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MENA and social gaming: What does it take to succeed in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets?

At BIG Festival, Nine66’s Ricardo Flores examined the growth of gaming throughout the MENA region
MENA and social gaming: What does it take to succeed in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets?

While we were at BIG Festival this past week, we had the opportunity to see numerous talks given by industry heavyweights, as well as speak to several developers and influential people within the games business face-to-face. Over the next few days, we’ll be delving deeper into the state of play.

In this particular article, we examine the state of the MENA region, and the popularity of social gaming within it.

The MENA region is one we’ve given a lot of focus on at, and for good reason - the region has a rapidly evolving gaming scene, with mobile at the forefront.

In his talk from the show, Nine66’s Ricardo Flores spoke about the region’s growth with a focus on Saudi Arabia, it's gaming powerhouse.

Flores notes a strong preference for social gaming within the region, which rules the roost in terms of monetisation. The implementation of social features in-game have a strong effect in increasing player retention, while offering the opportunity to build a sense of community and even competition. Players aren’t only willing to spend money for features such as exclusive emojis or chat options, but to upgrade their game to open up additional features. Many are also willing to subscribe to games they enjoy, paying a regular fee to help them curate their social experience.

Growth in MENA

What makes Saudi Arabia such a powerhouse in the mobile space? Flores reported a 131% mobile subscription penetration and an internet penetration of 95.7% - well above the global average of 53.6%. These factors combined make mobile the first choice for gamers in the region regardless of income levels, which is echoed in the country’s recent moves to become a global hub by investing in the mobile gaming market.

Social gaming is a growing genre within the mobile sector, and even outside the category many games have robust social features. The particular focus emphasised on the social aspect of gaming throughout the MENA region highlights its commitment to carving out its own niche within the games space, and Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of the likes of Scopely and investments in companies such as Nintendo and Electronic Arts, all of which have launched titles with in-depth social features, showing that the genre is key to the country’s long-term goals within the games space.

The heavy focus on mobile platforms in particular showcases the strength of the platform. Mobile is the most accessible of all gaming platforms not just for consumers but for developers, with a lower cost and faster development time, which arguably makes it the ideal platform for new game makers. With Saudi Arabia - and the MENA region as a whole - quickly evolving into a gaming powerhouse, it therefore makes perfect sense that mobile is being given such intense focus.

This is only compounded by the market penetration of mobile gaming in Saudi Arabia compared to other platforms, allowing it to cement its place on not just the global stage, but specifically throughout one of its fastest growing mobile-first regions.

Earlier this year, the Mena-3 games market was projected to grow 56% by 2026.