“IN terms of market size, we estimate the MENA mobile game market to exceed $1.5 billion in value. By the end of 2020, I expect that to reach about $3 billion,” said Baris Ozistek, CEO of Netmarble EMEA to Saudi Gazette while talking about the status of mobile gaming in KSA and MENA region.
“GCC region has one of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates. With the high ownership of the latest smartphones and fast 4G-telecom infrastructure, the GCC region is a paradise for the mobile gaming world. When talking about mobile games, KSA and the GCC region, it should really be looked at separately from MENA as a whole,” he said.
Ozistek added that, entertainment habits in the region and those of mobile gaming tend to overlap. In KSA for example, a huge amount of young people enjoy mobile games, and their preference is strongly for games in Arabic and also games enriched by local culture.
To Ozistek the global game market has now reached $110 billion, half of which are mobile games and the situation in MENA is also similar. The market share of mobile games exceeds 50% of the total gaming market. The time that players in the region spend playing in games is also above the world average.
Per capita spending in the GCC region has similar characteristics with countries like America, Japan and Korea, where the per capita spending is quite high, however the contrast is there in countries outside the GCC and within MENA. We see that next-generation mobile games have had difficulty reaching a large player base due in part to more basic telecom infrastructure, lower smartphone penetration rates, and the low technical specifications of smartphones in the market.
However, considering the diversity that exists in MENA today, we found it to be the fastest-growing market in the gaming world last year with a 26% growth.
The players in KSA really like strategy games and they are experts at it. The competition between players in strategy games is also at a very high level, and they were the first games to enter the region with Arabic language, they were easily playable, even if they did not have the Arabic language option.
“With powerful mobile devices, I can say that mobile games have already outrun the visual quality and content richness of other platforms. For example, if you look at games such as Iron Thorne, Marvel Future Fight or Lineage 2: Revolution, you will see that they came up over the expectations of the players.
“In countries with proper 4G LTE infrastructure, the online mobile gaming experience has reached ideal conditions. Telecom speed is no longer an obstacle for us to develop even better games. But better game means higher size. Our expectation from 5G is that the use of data is to be near unlimited, with the possibility to download larger files quickly via 5G. If files in a size of 4-5 GB become downloadable in less than 10-15 minutes via 5G, then the visual and content richness of mobile games can go beyond our dreams today,” he said.
On investing in locally developed content, Ozistek said that translating the game into the local language is one of the most important steps, but at Netmarble, we do not see this as sufficient. In suitable games, we also localize the characters in the game, all visual designs and even the general design of the game according to the expectations of Arab players — something we call cultural localization.
As an example, we added local characters to our game Traveling Millionaire as part of our localization efforts. This attracted the attention of players and made them feel that we value them. With his falcon on his arm and with his local costumes, the character “Nasser” is one of the most favorite characters of the game.
Apart from localizing the game, we also take local action in the sense of communicating with our players. For example, some of the most popular entertainment in the region is social media and especially YouTube. During Lineage 2: Revolution’s first launch, we invited the region’s popular publishers to play and evaluate the game. Again, we shared the Arabic version of Lineage 2: Revolution with popular publishers and received their reviews.
On the overwhelming success and the upcoming third anniversary of Traveling Millionaire, which has indeed become one of the most successful games in the region. Traveling Millionaire is now being installed by more than eight million users in the region alone, and is likely to cap 10 million players in the very near future.
Traveling Millionaire offers gamers the opportunity to roll the dice and tour the world with their friends or family. The popular mobile board game’s continued popularity has been driven by regular in-game updates including a huge variety of maps plus brand-new character cards and accessories in the game. For example, we are planning the implementation of a Wheel of Fortune special for the 3rd anniversary. Players will be able to win surprise rewards through the Wheel of Fortune by completing their daily tasks. In addition, we are rolling out special dice for Ramadan, which will be one of the next novelties that are coming to the game in the near future.
Ozistek said that 2018 would be the year when Netmarble focuses on the MENA region. “We have two very special games in the type of strategy that will arrive, soon. Iron Throne will meet our players in May. We are sure that it will become the most popular strategy game in the region within a short period of time. It is an unrivaled game with unique MMORPG traits, with top-of-the-line graphics quality, and full of features from top strategy games. Of course we will launch the game with Arabic-language support and after cultural localizations specific to the region will be completed.
“We will bring our users together in our new game War Arena, which we have exclusively localized for MENA and will only be available in the region, probably towards the end of the summer. We are also extremely proud to have developed Lineage 2: Revolution, the world’s most popular MMORPG game. The Arabic version of Lineage 2: Revolution which has attracted attention especially in the GCC region during its first launch in West will meet our players in June.”