Saudi Arabia’s vision 2030 project has been a lynchpin in the Kingdom’s push to diversify its economy and present a more positive image to the rest of the world. A significant part of that has been in game development. With the well-publicised Savvy Games group forming a core part of this and the wider MENA region drawing increased attention, especially for mobile gaming, it’s no surprise that Savvy subsidiary Nine66’s latest report contains a number of key findings.
Nine66's "The State of Game Developers in Saudi Arabia" report offers an overview of the growing game development industry in the country. Unsurprisingly, Riyadh is the centre of game development, with 31 of the interviewed developers living in the city compared to 12 and 6 in the Western and Eastern regions respectively. 68% of developers are men compared to 32% being female. And tellingly, the majority of developers do not work in games as their day job, but alongside other opportunities.
A long way to go
What we can see here is the potency of the Saudi Arabian and wider MENA region. However, we can also see that the Saudi Arabian game development scene is very much in its nascent stages. Investment is not a problem given the massive wealth of the kingdom, but it’s clear that many developers feel frustrated with lack of opportunities to work solely in games.
There are still many positives according to Nine66’s report. Around 80% of respondents said “that their experience in founding the company was relatively easy.” With the number of game startups having doubled in 2022. The general sentiment amongst developers was positive, with all of them desiring to move into development full-time.
Key opportunities include promoting development to the wider populace, as well as making courses for game development more easily accessible. Meanwhile in technical terms, Unity topped the list of technical proficiencies within the industry (84% use), with GameMaker at the bottom (6% use), indicating an opportunity for promoting new gaming tools.
Much of this can be attributed to the small size of studios in Saudi Arabia so far. According to the report the majority of companies only employ 1-5 or 6-10 staff. With only six hiring 10 developers. A 50-50 split on the ease of hiring foreign developers means that there is significant need to grow the Saudi games market to attract domestic employees. With the majority of companies not paying monthly salaries to either founders or employees due to working part-time, the viability of game development as a full-time career will be a key factor that needs to change.
Although mobile was at the bottom of the list of platforms developers thought that they could succeed in, mobile games were the second largest in terms of the number of games released, with 40 compared to 41 on PC. The report points to mobile as the most successful, so if there’s any indication as to where the growth that kickstarts the further development of the Saudi games industry will be, it’s in the handheld arena.
Savvy Games Group have also apparently been involved in the potential acquisition of a major games company. According to reporting back in late September. What this might mean for the industry is unclear, but there hasn’t yet been a follow-up. We might find out what the potential deal might have been later…or indeed see some sort of announcement coming soon.