The Unexpected Gaming Mecca in the Middle East

One of the most unexpected gaming meccas in the world isn’t in Europe or North America. It’s actually in Asia, specifically the Middle East: The United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates contains seven different emirates, with Abu Dhabi being its capital city and the largest emirate by population. Dubai is its most populous city, with 2 million people living there (more than half of the UAE population). Gaming culture has genuinely evolved here, especially over recent years.

Dubai’s Dominant Role

Dubai has been a long-time pioneer in the region’s gaming industry, with a recent report by AppAnnie revealing that it is ranked as the world’s third largest gaming market after China and Japan. One reason may be that Dubai’s culture is more accepting of gaming than many others in the region. More than 90% of residents surveyed by UAE-based Arabic language website Maktoob said they game at least occasionally, with many fans of mobile gaming among them. Mobile games are popular because they’re cheaper and easier to access than consoles or PCs. This past year, UAE developers released over 150 new games for mobile phones, with a whopping 49% of these being free-to-play titles.

How Pokémon Go Became an Overnight Sensation in the UAE

In July 2016, Niantic’s Pokémon Go app swept the world, with players hunting for virtual monsters on their smartphones in real-life locations. From a mobile gaming perspective, it was an overnight sensation. However, news has been circulating for some time as The Kedah Fatwa Committee ruled that the Pokémon Go game is haram due to its potential to “jeopardize faith” in Islam.

According to the UAE’s Constitution, Islam is the country’s official religion, and this fact must be understood. One of the many restrictions in the region is a prohibition on gambling. Nevertheless, online casinos remain available in Saudi Arabia. These offshore sites are thoroughly evaluated by professionals, who detail their services and promotions for the convenience of interested gamers. They are accessible with the use of a VPN in several languages, including Arabic. Thus, residents in this region can play casino games if they choose, as well as access restricted programs like WhatsApp and FaceTime.

Twenty-Two Million Daily Online Users

A study conducted by PayPal found that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has 22 million daily internet users and an extremely high demand for online gaming. It is easy to comprehend why there are so many participants in this well-liked activity given that the population of the area is 9.4 million. In addition, the introduction of free online multiplayer games like Fortnite and Apex Legends has proven to be extremely popular with gamers located in the immediate area. While the authorities in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi continue to work on developing a law that controls these platforms, one thing is certain: the popularity of video games will continue to grow throughout the Middle East, making them an essential component of life in that region. What used to be a field dominated by game developers from the West is now taking shape quickly in Dubai, where local companies and studios are popping up all over the region.

An estimated 80% of the population is under the age of 30, and as these demographics shift, more and more games are being localized for their preferences. With this generation growing up on popular American shows like Game of Thrones, you’ll see shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender getting the same treatment. As one local put it, gaming has always been a huge part of our culture here in the UAE.

Gamers Are Everywhere (And Growing)

As more and more people are discovering how much fun gaming can be, it’s no surprise that the UAE is becoming a hub for gamers. With more than 90% of residents gamed at least occasionally, it’s not hard to find new friends in this growing community. Gamers share an interest in everything from consoles to mobile games, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to get together and enjoy their hobby. One example is Play’nGO, a developer with offices in Dubai. One event organizer explained that gaming has really grown into something huge here because there are so many casual players who just want to game on their phones or PCs while they’re waiting for public transport or whatever. Given this information, it might no longer come as a surprise if the UAE’s eSports squad may lead the rankings in the future seasons.