Is Religion, Stereotyping or Strategies Holding Down XBox, Wii and PlayStation in the Middle East?

Video games are on the list of the most popular mainstream media, which makes up an important percentage of social activity for a considerable portion of youngsters worldwide. The Middle East region is no exception; video games are as popular in the region as it is anywhere else in the world despite the minimal support/focus of the major hardware players Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Their lack of interest in the region – so far – keeps the doors open for piracy to nourish and dominate the regional video games industry. For instance, almost every Nintendo Wii in Saudi Arabia is modified with a special chip to allow the machine to play pirated games that cost 3$ to 8$ in comparison to the original games costing around $80 – $100 in the region – even higher than their prices in many western countries -.

Quraish Arabic Video Game

Quraish Arabic Video Game

Is price the issue here?

Partially yes, but not for the entire region. We have to bear in mind that countries in the Middle East differ substantially in their income levels. There are the richer Gulf countries where people’s income rivals the income of European countries, and there are other countries which are not rich at all and where people’s incomes are much lower. Both cases can be treated differently with a proper distributor from the major hardware players. The answer maybe an adequate price point for original content that fits these markets. Rotana, the biggest Arabic music producer and distributor figured it out, and provided an excellent model of pricing for their music productions that left little room for piracy. The same can apply to video games.

Localized content and cultural conflicts…

Pricing is not the only barrier holding up the growth of video games in the Middle East. Other major factors include language, localized content and cultural barriers. Wall-E, a game built based on the popular animated film produced in 2008, has been the first world game to be localized for the Middle East. We are talking here about a single game which received very poor reviews and considerable criticism. The fact is that localization of games for this market is very minimal, thus leaving out a big pool of people who simply find it hard to understand English.

On the other hand, the Arabic culture and heritage is rarely portrayed the right way in video games produced in the west. That is understandable in a way because it may not be easy for one to reflect the right cultural heritage of another nation especially when they don’t have to – games produced are usually targeted for western audience -. Beside stereotyping (Delta Force) and oriental-ism (Aladdin), there are no real Arabic characters that would get video game players in the region to relate to. It’s gotten even worse, because – like in Hollywood – major video games that incorporate Arabic characters are usually based on recent Middle Eastern conflicts and thus depicting Arabs as enemies and terrorists!

Local video games productions strike back!

The offensive portrayal of Arabs in some Western video games has triggered local Arab production companies to come up with their own version of video games to protect their identity and perspective of the state of affairs of the regional conflicts. Afkar Media, a Syrian company, has already produced different games with nationalism streak: Under Ash, a political game that tells the story of the first intifada from the Palestinian perspective. Under Siege, is another political game that tells the story of a Palestinian family and their struggle during the second intifada (1999-2002). Quraish, the first Arabic 3D real strategy game (RTS), tracks the origins of Islam in the desert of Arabic 590 A.C.

Big potential…

With the population of the Middle East approaching 300 million, there is a big market for localized and focused video games. High rate of illegal software use may be an obstacle, but it can be worked out with proper strategies if there is a good will to penetrate the Middle Eastern market. Local offices or partnerships with local development companies can also help in delivering some good quality content. Relatively cost-effective and skilled labor is also available in the region especially in Jordan and Egypt.

Is piracy really what’s preventing Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft from taking the full advantage of the market? Is it a strategic decision – or lack of it – to hold off targeting the M.E.? Or is it the lack of consideration of the religious and cultural differences between the East and the West?

Comments and Reactions

  • Amer Kawar

    I think it's the misconception of the Arabic culture that might make some of the best selling games in Europe and the USA not do so well in the Middle East. I don't think piracy is the main reason for less sales, rather the possibly offensive content as mentioned in the article.

  • Khaled

    Good games do sell well here.
    Counter Strike was one of the most popular PC games in Saudi Arabia for a long time (still is).
    The issue of piracy is a big problem and the only company with a real presence (an actual distributor) is Sony (the only next gen console without piracy).

    Thanks for the link by the way.

  • Amer Kawar

    So, you don't believe that offensive content and the incorrect stereotype representation of “terrorism” affect sales in the ME?

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Khaled

    one of the most popular games in Saudi Arabia (console) is GTA and Winning Eleven.
    GTA is FULL of “offensive content”
    people do avoid games that push stereo types though.

  • FadiPick

    khaeld, but we all know why GTA is popular! It is about violence and sex! People may ignore 'offensive content' for that!

  • Khaled


  • Khaled

    just go to any “video game” store (usually called toy stores) and they have books of xbox/ps2/wii game covers, all sold for $5-2.
    The average consumer will look at a $5 copy and the $60 version. unless it's an online game, he sees no difference between the two.

  • bambamieh

    It would be really problematic if we think that the kids buying the games wouldn't buy a game because of political or idiological reason because in all actuality the kids could careless beyond whether the game is good or not, and while sex and violence might sell the best reason for games to sell is the quality of the gameplay itself.
    On the other hand parents don't have much say about what games their kids play with in the arab world since they could care less about it as long as they stay out of their hair … so the only determining factor when it comes to purchasing a game is the price, the parent not understanding the difference will just push to get the cheaper ones.
    on another note why the locally produced content doesn't have much traction is because the kids are savvy and are able to tell when something stinks or is cloned … and they would rather have their little space for escapism unfettered by ideology

  • TripleM

    I think neither stereotypes nor pricing are the reasons behind software piracy in MENA region. The main reasons are that we lack the culture of copyrighted content and the prosecution system to carry out appropriate legal actions regarding such type of criminal activities. Therefore, ME markets might not be the best to be targeted by major video game manufacturers.

  • FadiPick

    Actually, I think that piracy in the MENA region is due to a combination of all the listed reasons. I still believe that proper targeting and focus from the main manufacturers of video games would help make a real impact. They can throw their weights and work closely with governments to limit piracy if they want.

  • seo google

    Just a thought. Pick the point on the field, mathematically, where the advantage of having the ball first disappears; ie, where the defense is more likely …

  • trf115

    Pricing is not the only barrier holding up the growth of video games in the Middle East. Other major factors include language, …

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