Playing the Market: Mobile Gaming in the Middle East

The mobile gaming market in the Middle East is sky-rocketing, and both governments and private investors are rushing to get in on the action. But outside the Gulf, barriers to e-commerce make the industry a harder play.

The experience of racing a car down a Middle Eastern street, dodging traffic and potholes with Arabic music blaring over the insults from passers-by, can be yours any time of day or night.

Malak al-Tawseel, or “King of Delivery,” is part of the stable of Arabic driving apps that the Jordanian startup Tamatem has brought to Middle Eastern gamers. Tamatem’s 40,000 daily downloads have helped attract regional and international investors who are fueling the growth of the region’s mobile game development industry. Between 2015 and 2022, it is predicted to grow from $680 million to $2.3 billion.

With just one percent of content in local app stores available in Arabic, recent advances in e-commerce in the Arab world have created high expectations for the future of localized content. It is not just private investors who are getting in on the action: a number of governments, including Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, are sponsoring hubs to create mobile games tailored to local language and culture. For some governments, games represent an opportunity to peddle soft messages about things such as diet and exercise.

Investors are in it for the money, and their main targets are gaming “whales”—hardcore players who spend up to $1,000 a month on in-app purchases.

Most of these whales live in the Gulf, and they include not only boys, but also girls and older men keen to enhance their gaming experience. In the rest of the region, patchy Internet infrastructure and low credit card penetration make mobile gaming and e-commerce a harder play.

This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.