'They're not there yet but they will be soon': Ubisoft analyst on MENA gaming [Wamda TV]

No matter how you slice it, the gaming industry in the Middle East lags behind European, Asian, and American markets when you look at sheer revenue numbers. But there’s also no doubt that it’s catching up – fast. “Gaming in the region is growing faster than the global average…. expected to nearly triple in size in the coming years – from $1.6 billion in 2014 to $4.4 billion in 2022,” said Jayant Bhargava, a partner in global strategy firm Strategy&.

As the market expands, a major question for regional and global game publishers is how to balance the temptation to emulate successful gaming business strategies in other markets against formulating a series of new strategies, specific for the MENA.

Wamda sat down with Ubisoft/Bluebyte online game specialist Teut Weidemann at the recent MENA Games conference in Beirut to discuss these ideas, as well as to get some indicators of where the market now stands.

‘MENA players are very skillful’

First and foremost, Weidemann emphasized the generally high skill level of players in the Middle East. “MENA players are very strong; very skillful. If a game is too easy, they won’t like it,” he said. “They are more competitive than gamers in the West, and they are really good at what they do.”

For this reason, “I bet in the future we’ll have more MENA countries winning computer game world championships simply because they have really skillful players. They’re not there yet but they will be soon.”

Conversion rates

On the subject of conversion rates, or the percentage of players who convert to paying to play, Weidemann was able to share some data on the region. “Generally on smartphones and iPads you have conversion rates anywhere between 1 and 5%. The problem with these numbers is that they’re an average, it removes the peaks,” and hence, the best opportunity for lessons. “If you know what games get the 10% conversion rates, you can learn how they did it,” and attempt to emulate.

Players, he elaborated, will be put off when asked to pay for a game, even a great game, if the payment prompt feels tacked on. “You need to naturally integrate the payment into the game,” Weidemann said, “otherwise the player gets the feeling that the paying is more important than the game,” and will be less likely to convert.

Weidemann has spoken in the past on how paying attention to others’ conversion rates can be instructive to game developers and publishers. “Learn why [one publisher’s formula] works, and where the mistakes are,” and why some publishers can afford to prioritize other things before monetization, he was reported as saying in PC Gamer.

Market localization

For publishers in the rest of the world who are interested in taking a bite of the ripening MENA market, Weidemann urged caution, emphasizing the region’s diversity at several points in the interview. Each country’s differing politics, culture, religions, dialects – and ultimately, audiences – require Western and American publishers (who are more likely to have preconceived notions about the region) to educate themselves on how to best break into individual countries, he said.

However, localizing a game can be a big investment for publishers who don’t already have a foothold in a market. “Publishers who don’t have success in a market don’t like to tailor games to that market because it’s too much effort, whereas publishers who have had success in a market love doing it because they embrace the market. It’s a kind of head-by-tail situation,” he said. The question then becomes: what’s the least risky localization strategy for publishers who want to break into new markets?

Check out Wamda’s video interview with Weidemann for more thoughts.

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