Sales of digital games such as Angry Birds are forecast to soar to US$3.2 billion (Dh11.75bn) in the Middle East and Africa, partly due to the high smartphone use in countries such as the UAE.
Digital games include those downloaded or streamed online for use on PCs, consoles, mobile phones and tablets.
Sales of such titles in this region are forecast to grow by 29 per cent a year, far ahead of the global average of 17 per cent, according to the research company Ovum.
The firm’s Digital Games Forecast 2011-2016 predicts that the market for such games in the Middle East and Africa is set to grow from $900 million this year to $3.2bn in 2016.
Mark Little, an analyst in London for Ovum, said the popularity of smartphones was a major driver of digital games in the region.
“The increased penetration of smartphones in the Middle East, and feature phones in Africa, support quite a steep growth in games,” said Mr Little.
However, he acknowledged that growth was forecast to be stronger in this region because it was starting at a lower base.
Casual games such as Angry Birds, which can be downloaded on to devices such as the Apple iPhone, is the primary driver of revenue growth globally, said Mr Little.
“It’s not just the hard-core gamer any more. Those casual-type games are finding their way on to phones … through streaming services and downloads,” he said.
“Publishers are finding that digital distribution is delivering a host of other benefits. These include boosting margins from 20 to 30 per cent on boxed games, to 50 to 75 per cent on digital.”
Karim Sabbagh, a senior partner at the consultancy Booz & Company, agreed that the digital gaming market in the Middle East and Africa would “grow ahead of the global average”.
He cited reasons including wider economic growth, the relative immaturity of the broadband infrastructure, and the large youth population in the region.
Yet gaming experts said the rise of digital games should not be exaggerated.
“You can dream of another hit like Angry Birds, but what are the chances?,” said Mahmoud Ali Khasawneh, the chief executive of the gaming company Quirkat, based in Jordan. “People think it’s easier because Angry Birds did so well, but it’s not true.”
Quirkat is a “multi-platform” developer, and creates games for consoles, social media sites and online download. It is about to release a digital game called Mena Speed, available for download on the PlayStation Network, in which players can race around Arab cities such as Dubai and Kuwait.
Abu Dhabi is host to a growing number of gaming companies. At the beginning of this year, Abu Dhabi Media – which owns and publishes The National- launched its own gaming division, Karkadann Games.
And last month the French firm Ubisoft, the developer of hit games such as Assassin’s Creed, is setting up a games studio at the capital’s twofour54 media zone.
The company will join two Arabic online gaming companies, Tahadi Games and Jawaker, in which twofour54 recently invested more than $2.5m for minority stakes.
Wayne Borg, the deputy chief executive and the chief operating officer at twofour54, said gaming was a “key growth sector”.
He said a number of other international gaming companies had “expressed interest” in the Middle East. “We’re talking to those guys at the moment, looking to see how we can best accommodate them and their needs,” he said.