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Game Markets in the Middle East: Opportunities and Challenges Mahmoud Khasawneh – CEO Quirkat Oded Sharon – CEO Corbomite Games. Mahmoud Ali Khasawneh. CEO IGDA Middle East Chapter Leader

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Game Markets in the Middle East: Opportunities and Challenges

Mahmoud Khasawneh – CEO Quirkat

Oded Sharon – CEO Corbomite Games

mahmoud ali khasawneh
Mahmoud Ali Khasawneh
  • CEO
  • IGDA Middle East Chapter Leader
  • 20+ years of industry experience, formerly CIO Government of Jordan and Director of E-Government Programme
  • 6+ years of Middle East games industry experience.
Oded Sharon
  • CEO of Corbomite Games
  • 12 Years of experience as Game Developer
  • Adventure and Action-Adventure games, 

Casual and mobile Games, and songs for Rock Band.

  • IGDA Chapter coordinator Israel (GameIS)
  • Too many hobbies.
region and demographics
Region and Demographics
  • Region spans 22 Arab countries and Israel
  • One of the fastest growing markets
  • Mostly overlooked by game developers and publishers
the arabic speaking middle east
The Arabic Speaking Middle East
  • Population approaching 400M
  • 75M+ internet users
  • ~40 million mobile phones sold (3rd quarter 2010) (source: Gartner)
    • 214,886,500 mobile subscriptions
    • 200% penetration in richer GCC states
  • More than 180M people under the age of 25
video game market data
Video Game Market Data
  • Market size ~$1 billion (various sources)
  • users - 15% of globaltraffic(October 2010)
  • KSA: 63% of internet users play online games(source: Arab Advisors Group)


Game titles sold

  • Estimated by the BSA at 59%
  • Same title on PS3 will outsell XBOX360 version at 7:1 ratio (source: Red Entertainment)
  • Online authentication, subscription, ‘always online’ & other DRM solutions
  • Pirates vs. Piracy Consumers?
localization efforts to date
Localization Efforts to Date
  • Sony: Wall-E, Start the Party, This is Football
  • Asian MMO’s in the Middle East
    • Rushed translations
    • Bandwidth optimization issues
    • Storyline & artistic relevance & acceptability
    • RESULT: Short term success
  • ‘Partnerships’ for effective market entry
more localization efforts
More Localization Efforts
  • Arabian Lords - PC
    • Strategy/City builder – language intensive
    • Collaboration between Quirkat and US-based Breakaway Games
    • Topped regional charts
  • Basha – Sony PSP
    • First Arab PSP games
    • Popular card games
tackling the arabic speaking market regional sensibilities
Tackling the Arabic Speaking Market – Regional Sensibilities
  • 50% of internet searches for Islamic content
    • Other 50% is for provocative video clips
    • online games > pornography, says Google
tackling the arabic speaking market regional sensibilities1
Tackling the Arabic Speaking Market – Regional Sensibilities
  • Hand of God – Mythic Palace
  • Little Big Planet misunderstanding
  • Censorship patterns
tackling the arabic speaking market content relevance
Tackling the Arabic Speaking Market – Content Relevance
  • Besides suitability, localization for the region heavily depends on relevance
    • Thanksgiving, Halloween and other holidays
    • Diners
    • Music and visual pop culture
    • Cinemas and movie tie-ins
tackling the arabic speaking market technical and linguistic considerations
Tacklingthe Arabic Speaking Market – Technical and Linguistic Considerations
  • Unicode / UTF8
  • UI space allocation for translated assets – lessons from Arabian Lords
  • Similarly, audio lengths, in-game video, timing, lip synching
  • Many dialects vs. classical/spoken Arabic
    • No references
tackling the arabic speaking market payment and monetization
Tackling the Arabic Speaking Market – Payment and Monetization
  • Credit cards not prevalent, cash oriented society
  • Regional prepaid payment card solutions
    • International games developers/aggregators need to integrate these solutions
  • Example: $40M annual revenue from games on OneCard
  • Mobile payment still exists, but not sustainable
localization vs made for mideast
Localization Vs. Made-for-MidEast
  • Local Content vs. Local Delivery
    • Localization, Arabization, Culturalization??
  • A well made title will perform if, you can ‘kick it, drive it or shoot it.’
  • RPG titles underperform hugely compared to the West
    • This is 100% because of the language barrier
  • We chose first Arabic title to be language intensive, strategy, to prove the point
regional game dev scene
Regional Game Dev Scene
  • IGDA Middle East
  • Dev hubs
    • Jordan
    • UAE
    • KSA
    • Egypt
    • Lebanon
    • Morocco
regional opportunities
Regional Opportunities
  • Region-wide IP game opportunities for development
  • Exponential growth in Internet user base and online usage
  • Exponential growth of console market and game success potential.
  • Expanding regional online payment methods
regional challenges
Regional Challenges
  • Internet penetration at homes/ internet cafes
  • Regional investors don’t understand the industry
  • Acceptability of content – religion + culture
  • Piracy
  • Payment methods
  • Talent pool
Israel General

Photo by Ron Shoshani

Israel - General
  • Population: 7,635,600

Primary Languages:


20% Arab

75% Jewish


Secondary Languages:

English (Taught as secondary)

Russian (20% population)

Israel - General
  • High tech oasis
    • Highest number of start-ups per capita in the world
  • Lots of early innovators and entrepreneurs.
  • Most US VC's have branches in Israel.
  • "A computer for every child" 1995 initiative.
Israeli game industry
  • (Photos by and thanks to Nir Miretzky)
Israeli Game Industry
  • IGDA Chapter formed in 2000
  • 850 member in Facebook group "GameIS“
  • 3 large conferences with 200-500 participants.
  • Monthly social gathering and chapter meetings.
Israeli Game Industry
  • Birthplace of the technology behind Kinect , 
    • home of almost a dozen motion game companies.
  • Two major local retailer distributors/publishers:
  • Hed-Artzi/NMC , Atari Israel
The Israeli gamer profile


Similar to European (mostly UK) and US gamer.





The Israeli gamer profile

Console Availably (Hardcore):



No official retailer

The Israeli gamer profile

Handheld / Mobile Availably (casual):



The PC Israeli gamer profile

Online games (WoW)  

Facebook (Farmville)

Lots of piracy

  • According to Atari Israel - All annual retail game sales: $400K-500K
  • For single full price titles, average $20K per single title.
Israel - sites, blogs, and marketing

(full list at :

Vgames 2009 visitors survey

(22k people surveyed)






<12 13-17 18-24 25-34 >35



Playing online games Articles Game Forums


Localization to Hebrew
  • Lots of local Hebrew content: TV, Media, books.
  • Non-Israeli books are translated to Hebrew.
  • Movies and TV are subtitled, not dubbed.
  • Games in Israel are played in English.
  • Most Israeli can understand English well.
Challenges in Translation to Hebrew:
  • Right to left
  • Missing or incompatible words
  • Double meanings
  • Phrases and idioms
  • Cultural references.
Localization != translation

Not many examples of games translated to Hebrew in last decade.

some do get subtitles, not in last 4 years.

Titles for kids (E.G. Dora the explorer) do get translated to Hebrew.

Localized online titles

Several Online games were localized and had big success :



Why lack of localized game?
  • No need?
  • No opportunity?
  • Only effective on big titles
  • Local entrepreneurs (myself included) are focused on markets outside Israel
Original Creations in Israel for Israelis

Local success for titles by Local game developers:

Piposh Gindis IAF Falafel king

  • Israeli Adver-games are always in Hebrew.
  • Religious and Bible games also in Hebrew, and interesting sub market.
Case study - Bamba

Advergame based on one of Israel's most famous Brands "Bamba" which is a peanut butter flavoured snack.

Free to play RPG using Bamba's kid mascot.

800K Unique visitors, 4M entries.

Won "2009 GameIS award" for best advergame.


Case study - Mogobe

Mogobe - Virtual world for kids ages 7-12

Developed in Israel, and Israel was first launch country in July 09.

By Jan 2010 was 2nd Most popular site among children in Israel, after facebook.

Localized around the world with languages, clothing,and location relevant themes. 

Penetration: 30% of target audience in Israelopened accounts. 40K make transactions of $6.5 each.

Total revenue $280K just in Israel.

Israel - Conclusions 
  • Mostly PC gamers.
  • Lots of young gamers, mobile and PC.
  • Tech savvy, early innovators.
  • English speakers.
  • Influential Bloggers (worldwide).
  • Large and innovative developer community.
  • If you want to do a motion game with NI, you probably want to do business with Israeli companies.
Israel - Conclusions 
  • Not necessary to translate to Hebrew in order to succeed.
  • Next-gen & online would benefit greatly if localized,even if it's only by adding subtitles.
  • Marketing to religious sections can be tricky.
Israel - Conclusions 


No Camels!

Conclusions: Middle East
  • Fast growing market
  • Lots of business opportunities
  • Religion and politics can be challenging