Breaking down the MENA games market value and trends

Depending on what data you look at, the MENA region is either the fastest-growing games market in the world, or, according to the latest data.ai report, mobile revenue and downloads dropped in 2022, much like the rest of the world.

So what does the MENA games market look like? This article breaks down the key data to gain insights into the state of the market.

Market value

Data.ai’s latest State of Mobile 2023: Spotlight on MENA report estimates that the MENA mobile apps market generated $3.1 billion from the App Store and Google Play in 2022, a rise of 19.3% year-over-year. Meanwhile, new app downloads grew to 13.8 billion, up 45.7% Y/Y. Daily time spent per user on Android phones hit 4.5 hours, a rise of 3% Y/Y. It should be noted, however, that the data average was weighted toward Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While the mobile apps market is in rude health, the games category hit some turbulence in 2022. Data.ai estimates that consumer spend in mobile games in MENA declined be 15% Y/Y to $904 million. Downloads were fairly stabled Y/Y, but still saw a drop of 2% to just over 1 billion.

Saudi Arabia ranked as the No. 1 market for revenue, generating $441.4 million from mobile games, while accumulating 661.9 million installs. The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, picked up $212.2 million, while Israel generated $170.3 million.

As for downloads, Egypt ranked No. 1, picking up close to 1.3 billion installs, while generating $65.2 million from player spending. Saudi Arabia ranked No. 2, while Algeria ranked No. 3 with 556.5 million downloads.

Analysing the broader market, however, paints a different picture. Newzoo reports that consumer spending MENA market across platforms including mobile, PC, browser and console grew by 5.8% Y/Y in 2022 to $6.8 billion. That makes it the fastest-growing market ahead of Latin America, which saw revenue increase by 3.3% Y/Y to $8.4 billion. Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific all saw declines. Newzoo put the growth down to new players entering the mobile games market, and more accessibility for payment methods.

Niko Partners’ MENA-3 games market report estimated that Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt generated a combined $1.8 billion in 2022 across platforms. It noted that Saudi Arabia was the largest market by game revenue, while the UAE picked up the highest average revenue per user out of the three markets. Interestingly, Niko Partners said that 76% of gamers in the MENA-3 region are under the age of 35, with Egypt in particular having a “significantly higher percentage” of users under 25, when compared to Saudi Arabia and UAE.

It should be noted that data providers and market insights firms use differing methods to gather estimates.

Mobile gaming trends in MENA

Data.ai estimates that the dominant mobile game genre in MENA by player spending is Strategy, which generated $399.2 million from in-app purchases in 2022, down 10% Y/Y. The Shooter genre, meanwhile, ranked No. 2 with $280.4 million, a decline of 34.2% Y/Y, and Casino ranked No. 3, accumulating $281.1 million, up 20% Y/Y. The rise in Casino spending is against global trends, where the genre saw a 1.7% drop in installs worldwide during 2022.

Looking at the top mobile games in the region, while data.ai’s report doesn’t break out specific revenue figures for titles, battle royale title PUBG Mobile is the clear leader by player spending. It ranked as the No. 1 mobile game by player spending across key markets, including the most lucrative of all: Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to downloads, unsurprisingly, hypercasual titles reigned supreme, picking up some 2.6 billion installs, a rise of 28.4% Y/Y. Simulation ranked No. 2 with 1.5 billion downloads, up 35% Y/Y, while Action ranked No. 3 with 881.9 million downloads, a rise of 27.6% Y/Y. Each of these categories saw significantly higher rises in installs than when compared to global trends.

Endless Runner Subway Surfers ranks as one of the most popular mobile titles by installs in the MENA region, topping the downloads charts in top markets Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Future vision

Niko Partners estimates that the MENA-3 games market revenue will reach $2.8 billion in 2026, a rise of 56% from 2022. It states that “growth will be driven by mobile gaming, public and private sector investment, and esports”.

Despite global pressures impacting industry growth worldwide – from inflation and the cost of living crisis to Apple’s app tracking transparency (ATT) policies shaking the very foundations of the mobile games market – there are serious efforts to grow the MENA games industry. Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Gaming Group has plans to invest $38 billion into games and esports by 2030, and has already picked up Scopely for $4.9 billion. Meanwhile, more consumers will continue to gain access to gaming devices such as  smartphones over the coming years, and accessibility to online payments is also set to improve.

There are big challenges to overcome – similar to the global industry – but key players in the MENA industry are keen to push through these and grow what is still a relatively small, emerging market.

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