made up a fraction of their investments and reasserting that Total was an oil and gas company.)
Our pathway to transformation, winning over popular opinion
Instead of trying to use institutional influence to achieve incremental gains, a transformational approach aims to move the broader public on an issue to make much bigger changes possible than what may seem politically feasible at a given point in time.
When the public debate has shifted, enough people sympathise and lend their support to the cause, and a strong movement of people builds enough sustained pressure for change, decision makers will find themselves with no choice but to catch up.
The success of this pathway to change relies on stories, wins and demands that bring the moral urgency to address an injustice into the public spotlight. Immediate impacts on policy or actual enforceability can be less important on this trajectory than the symbolic value of achievements. In that sense, divestment commitments are less about money being moved but the symbolic value of institutions distancing themselves from the industry.
Instrumental gains are important to build and keep momentum going (speaking of momentum, check out how much we have achieved already). However, the success of the Fossil Free campaign depends on how successful we are in swaying public opinion and growing stronger as a movement.
Whether or not an institution divests,, we achieve our goals when campaigns successfully create public battles that win over public opinion and weaken acceptance of the industry.
When students at UCL in London escalate actions on campus highlighting the conflict between the university’s research and its investments, and exposing the close connections of university council members to fossil fuel companies; when pressure from scientists, climate activists and museum employees force oil mogul David Koch to step down from the board of New York’s American Museum of Natural History; when the City of Cape Town comes under pressure to divest from the companies at the root of the city’s water crisis; when Nobel Prize winners urge the prestigious Nobel Foundation to cut their financial ties to fossil fuel companies, we have exactly the kind of impact we aim for with the Fossil Free campaign.
Lessons from history
Transformational change rarely happens in a linear way. The status quo can seem untouched for a long time while the pillars of support upholding it start to crumble. When a campaign reaches a tipping point, the system can seemingly all of a sudden collapse.
Many social movements we look back on as being hugely successful, have for the longest time had very little instrumental achievements like big policy or legislative changes to show for. It is in fact not unusual for social movements to go through a stage where they feel they are failing before they actually win, as Bill Moyer’s analysis of movements shows.
Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
Traditional construction methods were no match for the earthquake that rocked Morocco on Friday night, an engineering expert says, and the area will continue to see such devastation unless updated building techniques are adopted.
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