How to Expand Your Reach in the Fastest-Growing Gaming Market: MENA

PublishedMay 10, 2021BySubspace Team
Within the $160 billion gaming industry, MENA’s $5.4 billion gaming market is the fastest-growing. Investments by companies, nations, and telecom providers make this an emerging gaming market primed for growth. Take advantage of this opportunity by expanding your game’s reach in the MENA.
Estimated read time: 9 minutes

We’re living in a globally connected world, with the Internet keeping us together even when we couldn’t be further apart.
But what about dealing with real-time traffic and connecting video game players from all corners of the world? The gaming industry is ready to take the world by storm as one of the fastest-growing industries, but one thing continues to limit its growth potential—poor network connectivity.

Capitalize on the surge in gaming interest and audience

Within the $159.3 billion global gaming industry, projected to pass $200 billion by 2023, MENA is one of the fastest-growing gaming markets. The MENA gaming market grew 14.5% year-over-year in 2020, is currently valued at $5.4 billion, and is expected to hit $6 billion in 2021. Most of that growth will occur in Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia as they have the highest populations of gamers.

Take advantage of growing investment in gaming in the region

In the past three years, the perception of video games has shifted. Video games are no longer seen as a waste of time or a harmful hobby. It is starting to be recognized as the rising industry that it is. In fact, many MENA nations are equating investments in esports to investments in their youth.
While the gaming industry has yet to take full advantage of MENA, the region’s players are already making waves globally. A UAE esports team, YaLLa, qualified for three international tournaments in September 2020, with over $1.2 million in prize money up for grabs.
MENA nations are investing in esports
MENA nations are taking financial steps to support the growing gaming industry by investing in building arenas, training centers, elite esports coaches, and teams.
Recently, Turkey broke records by building the largest esports arena in all Middle East and Europe. The colossal Ininal Esports Arena, located in Istanbul, can host tournaments with 100 players on the same stage and seat 1,600 fans. Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, the media and creative hub twofour54 is teaming up with Unity Technologies to develop a center of excellence for gaming. This will provide a place for local startups and students to learn the skills necessary for success in the gaming industry.
Game publishers and telecoms are investing in MENA
In a first-of-its-kind partnership, telecom company stc Bahrain joined forces with Subspace to provide an elevated gaming ecosystem in Bahrain. This partnership is a part of Bahrain’s goal to become recognized as the Gulf Cooperation Council’s gaming hub. Subspace’s network, built for online multiplayer games, will accelerate and protect gaming data by creating an uninterrupted, reduced latency user experience.
In Jordan, telecom company Orange, specializing in gaming, partnered with Subspace to improve ping times up to 80%. The Orange x Subspace partnership and the stc Bahrain x Subspace partnership are not only elevating player’s game connections within their territories, but these server improvements also benefit those in surrounding countries as well.
Game publishers, meanwhile, are focused on expanding an enjoyable and playable gaming experience, which they can do by investing in regional servers. Operating in secret, Apex Legends built a Bahrain server to service its Middle Eastern players. Apex Legends joins Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, Rainbow Six Siege, Dota 2, and other major online games in having a Middle East game server. The only major game operating without a regional server is League of Legends, but that’s not for lack of trying. Riot Games stated in 2020 that they are actively looking into supporting the region; as of May 2021, there has been no update nor additional action in server development.
Companies and funds are investing in MENA gaming
W Ventures Chairman Habib Wehbi sees “an opportunity to offer gamers in the region a completely unique and authentic experience, by providing them with the tools and infrastructure to be discovered and flourish in this growing global phenomenon.” To make that vision a reality, W Ventures has announced it is investing $50 million to develop an esports and gaming ecosystem in MENA.
With all this investment and promising growth in the gaming industry, we are faced with the ongoing struggle of securing real-time connections. Investing and building stadiums will support esport tournaments and encourage a new generation of gamers; but, the state-of-the-art amenities aren’t enough to compensate for a low-quality gaming experience. Regional servers are a great start, but they do not provide a scalable nor globally available solution to improving network connections.

Gain a strategic advantage with stellar infrastructure

Saudi Arabia credits its robust and modern telecom infrastructure as the foundation of its gaming success. Unfortunately, not all regions experience the same quality of connection. Egypt, another surging market, refers to its network as its most significant disadvantage.
Today, the internet is built for the reliable delivery of content. Think e-mail and file transfers—not real-time performance. At the core of this problem is the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), the standardized routing protocol for the Internet as we know it. Relying on the cheapest route, the BGP struggles to support real-time traffic, as the Internet Service Providers have generally focused on servicing volumetric traffic. This leaves real-time traffic susceptible to packet loss, jitter, and increased latency times.
Current solutions won’t suffice.
In the past, other companies have worked to provide local solutions for expediting real-time traffic, but none have worked to address it across the entire Internet network system. This is where Subspace shines, with a vision to create an Internet byway for critical real-time web traffic to travel smoothly and re-routing to avoid paths of high congestion. As a result, latency and lag are reduced, and real-time applications, such as gaming, can reach their full potential.
The rollout of 5G will help improve network conditions by increasing bandwidth, but that’s only half the battle. Bandwidth alone isn't enough to support game traffic, which requires real-time, minimal latency traffic that isn’t impeded by network congestion.
5G networks are designed to improve the last-mile connection and cannot provide an end-to-end low latency experience. An end-to-end low latency experience is only achievable when paired with a natively designed, carrier-agnostic, game traffic-optimized platform like Subspace to account for middle-mile latency.
Just as 5G has limitations, installing additional game servers and peering points won’t suffice. More servers help if the initial servers are overloaded, and more peering helps too, but only to an extent—lag still persists. Game publishers may not have the time or resources to build the necessary infrastructure to remedy network conditions. That’s where Subspace comes in.
Suppose a game publisher enters the MENA gaming market with the proper technical support to create a good player experience. In that case, they can distinguish themselves and capture the audience disappointed with other game experiences rife with lag and latency issues.

Boost your audience in other markets with expanded player pools and faster matchmaking

Beyond providing an improved local gaming experience, a superior network surpasses the benefits of server installation by connecting countries and expanding player pools outside of one region. A quality network connection leaves no player behind.
Expanding player pools goes beyond satisfying a broader audience of players; it decreases matchmaking times due to increased player reach. High-quality and high-speed matchmaking will prevent player churn, as players abandon games in favor of those where they can quickly join a match.
Matchmaking often disappoints players because there are few suitable match prospects. Greater player reach increases the odds of a good match occurring. There are two ways to improve these matchmaking odds: increase population density or extend the social network range. For best results, both of these factors should be optimized. However, it is far easier to extend the range than tackle density. Well-connected players with a high-performance connection lead to a bigger player base, a better matchmaking experience, and greater revenues.
Better gameplay leads to exponential growth in engagement, while increased time spent in-game leads to improved matchmaking and larger communities, fueling the revenue-generation cycle.
Saudi youth have a lot of spare time, higher than average disposable income, and live in a region that is prioritizing video games. Players from Saudi Arabia are likely to spend three times more than the average European or American player, creating a highly lucrative community to attract.
Nevertheless, MENA players have long been unsupported and left struggling to connect to off-shore servers. The Bahrain game servers coming in will help connect more of the region’s players, but a high-speed network will fill the gaps in connecting the entire region.
In 2020, Riyadh was able to host the first of its kind in-cinema esports tournament organized by the Saudi Arabian Women’s Game Developers and Gamers Community (GCON). In total, ten teams of two players went head to head over five days.
The game of choice for this tournament was determined based on a popularity contest, with the most popular game in the MENA region chosen. Areen Assiri, one of the finalists, had this to say about her experience, “It was a wonderful feeling. Much better than just playing at home. I’ve been playing this game for two years now, and I’ve never had this much fun.”
Playing together is better than playing apart. Playing with your community is even better than playing together with strangers. Connecting with friends, creating new friendships, and discussing topics of shared interest in the same language is essential for game loyalty.
Players in MENA are incredibly enthusiastic about gaming, typically complaining publicly about games for poor quality gameplay. This makes for an excellent opportunity to turn these haters into lovers. These passionate gamers need to be treated with respect; in turn, they will praise your game and become deeply engaged fans.

Make Expanding into the MENA Region a Priority

Entering an emerging market will allow your game to gain loyalty in the hearts of MENA players. Players in this region are willing and able to spend more on games than other regions, and they are looking to be treated with the same respect.
As one of the fastest-growing markets in terms of gamers, revenue, and government buy-in, game publishers are making a mistake by not prioritizing the MENA region. It’s time to pay attention to this highly active emerging market.
Creating a quality connection between players within their community at a global scale is easy with Subspace’s platform. The infrastructure has been taken care of, so all game publishers need to do is onboard onto the platform and run their game with the lowest possible latency. To learn more about the benefits of expanded access, download Subspace’s white paper and see how better networking can play a critical role in determining a game’s fate in a new region.
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