Dubai: The Arab online gaming market is growing at an exponential rate due to the robust increase in internet users, industry experts say.
"It is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. It is underserved right now. The potential from more than 350 million Arabic speakers is going to be tremendous. New players are popping up, which is a good sign for the industry and for the gamers," Steve Tsao, CEO of Tahadi, told Gulf News during the Dubai World Game Expo.
Currently there are around 63 million internet users in the region with a penetration rate of 28.3 per cent compared to the global average of 25.6 per cent, according to Internet World Stats.
The online gaming industry has grown 1,648 per cent over the last 9 years and is now a $15 billion (Dh55 billion) global annual business.
It is estimated that there are 1.6 billion internet users worldwide that play games, 38 per cent of which are from the Arab world. And that is only going to grow.
The market has been mostly ignored by the big gaming developers due to copyright issues in the region, however this was not a problem for massively multiplayer online role-playing game that entered the market five years ago, since most of these games are free to download or play online, so copying them is not an issue.
He said he estimates the market has around one million Arab online gamers. Growth in mature markets is around 20 per cent, but in the Middle East it is around 5 per cent. "Our expectations are that it will double in the next few years."
According to Ahmad Fahmy, General Manager of Saudi-based Onecard, the number of customers and gamers is increasing. There are around 50 Arabic online games right now.
"We have around 500,000 gamers in the Arab world on a monthly basis. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the biggest online gamers. It is growing at around 50 per cent year on year," Fahmy said. He added that the Arab gaming industry must explore opportunities and broaden its market so that it can keep pace with the exponential growth in global online gaming and eventually become one of the rapidly evolving industry's key markets as internet usage in the region has grown more than 1,825 per cent since 2000 with many users attracted to online gaming.
Tsao said that the value of the regional online gaming industry is about $100 million compared to $70 million last year. The next phase of growth lies with Arabic localised content.
"On a monthly basis, we have around 50,000 users for our site. On average a user spends an hour a day while hard-core players spend 6 to 8 hours a day. On an average a user spends around $15 a day for games," Tsao said.
"In the next five years, the Middle East will be in the top five globally. It will have the size of Latin America and Europe. Loc-alisation is a difficult one in terms of translation. Infrastructure and distribution are issues in the region as infrastructure is different from country to country," he said.
Travian is the most played Arab game online.