Facebook Gaming In the Middle East — A Happy Oasis?

What will social gaming in 2011 look like in the Middle East? Does it mean anything to developers that the primary users on Facebook in the Middle East are NOT female? Why is it that 50% of Facebook users in the Middle East use the English interface? Social gaming will be growing in India market, but in a slightly different way in the MENA region.

What will social gaming in 2011 look like in the Middle East? Does it mean anything to developers that the primary users on Facebook in the Middle East are NOT female? Why is it that 50% of Facebook users in the Middle East use the English interface? Social gaming will be growing in the India market, but in a slightly different way in the MENA region.

Just recently, the MENA region – which consists of the Middle East and North Africa – received their first major investment for social gaming. Interactive Venture (IV) Holdings – a company that invests in start-up businesses for the Arab audience – backed two Jordian companies this past week: Wizard Productions and Gate2Play. Not only are investments becoming more common in the MENA region for gaming, but for entrepreneurs in general for international opportunities.

Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s economies are expected to grow by 4%-6% in 2011, this will in return establish a more stable climate for businesses. Along with growing economies, the MENA region is expected to increase in population by 1%-3%. The Middle East alone has a population of 212,336,924, which is 3.1% of the world’s population. Within that number are 63,240,946 internet subscribers – a growth of 1,825.3% from the year 2000.

Out of the 63 million internet users in the region, 15 million of them claim to use Facebook. Although Facebook saw an increase of 3.5 million Arabic users, because of their decision to create an Arabic interface, 50% reported using English as their primary Facebook language, while 25% selected French as their language of choice (the French language was spread across Africa during 19th century colonization).

Language preference depends upon where you are in the MENA region. Egyptian Facebook users primarily choose the English interface (64.6percent). In Saudi Arabia, where 29% of internet users log onto Facebook, consumers are split between Arabic and English. 82.3% of users in Morocco, on the other hand, select French as their primary language. So, what does language in the MENA region tell us about social gaming?

In order to be successful in the MENA region, gaming developers will be compelled to focus on the primary language of a particular area, not only the region as a whole. Zynga has opened their FarmVille user base by creating FarmVille 中文版, the Chinese version of the game. This same strategy needs to be adapted to social gaming in the MENA region. However, it’s a little more complicated than that.

The Middle East and the North African region share similar cultural norms. For successful gaming development, companies need to be able to formulate games that put together the cultural norms and the language of choice for that specific state. Happy Oasis, an Arabic game developed by Aranim, creates an almost impeccable example of the language plus culture approach. Aranim’s game, based on the FarmVille concept, but in a Middle Eastern environment, allows users to switch between the English and Arabic versions of the game.

Developers should focus more on generating products for the MENA region like Happy Oasis. With growing economies in the region, social gaming looks more promising than ever before. Before I end, I will leave you with this. Only 37% of Facebook users in the MENA region are female – a smaller percentage compared to the 56% in the United States. The difference in these numbers can be explained by the views of gender roles between the two cultures, which leads me to my final comment for developers.

Restrictions have recently been placed on bloggers in Saudi Arabia: Like the press in the country, online writers will have to obtain a press license to write. Do not be surprised if restrictions are placed on social gaming in the future, especially if developers begin to create games that may not sit well with the government in charge, but let’s take one step at a time.

CJ Arlotta covers the world of social gaming for development firms as well as the average consumer. Currently, he is accumulating more knowledge of the international gaming market to follow and understand what global developers may need to compete with already striving markets.