The gaming community in the Arab region has been growing and progressing quite rapidly since the beginning of this decade. Arab gamers throughout the MENA region are devouring one game after the other left, right, and centre. RPGs, FPSs, and MOBAs can now find huge audiences amongst Arabs, from kids who just graduated kindergarten or high-school to hardcore gamers who were skipping school to hit the arcades for hours and hours of Pac-Man, Street Fighter, and Metal Slug.
That being said, video games have also undergone an immense development process over the past 20 years that resulted in creating games and genres to suit every taste and preference people may have. But this process took place in western countries (mostly), and due to differences in cultures between the West and MENA, not all games were well-received in Arab countries. But don’t worry, this is a happy blog and we will only be listing some of the genres that faced a great success in the MENA region.
Role Playing Games (RPG)
We will start with the genre that some call “the truest form of gaming”. RPGs have always had the most dedicated fan base. Who would not be dedicated to a game where you spend 3 days just creating your character? Arab RPG players, like any other RPG players around the world, want games that will steal them away from their mundane lives and throw them into a land of dragons, quests, and battles. But to find a fantasy world that speaks their tongue? That truly must be out of this world. Indeed, the Arabic version of The Witcher 3 was met with great joy, even though the dialogue remains in English. More RPG mobile game publishers are waking up to this fact and localizing their games for the MENA region.
Real-time Strategy Games (RTS)
This genre hits home with a much bigger audience in Arab countries. Almost everyone we know, whether they were casual or hardcore gamers, played both camps in Red Alert II. Even to some of us youngsters, Tanya was our first love on this earth, everything from her OP dual pistols to her “yeah, baby!” Then we all could not believe ourselves when we had the chance to play the Saladin campaign in Age of Empires II. How cool was that?! Of course, we played all other campaigns as well – and more than once or twice if I may add – but it was such an awesome thing for us to control Saladin’s armies.
Now enough about PC games, let’s check out how this genre flourished in the mobile games sector. First example that rushes to mind is Clash of Clans (even Liam Neeson did an ad for it, come on!) This game bowled over the entire globe, and found its fair share of success in the MENA region. Once that happened… well, you can check out the Play Store and Apple Store for yourself and see all sorts of new RTS games that either were localized in Arabic or include campaigns from the rich history of Arab countries, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Abbasid Caliphate, and even the Pharos. That’s the feeling of belonging and inclusion video game publishers need to capture in their games, and it can’t be realized in a better way than localizing the entire game and presenting it to Arab users. The need to focus on relevant campaigns pales in comparison with the need to produce a fully-fledged game in Arabic, texts, dialogues and all.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Games (MOBA)
You can argue that MOBAs are a subgenre of RTS, as some gamers do, BUT such words can only mean that you’re still stuck in the mid 2000s and in need of a couple of update patches ASAP. True, MOBAs’ humble origin puts it as a successor of RTS games. We won’t bore you with the entire history of MOBA and how MOBA games might be now the most played games overall – yes, even more than our good old shooter games. So long story short, the first MOBA – if you can call it that – was created as a mod (custom map) for Blizzard’s StarCraft. This mod, named Aeon of Strife, was met with enthusiasm from other players, which went to fuel some other mods and games that started being nicknamed Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games. MOBAs then expanded to an enormous size in popularity during the last decade or so, and became one of the highest-grossing game genres in the world.
Modeled after popular PC MOBAs such as League of Legends (LoL) and Dota 2, mobile MOBAs are jumping up the ranks to become permanent members on the leaderboards of Play Store and Apple Store. Now for MOBAs in the MENA region. This one actually speaks for itself. Just check out esports leagues and tournaments in UAE. Holy moly, these are a LOT of tournaments, right? Even Saudi Arabia is also hopping on the bandwagon of esports and making plans to start its own tournaments.
There are two main subgenres of action games. The first is fighting games. Now these games boil down to how fast you can train your mind to learn a combo and execute it at the right time, so you can rub your opponent’s face in the dirt. Although most rounds are quite fast from start to finish, it doesn’t mean gamers aren’t spending half their days playing one round after the other. Fighting games are also amazing for when you’re fighting against another player or a friends. The mocking and the taunting and the sneering are as real as ever when your character goes super Saiyan and wipe the floor with your opponent so fast that your poor opponent needs a minute or two to understand just what happened.
Let’s move on to the other type of action games; the shooters. First-person shooter games (FPS) and third-person shooter games (TPS) have taken the world by storm. Now, this subgenre is as famous as can be. Almost every other gamer, who found their calling in another genre, plays an action shooter every now and then, while real shooter gamers play it more constantly than eating. The thrill when you hit a headshot so darn impossible that the other players accuse you of cheating is so euphoric, so much that you start to believe that you and your character have become one. Or when you’re in a team fight but lost all your teammates, so you have to clutch it against 4 or 5 enemy players, and you actually succeed and win the round, that’s like getting every gold medal in the Olympics. The adrenaline rush players get from action games is comparable to the one extreme sport players feel when they risk their bodies and life to do an impossible flip or jump off a cliff.
You can see hardcore action gamers holding a ruler or a measuring tape, going centimetre by centimetre (inch by inch is too long a distance) on their $50+ mouse pads, calculating how much they must move their arms (I’m not even going to discuss wrist aiming) to do a 180° turn in 5.084 milliseconds and a 360° turn in 10 milliseconds. And then training their muscles to do it again and again until it becomes a reflex, just like blinking when a speck of dust enters your eye.
Although these shooter games were aimed at PC and console users, and we know all about the PC vs console shooter players and their prejudices, a new platform has emerged and it is challenging these old platforms, and winning in some cases. Yes, “hardcore” shooter gamers are measuring their mousepads and counting their FPSs (frames per second), but could they play their games anywhere they want; in the bus, in the office, in the bathroom… you get the idea.
Mobile phone shooters are adapting more and more to meet the needs of all shooter players, offering them a wide range of games that differ in play style and tactics needed to win.
Battle Royale Games
This is the genre that has infiltrated every home, every office, every public transport, and even some gyms (I‘ve seen it with my own eyes!) With PUBG and Fortnite, no one is safe from this rapidly spreading phenomenon. Literally, anyone who is capable of holding a mobile phone can play these games for hours on end, and oh, how they do.
The goal of battle royale games is simple: SURVIVE. Nothing is off limits. You need to kill all other players, loot their corpses, scavenge every house, garage, and tree, use all means necessary to become the sole survivor in the game. From the moment you start, you need to hit the ground running and use anything and everything at your disposal. Of course, there are much more nuances in these games, but your goal is clear.
You can strategize, lay plans, and calculate your every move, or you can simply go at it like a Viking berserker: no plans, no tools, only your desire and thirst for a win.
This genre experienced an incredible surge in success when it was introduced to mobile phones, hypnotizing many players into a perpetual state of gaming (again, I saw people playing these games at the gym! Actually, not just people, I saw my coach holding his phone, playing PUBG while running on the treadmill!) So, we can justly say that this genre is currently played all over the globe, from East to West.
If we want to zoom in on the MENA region however, we will find a huge community of battle royale gamers, everyone defending their favorite game in local coffee shops and fancy restaurants, some kids and teenagers hitting the dab in real life for one reason or another, and moms and wives complaining about their children and husbands… until they try these games for themselves at least.
In conclusion, game genres aren’t so different in the Middle East and North Africa. You can easily find your hardcore PC gamers, overclocking their CPUs and motherboards to go from 276 FPS to 279. You can also find the console players, glued to their controllers all day and night while stretched on their sofas and mocking PC players because they need to sit in chairs. And of course, you can see mobile phone gamers, just clutching their phones so hard you’d think they’re holding their first child. And on the esports scene, all you have to do is look up what Saudi Arabia is doing.
Exactly, they created a whole federation for esports called the Federation for Electronics and Intellectual Sports and preparing to start hosting massive tournaments. Oh, and it’s also headed by a prince. So we know that the video games market is just going to grow bigger and stronger in the MENA region, now the onus is on who’s willing to be part of it.