Stock - Gaming
Will UAE gamers move from their rooms to the vast expanses of the dedicated zones malls are creating for them? Malls are betting big that they will do so. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Gaming (or esports if that’s how you know it by) in the UAE is definitely going mainstream – seemingly, even faster than the speed at which these games are being played by the fans.

And how’s the mainstreaming happening? At the biggest and brightest malls in the UAE, with mall managements finding that creating high-tech gaming zones for the legions of players can be another way of bringing on more visitor numbers.

“Malls are betting that gamers in the UAE are ready play and compete out in public,” said a retail sector analyst. “Most of these dedicated players are typically confined to the privacy of their rooms when testing out their skills with the best in the gaming universe.

“Malls believe with the right atmosphere and all the latest tech and devices, these gamers can be persuaded to play in the open. If malls make that happen, they get a captive audience and best use of the dedicated gaming zones.

“A generation that played at the family entertainment centres (FEC) in malls could be ready for gaming.”


Average time spent daily by UAE's gamers

In Abu Dhabi, there is the 4,500 square metre ‘Pixoul Gaming’ hub at Al Qana, the sparkling new leisure and entertainment destination open since late October. And just recently, the master-developer Aldar struck an alliance with Nigma Galaxy, an esports entity, for a dedicated training facility at Yas Mall. Plus, Aldar is to build gaming zones at its residential communities.

UAE gaming infographic
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Supplied

For now, Nigma Galaxy has an in-game activation within Minecraft, which has brought Aldar’s flagship Saadiyat Grove development ‘to life in the game’. “The in-game activation is a fantastic way to merge our two worlds and really cemented why Aldar is the right partner for us,” said Mohamed Morad, co-founder of Nigma Galaxy. “Not only are we able to work with Aldar to help shape facilities and initiatives young people will find useful but we’re able to create innovative ways to engage with audiences.”

Are gamers ready?

Estimates suggest there were already more than 2 million ‘paying’ gamers in the UAE by end 2021, with the biggest growth coming that year and in 2020, when gaming became an obvious diversion from Covid times. That number could hit 3.19 million by end-2025, according to Redseer, a consultancy. Even if a small percentage of those gamers can be pulled into malls, it would be worth the effort on the part of their management.

UAE mall owners keep fine-tuning their mix
Shopping at malls is a near constant for UAE consumers. Since 2015-16, mall developers started making F&B a top attract for mall visitors along with the entertainment options already available there.
Now, to get the eye of a younger visitor base, some malls are creating swank gaming hubs, reckoning that gamers need their time out in the open as well.

Not just for millennials

“Gamer demographics are also expanding, to include the 35-40 age bracket and more women gamers than before,” said Jobin Joejoe, Deputy Managing Director for Sony Middle East and Africa. “The GCC is growing faster than the rest of the region, especially in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

“In the region, we are witnessing the demand for wireless gaming heating up. Consumer demand has shifted slightly from wired to wireless. While the premium segment (above Dh999) is steadily growing. However, at the lower end, mainly dominated by wired headsets, is stagnant.”

A gaming universe is getting built in the UAE across destinations. With more than 2 million paying gamers already, mall management believe gaming can be the next growth charger for them. Image Credit: Supplied

In the Middle East, PC gaming continues to grow and enjoy a boom as evidenced by the popularity of e-sports, fps (first-person shooter) games, and major e-sports tournaments

- Jobin Joejoe of Sony MEA

Back into growth

According to IDC, the tech trends spotting firm, UAE’s gaming market actually slowed down on its growth curve in 2022. It could be that after two power-packed growth years in 2020-21, there had to be some slowing down. Whatever be the case, “After several years of growth, the UAE gaming PC market is expected to post a decline in 2022 of around 9 per cent,” said Fouad Charakla, Associate Research Director, Client Devices (META), IDC. “We can’t give the precise percentage yet since we are still finalizing the data for Q4-2022.”

In 2023 though, we expect the UAE gaming PC market to grow 6 per cent, with the following years also expected to see some growth.

- Fouad Charakla of IDC

Costly games

The nature of the gaming space is such that players need constant upgrades/updates. They are not the ones who will take kindly to doing more of the same. The challenges within each gaming title need to get more difficult – and the equipment more hi-tech.

This raises two questions for malls and their gaming zones. Upfront investments can be quite high, and there needs to be near regular upgrades. “Gaming is malls is still relatively new and such places remove the need to buy equipment which can get expensive quickly with the frequent upgrades,” said Sandeep Ganediwalla, regional Partner at Redseer. “So, an infrequent player will find these mega-malls attractive. Especially as it can become part of family-time, where there is something for everyone in the mall.”

But if malls need to attract more of the committed gamer, they have to get those updates and the latest in gaming gear pronto. “It will not be like the equipment at family entertainment zones in malls, which can last for years,” said the retail analyst. “Gaming is a whole new experience – and these guys want cutting-edge at all times.

“In their living spaces – and in gaming zones.”

That then is the challenge malls are taking on.