The Middle Eastern and Arabic speaking games markets have long been undervalued and relatively untapped compared to the rest of the world. Many global publishers have instead focused on other opportunities.
According to Newzoo, the Asia-Pacific market generated $87.9 billion in 2022, while North America accumulated $48.4 billion, and Europe $48.4 billion. The Middle East, meanwhile, was estimated to be worth $6.8 billion. It’s perhaps the relatively low levels of consumer spending that have seen publishers either ignore the region or largely fail to culturalise their games for it.
Tamatem CEO Hussam Hammo has long felt there is untapped potential for the Arabic speaking market. According to Babel, there are 362 million Arabic speakers in the world, making it the fourth most-spoken language globally. He was first inspired to focus on making games for the region by German company Travian Games, which he says found significant success in the Middle East for its browser-based strategy MMO Travian: Legends.
“The Arabic language was bigger than the rest of the languages combined,” says Hammo. “We saw that people were paying a lot of money for this type of game.”
The success drove Hammo to found Wizards Productions in 2009, a studio focused on developing web games for Arabic speakers. It was one of the first Arabic gaming studios, but was eventually wound down in 2012. Hammo says this was due to multiple reasons, including a lack of experience from the founders, such as himself, and a lack of investment. Despite the closure, Hammo still saw an opportunity to bring games to Arabic speaking consumers.
“Trying to fill the gap and trying to come up with games that can be played and enjoyed by millions of customers that cannot find an alternative was always something of a personal mission for me that I wanted to work on,” he states.
It wasn’t long before Hammo set up his new company, Tamatem Games, focused on taking successful titles from around the world and localising them for the MENA region. More than 10 years later, the company is still going strong.
It now employs 150 staff, with the majority based at its Jordan HQ, while it also has offices in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Abu Dhabi. It also houses its own development studio, has its own payments solution Tamatem Plus, and has raised $17 million in funding, with its $11 million Series B including investment from PUBG developer Krafton. It’s worked with numerous companies to bring their games to the Middle East, including the likes of Nanobit and Tilting Point.
Tamatem’s focus on the Middle Eastern market appears to be paying off, particularly as the region sees its industry growing rapidly, with significant investment emanating from Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Gaming Group. Meanwhile, MENA was the fastest-growing region for consumer spending in games in 2022, according to Newzoo, rising by 6.6% year-over-year, all while other major markets saw declines. The region has more players and spenders than ever, with Saudi Arabia in particular becoming a lucrative mobile games market.
“This is definitely very exciting, not only from the sense of a user base, but the quality of the phones that are being used are becoming better and better,” says Hammo. “Which means you can create and launch more complex titles and more people will play. I also believe that the enablement of a lot of payment methods and more and more people having access to them is helping.”
While the industry is growing, the sector still faces some key challenges. Most notably is the impact of Apple’s app tracking transparency (ATT) policy, which makes it more difficult to run user acquisition campaigns and find the right players for your game. And with the upcoming Privacy Manifests, things are about to get even tougher.
“You are just shooting in the dark,” says Hammo of the changes. “You have no idea that you are catering the right games to the right audience.”
Hammo sees challenges for the MENA region in particular. While global publishers have a wider audience to target, companies focused on regional publishing have an even tougher time finding the right players.
“You are shooting but most probably you are landing in the wrong place,” he explains. “Maybe if we were a global company targeting the global market, this would have been easier and cheaper. In the past, one of the major components of making this market very attractive was it was very cheap to acquire users because there was no competition But today, although there is not a lot of competition, the ad networks and platforms are playing a monopoly, making it excessively expensive to target people or launch any marketing campaign.”
Another, perhaps lesser known challenge, is international competition. While many publishers around the world have largely stayed away from localising their games in MENA, at least without a local partner, Chinese developers have had “massive success”. Hammo says that the Chinese and Arabic markets have a lot of similarities and complexities, which these experienced companies are able to overcome.
“I believe the abundance of funding that Chinese developers have has also led to them wiping out the chances of small developers to compete with them,” says Hammo. “If a developer or publisher believes they want to spend, say, $100k on a marketing campaign a month here in the region, the Chinese development company will spend that in a day.”
He adds: “Only those who survive were big enough, strong enough and have enough funding, or something magical, to allow them to sustain all the hits taken by the Chinese developers.”
The next generation
For Tamatem itself, its focus remains very much on the Arabic speaking market, and its efforts are helping supercharge consumer growth by making the market more accessible— such as through Tamatem Plus—and by culturalising games for these audiences.
Meanwhile, it’s doing the heavy lifting in creating an industry hub, with offices across the region as well as training initiatives helping create a generation of games industry professionals from which the sector can flourish.Published in