Game, set and watch
Gaming is no longer a form of entertainment; in a rapidly-advancing digital age, the playground is no longer on devices, but rather in the industry itself.
And in the Middle East and Africa, the sector is slowly but surely becoming a key driver, shaping up to be a well-rounded and diverse segment that touches all sectors and demographics, according to a new study.
The whitepaper from Chinese Internet and social media giant Tencent - titled 'The Future of the Middle East & Africa Games Industry & Ecosystem' - reveals that the MEA games sector is in the midst of innovation and growth.
"With the increase in the penetration of mobile phones, the way how people consume media is changing," Vincent Wang, general manager of Tencent Games' global publishing department, said.
"We believe that technology advancements can boost the evolution of how people entertain."
Quoting research firm Newzoo, Tencent says worldwide games revenue will hit $148.8 billion in 2019. The Middle East and Africa region will have a $4.8 billion share, a figure that is expected to reach $6.01 billion by 2021. By 2022, the worldwide number is seen to reach $189.6 billion. Newzoo adds that in the MEA, there were 282.9 million smartphone gamers last year.
Gaming revenues in the MEA are expected to grow to $6.82 billion in 2022. The region's smartphone games revenue is growing even faster, with a predicted compound annual growth rate of 17.5 per cent driving an already impressive $2.24 billion in 2019 to $3.78 billion in 2022.
And with gaming now multi-channel and multi-faceted - smartphone penetration and the cloud are once again transforming the battlefield - opportunities continue to arise, thanks to its ability to unite gamers more.
Mobile games alone - including tablets and smartphones - account for 45 per cent of the global games market, with revenues of $68.2 billion, and smartphones make up 80 per cent of mobile games share, the report says.
And as mobile has brought more players to games, the demographics of the audience are shifting. There are more older players, and female players account for more than half of all players in many segments, according to the Mobile Marketing Association in the United States.
E-sports is also thriving - another clear evidence of the economic opportunities gaming brings to the playing field. The whitepaper says that a huge economic opportunity awaits - not just in terms of consumer spending on games, downloads and subscription services, but also in the ecosystem that surrounds games. E-sports alone is expected to generate global revenues of $1.1 billion in 2019.
Along with that, games development is creating job opportunities both in direct roles and in support roles such as localisation and translation of games for local markets, that are supporting digital economies, and activities in design and creative sectors.
At a macro level, gaming can also become a major contributor to a country's knowledge economy. The UK, for example has leveraged tax relief schemes to support its games industry, which the UK Department of Trade Industry reports generated a fourfold return on investment in terms of gross added value and the creation of skilled employment opportunities.
The games industry is supporting this creation of new job opportunities in a number of ways.
And while video games back in the day were deemed as a distraction or something that would negatively impact gamers, the dynamics have significantly changed - it's now slowly becoming a key component of societal development.
Educators, in particular, support this. Social-emotional learning (SEL) skills have become a focus for academic research, because of their importance in helping children to succeed in the future, and increasingly, researchers are finding that playing the right games, as part of a rounded education and work-life balance, can help children to develop SEL skills and other positive attributes.
"There are lots of cognitive development benefits to gaming, as part of a well-rounded life balance. Research is showing things like recognition, spatial memory, reaction time, mental flexibility, multi-tasking can all be aided by different types of gaming. Different types of games have different benefits for different cognitive abilities," Dr Nick Wakefield, a clinical psychologist at LightHouse Arabia, said in the study.
"In terms of the way the world is going, it is towards much more technology-based."
Dr Hock Chuan Lim, assistant professor at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Science at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), says that the skills taught in the university's games development major, can be applied to many different sectors.
"We are training our students to use computing technology, to solve real-world problems," Dr Lim said.
"If a student can use computing technology to solve problems, then jobs will come. We say that with this degree, you can be an analyst, you can be a business manager, you manage a video game studio. If you have the critical thinking, the ability to see a solution using computing technology to solve real-world problems, then I think any company will want to hire you."