The message was clear. The incredible rate of growth and potential untapped audience in the MENA region is not being recognised by European developers. And Pocket Gamer Connects London 2023 this week proved the perfect place for Maysalward's Nour Khrais to spread the word.
With 24 years in the business, Khrais founded the first mobile developer in the region, Maysalward, who’s name means the pride of the lion. “In the city I was the biggest joke back then. They couldn’t believe that I was developing games for mobile phones,” he explains.
Today the story is very different. Jordan has a population of 10 million and The Jordan Gaming Lab, founded by the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD), has 10,000 developers on its books. The Lab has created the App Challenge going to schools, working with pupils building to help them create their own games from scratch from the age of 16.
This is the new mobile culture in Jordan in action – creating a culture of mobile gaming fans that are at the spearhead of the MENA region’s growth in the field.
“There are 22 Arabic-speaking countries. A 400 million total population with 55% under 30,” explained Khrais. “The MENA region has 300 million internet ready users. That’s impressive for a region growing 12 to 15% every year. If you’re a game developer then THAT is your market.”
Yet for all the changes to culture, all the growth in audience this market is still untapped. “The region holds 14% of the global audience of gamers. And yet it develops only 3% of the global revenue,” said Khrais. “Why? It’s because you are not there. It’s not because you can’t convince people to make in-app purchases. It’s because the ad company decided not to be active there.”
And through 2023 the tech and opportunities are only going to get larger.
“Countries such as Iraq are jumping from 3G to 5G this year. So in terms of utility they are jumping from nothing to 5G. In 2023 we will have around 360 million users. Everyone is connected. You can reach anyone in the middle east via their mobile phone and this is an opportunity for small developers to reach a huge audience.”
“If your games are fun you will find an audience. Arabic is the main language but people will play games in other languages. So long as they respect the arabic culture – and they are fun!”
A line in the sand
If this all sounds too good (and too big) to be true then simply draw parallels with Saudi Arabia’s mega building project The Line, Khrais suggests. The Line is currently taking shape in the desert, an impossible vast mirrored skyscraper city 170 km long is becoming a reality and a symbol of the nation’s intent and technology.
“The idea of The Line is to say that there is a new future coming soon. 20 years ago the best telco technology companies were based in the middle east, but the impression of the MENA region, to those from outside the region, was war, conflict and me… riding a camel and sleeping in a tent. The Line is introducing the middle east in a new way."