Image source: Northwest University in Qatar
It’s no secret that the mobile gaming market is a force to be reckoned with. Whether it’s the mindlessly addicting Flappy Bird, or visually striking Infinity Blade these games are available whenever and wherever you want them. If a game has the perfect blend of challenge, aesthetics, and fun it can catch like a wild fire. In places such as Europe, China, Japan, the United States, Australia, and so forth individuals play these mobile games in addition to console and PC exclusives. In these countries the Indie market is becoming another facet of an already well-established business.
But in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and other war-torn areas in the Middle East, mobile gaming has become far more than just a way to pass the time. For many it has created the opportunity to educate and voice opinions otherwise lost amid heavy-handed censorship and propaganda. According to data collected from the Northwestern University in Qatar around 49% of Middle Eastern men and 36% of Middle Eastern women play video games on a regular basis. While this data doesn’t take into account what percent of this gamming is on mobile platforms, it does put into perspective the growing community of gamers in this region.
The best way to see the impact of indie mobile games is by first realizing the spider-web of censorship and regulations that occur in these countries. Whenever an international game company decides to release a title, there are certain levels of localization that have to take place prior to release. As defined by the Globalization and Localization Association “Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is only one of several elements of the localization process…the localization process may also include:”
- Adapting graphics to target markets
- Modifying content to suit the tastes and consumption habits of other markets
- Adapting design and layout to properly display translated text
- Converting to local requirements (such as currencies and units of measure)
- Using proper local formats for dates, addresses, and phone numbers
- Addressing local regulations and legal requirements
For some countries the process of localization is far easier than others. Translating the dialogue and reworking a few cut scenes may be all that’s needed to localize a game from say Ireland to Spain. However, as you may have guessed it takes a lot more work when localizing for the Middle East. For example Saudi Arabia will ban any content that they deem to be immoral, which tends to include nudity, drugs, and alcohol, or is believed to challenge the Islamic state. A 2011 article from CNN reported how Syria modified their media law, restricting any content discussing the armed forces or that could threatened “national unity and national security”. These are two extreme examples of the types of censorship faced by game developers entering the Arab market. Most of the restrictions in the surrounding countries are based around protecting their country from opposing religious or society beliefs.
Having such strict regulations to abide by tends to depreciate any perceived value international game developers would have originally seen in the Arab market. Causing most to forgo the consideration of even trying to localize their games to this region. While some companies are making the attempt, most games that the rest of the world has come to know and love are banned in the Middle East. Any individual caught trying to sell such content may face imprisonment.
So you may be wondering how mobile gaming is having any real affect in such restricted countries. When it comes to mobile platforms it is difficult for a country to regulate what the consumers are downloading. Unlike a media channel or specific website, mobile games are uploaded to universal platforms such as Google Play or the Apple App Store. The extensive libraries on these platforms make it nearly impossible to pinpoint individual apps that may go against presiding law. Having this small level of protection provided by the mobile market has allowed independent developers to share their ideas freely. The availability of major publishers, designers, and even education on game development and design are practically non-existent in these countries. However, that doesn’t mean that creative and determined, and I mean extremely determined, individuals are in short supply. Below are some examples of indie game developers coming out of the Middle East today. Each team of creators has their own goals and ideas for their companies, but each share the same ideal of creating a better image of the Middle East.
http://www.falafel-games.com/ – Screen Shot
Locations: Beirut, Lebanon & HangZhou, China.
Having the largest user base of web and mobile players in the Middle East is no small feat. But that is exactly what the creators at Falafel Games have achieved with their Continually growing library of MMO games. From what I can tell from their website they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Offering a variety of genres Falafel Games attracts gamers both in and outside of the Middle East.
https://www.maysalward.com/ -Screen Shoot
Location: Amman, Jordan.
Maysalward Games was the first mobile game development company to be established in the Middle East back in November of 2003. They still work as one of the top developers in that region, having many of their games ranked at the top of the charts on local online providers. In addition to their original games, Maysalward has partnered with Zeptolabs and Zain Jordan to create the Arabic version of Cut The Rope 2. Apart from their company’s success, Maysalward gives back to their community by offering educational programs focused on coding and app development to the schools and universities in the region.
http://www.na3m.com/ – Screen Shot
Locations: Amman, Jordan & Copenhagen, Denmark.
Na3m, which means “yes” in Arabic, is a “transmedia incubator” company that offers comics, web series and mobile based educational games. Originally from Saudi Arabia, HH Prince Fahad Al Saud created Na3m with two main goals in mind. The first was to change the perspective Western Society has of Middle Eastern culture and people. Second, was the urge to empower and educated young women who are growing up in typically patriarchal societies. Their current project Saudi Girls Revolution is focused on a group of Saudi women taking down a corrupt empire set in a post-apocalyptic world. The company continues to grow awareness through vocal outreach, and sponsorships of female athletes in Soccer and Jiu-Jitsu.
http://littleheroes.wixelstudios.com/ -Screen Shot
Locations: Kaslik, & Sarba, Lebanon.
Wixel Studios Founded by Reine Abbas, Ziad Feghali and Karim Abi Saleh first gain notoriety after releasing the game titled Douma. Which allowed players to pick one of the reining leaders in the region and fight each other. It’s kind of like a political Mortal Kombat for the Middle East, each leader having his own special moves and power ups. Many of the Wixel Studio games have been in response to political and violent turmoil that the creators have experienced first hand. However, more recently the Wixel Studio team has shifted their focus to teaching children through their games. Games such as Little Heroes that educated kids about safety and prevention. Wixel has also teamed up with Cologne Game Lab and Video Games Without Borders to help educate and empower children in Syria who have lost access to schooling.
It’s unknown what the future will hold for these indie games developers. But for right now it seems that things are moving in the right direction for the Arab market.