Abu Dhabi: Increasing broadband penetration and the connectivity of more Arab youth to the internet via their smartphones will drive the regional gaming market to triple from $1.6 billion (Dh5.38 billion) to $4.4 billion (Dh16.16 billion) over the next eight years, industry experts said in the capital today (November 19).

Such growth means that the regional gaming industry is set to grow faster than the global average, and therefore creates a need for talent development and relevant training programmes, a senior gaming industry executive added.

“Mobile games are already a huge phenomenon in the Middle East. And in the UAE, smartphone users spend an average of 13 minutes daily playing Candy Crush, a hugely popular mobile game. The amount of time spent on this game alone is greater than the seven minutes they devote daily to accessing Facebook,” said Yannick Theller, managing director at game developer, Ubisoft Emirates.

“As the gaming market grows, so will the interest of developers towards tapping local talent. But although we can find raw talent in the region, youth would be better positioned to join the industry if universities offered degrees and modules that would train them in the intricacies of programming, design and gaming,” Theller told Gulf News.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2014, which saw media industry professionals discuss the future trends and challenges in the sector. Gaming was a key topic of discussion at the three-day conference, especially as the Middle East’s gaming market already boasts revenues of up to $2.6 billion (Dh9.55 billion) each year.

Although console-based games are the biggest revenue earner in the Middle East and North Africa region today, those on mobile platforms are expected to dominate the market by 2018, according to a study released yesterday (November 18) by international analyst firm, Strategy&.

“This is no surprise, as nearly everyone has a cell phone in the Middle East and about two-thirds possess smartphones,” Theller said.

For game developers, this will mean a need to make gaming content available in Arabic. Earlier this year, Ubisoft released its wildly popular Assassin’s Creed game with Arabic subtitles.

Speaking about the company’s enterprise based in Abu Dhabi, Theller said that about 35 per cent of its 50 executives are of Arab origin. In May, the unit conceptualised and produced a mobile game, CSI: Hidden Crimes, entirely in Abu Dhabi.

“We are currently able to employ youth with a talent and passion for gaming. But we do need to train them exclusively to take up specific roles. This is why appropriate training programmes are vital to helping youth success in the sector,” Theller said.