Comment & Opinion

How to engage Middle Eastern gamers and get ahead of the curve

Tactical’s Gaynelle Brautigam on why understanding culture, context and impact is important for marketers looking for Middle East growth

How to engage Middle Eastern gamers and get ahead of the curve

The gaming market in the Middle East has been steadily growing, with the likes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates each on track to becoming significantly players in the coming years. Those who adapt to these markets early may find themselves in the perfect position to leverage these new opportunities. However, understanding the audience and how best to engage with them will prove essential to tapping into the market.

In this guest post, Tactical’s Head of Innovation, Gaynelle Brautigam, offers insight into how to speak directly to Middle Eastern gamers with a relevant message, innovative ideas and experiences favoured by the region's gamers.

In case you missed the memo, the Middle East has emerged as an unexpected powerhouse of an audience, with a staggering 60% of the population identifying as avid gamers.

This surge not only places the region at the forefront of mobile gaming but also positions it as a global leader, with app downloads towering 10% above the global average. And with streaming experiencing a remarkable 24.5% annual growth, the Middle East is on track to reach a monumental 200 million users by 2025 - three times more than gaming giant China.

This surge in popularity isn’t a passing fad. Saudi Arabia recently launched its gaming and esports strategy, and the UAE has plans for two gaming centres to attract global companies.

Spending power

This opens the door to a diverse and lucrative audience. In Saudi Arabia, nearly three-quarters of the population is under 30. And due to the desert climate, these young, big-spending digital natives are drawn to indoor pursuits.

It’s no surprise then that the growing market and dedicated gaming hubs make the region attractive to outside investment. It also provides a great opportunity for brands, both inside and outside the Middle East, to rapidly extend their reach. And those beating the rush will make the biggest impact.

For many, however, gaming is beyond their comfort zone. Engaging with Middle Eastern customers can prove challenging for outsiders with little experience of the market and the culture. It takes real ambition to get it right. But for those who are prepared to learn and put in the hard yards, the rewards can be significant.

So, where do marketers looking to speak directly to Middle Eastern gamers start?

From a cultural perspective, it’s vital that messages are highly relevant.
Gaynelle Brautigam

New game: Loading

Breaking the code demands a thorough understanding of three key factors.

Culture. Context. Impact.

From a cultural perspective, it’s vital that messages are highly relevant. They must not only speak the language of the platform – including those lesser known, such as Twitch and Reddit – but also the people. Which, in this case, is Arabic.

In terms of context, engaging gamers requires a nuanced approach. It’s important to remember that the gaming community is still a relatively untapped market, even more so in the Middle East.

Currently, marketers are focused on traditional advertising and growing brands on TikTok. This means they are failing to leverage the first-mover advantage presented by Twitch and Reddit or in-game activations.

Marketers must understand that gamers are used to being wowed by the gaming experience as a whole, from striking visuals to personalised avatars. Capturing their attention, hearts, and minds means going bigger and better than what’s gone before.

Time to play

This is where impact comes in. Immersive, cross-platform activations injected with innovative creatives are key. And as with every campaign, no matter what the platform, understanding audience behaviour is paramount.

Gamers love to play. They want to be entertained. So, bringing in an element of gamification can prove highly effective, particularly if it complements the specific gaming environment.

One way to approach this is by setting up collaborations with game creators to develop unique in-game and on-social activities. This helps to integrate campaigns within the gaming experience. To ramp up the impact and appeal to gamers’ sense of play, these activations should lay down challenges to solve, such as discovering hidden clues to unlock digital prizes.

Relevance can be heightened by incorporating cultural themes, events and celebrations, such as the Awafi Festival or the recent Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Approaching this correctly is vital, which is where expertise on the ground can prove crucial.

Taking activations beyond the in-game experience by amplifying through Twitch and YouTube, for instance, can broaden engagement and improve effectiveness.

By understanding the uniqueness of each platform, brands can align their campaigns to gamers’ behaviour.
Gaynelle Brautigam

De-Buff the competition

Audiences have never been more comfortable interacting online, whether that’s on their gaming PC or out and about on their mobile. This makes gaming the ultimate playground for creativity and innovation. As audiences seamlessly transition between gaming platforms, marketers must ensure they meet the gamers where they are.

This gives brands and marketers the ideal canvas to engage audiences through intelligent and entertaining campaigns. By understanding the uniqueness of each platform, brands can align their campaigns to gamers’ behaviour.

Activations that, if approached in the right way and add real value to the gamer experience, can truly set brands apart in an increasingly competitive and crowded global marketplace and create a lasting impact that goes beyond the platform.

Game on!

Edited by Paige Cook

Discover more about the MENA market, latest trends and updates at Pocket Gamer Connects. In this video, from Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki 2023 Ahmed Sharif, CTO at Sandsoft, talks about the awakening of MENA gaming: Empowering talent, harnessing tech, and making markets. regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.