Arabic region gamers: socially connected and on the move.

March 30, 2022

GCC Gaming Audience Insights

Video games represent the single largest entertainment industry on the planet – a far cry from their beginnings in sidestreet arcades and dark basement bedrooms.

An industry that’s still relatively young, gaming has nonetheless flourished in recent decades – with audience insights consistently proving as surprising as they are insightful.

Understanding the scope of gaming’s growth

Gaming insights from US-based analyst giant Nielsen indicate that video games as a medium grew 12 percent last year – eclipsing US$139.9 billion in value. Of this figure, the GCC gaming audience makes up an actively growing demographic.

In fact, gaming research indicates that the video games industry in the Gulf is on target to hit US$821 million during the course of this year. This is in part led by the growing hotbed of eSports talent emerging in GCC nations, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading that charge.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia is the fifth largest video games market in the world by revenue size alone – proving the value of audience insights that can best connect brands and marketers to this hugely fertile ground.

Taking ownership to the next level

A strong driver behind this impressive growth in the overall GCC gaming audience is the Gulf’s overarching push to diversify its economic touchpoints. While the oil and gas industries have famously springboarded the region to economic heights once unimaginable, GCC nationals today take pride in exploring other opportunities for growth.

Naturally, this has led to a keen interest in technology, entertainment, competitive sports and online community building – all aspects of the video games industry. Gaming research indicates that the appetite for this economic growth is both strong and growing – creating superb opportunities for those businesses best poised to take action.

Gaming research and GCC culture

It stands to reason that any external enterprises seeking audience insights into GCC video game habits and demographics need to best understand the culture of the region.

Gaining ground in any new territory is often a challenging venture – yet external expertise is flagged as something of a necessity to truly enable the greatest growth in the GCC gaming audience.

A September 2020 Arabian Business article, for example, cited both the audience insights into video game players in the Gulf that many organisations would find most useful – but also underlined the comparatively sluggish growth of GCC telecoms infrastructure by comparison.

Solid connectivity that is fast, responsive and able to link even the most remote of Gulf towns and communities is not only a necessity in today’s hybrid working world, after all. Gamers are also hugely demanding of strong web access with next to no latency – it’s the lifeblood of this entertainment medium.

And, as we’ll explore further, it’s also the crux of what regional audience insights have highlighted as a key sister industry to gamers across the Gulf – online media.

Gaming research and Gulf online media use

Using our unique insight into the habits, preferences and demographics of the Gulf, we have been exploring gaming insights across the region for several years now. The picture painted by the data we have successfully accumulated in that time provides key gaming insights – as well as related social media use in parallel.

We have analyzed a cumulative, influential gaming audience of over 138M, across 3 years, to identify trends appearing on major video platforms in the GCC. 

A scattergun social media marketing approach, it turns out, will not be the best way for brands looking to connect with the GCC gaming audience to best see ROI. Instead, it’s vital to target where gamers are going – and likewise, to understand the audience insights behind why certain platforms hold more intrinsic appeal to players today.

GCC gamers and YouTube – easy come, easy go

YouTube and video games have grown hand in hand for over a decade now. Arguably, the world’s biggest online video service might not be where it is today, were it not for fans sharing gaming footage and presentations being showcased on the platform.

Likewise, YouTube has proven invaluable both to brands, but also manufacturers of video game hardware too. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft each have substantial YouTube presences where generating hype via video coverage is a key component of their marketing strategy.

Yet our gaming research into how GCC video game fans engage with YouTube demonstrates a dramatic paradigm shift in the platform’s viability for consuming online gaming content.

The GCC gaming audience has, over the last two years, initially shown a solid appetite for engaging with YouTube for video game content. This has proven similarly advantageous for brands and their marketing campaigns – so far, business as usual compared to other global regions.

Yet once the timeframe of between May and December 2020 came and went, so too did the peak of GCC audience engagement with YouTube for gaming content.

In fact, throughout 2021, audience insights of over 138 million Gulf online interactions showed that gamers in the region had simply had their fill of YouTube. Throughout 2021, engagement plunged 78% downwards from the peaks of October 2020.

Why this sudden and almost seismic abandonment of YouTube engagement? As you might already have guessed, it had much to do with more accessible and appealing viewership platforms emerging.

Instagram’s rise of the reels

The last few years have seen some often surprising innovations in the way in which online video content is uploaded, shared and consumed. Among those innovations are Instagram Reels, which themselves proved to be a solid indicator of gaming insights throughout the Gulf.

Our analysis and data indicates that, as viewership and engagement among the GCC gaming audience entered freefall throughout 2021, Instagram Reel viewership and engagement skyrocketed. The correlation is almost blow for blow.

Reels gained ground fast in the Gulf for their immediacy and accessibility. They also created a halo effect that many brands appreciated in terms of IG video views in the platform’s more conventional sense – essentially duplicating the scope of true audience reach.

Naturally, we are inclined to reiterate some words to the wise here despite the exciting statistics – understanding what true content viewership in Instagram Reels means is crucial to best making use of this data.

Nevertheless, our gaming research showcases an almost migratory pattern of Gulf video game fans shifting from YouTube to Instagram Reels, and smart brands will adapt their outreach strategies accordingly.

But of course, there’s another new video platform already showcasing massive potential for the GCC gaming audience – and the savvy readers among you have probably already figured out what it is.

TikTok and the new audience influx

Any marketers who once wrote off TikTok as a fad – or took a ‘wait and see’ approach to the platform – are probably having a hard time defending their rhetoric these days. That’s definitely true in terms of the audience insights and gaming research we gathered among Gulf video game players over the past two years.

In a similar way to the Instagram Reels data we presented above, the GCC gaming audience has proven highly responsive to a convenient and more immediate video platform.

TikTok shot to success across the Gulf in the second half of 2020 and has sustained strong engagement among Arabic audiences ever since – with gaming research showing that video game fans in the region are no exception.

There’s a strong possibility that TikTok’s huge positive impact in engaging GCC gamers may have contributed to YouTube’s ensuing decline in popularity. Gaming insights strongly suggest that, although both YouTube and TikTok shared centre stage for a solid six months during the latter half of 2020, it was TikTok that was able to sustain those peaks.

When discussing TikTok and the GCC gaming audience, the term ‘peaks’, in plural, is definitely an apt one. That’s because, even as TikTok outlasted YouTube’s decline in 2020 as far as our gaming insights show, the real all time highs for the platform’s engagement are still being set, day by day.

TikTok engagement among the GCC gaming community soared to even greater highs as the 2021 calendar year closed – and the data we are currently compiling for the platform’s performance as of Q1 2022 is expected to eclipse those highs by wider margins still.

The audience is there – but are you?

Despite all these dizzying highs in gaming research and audience insights, the true potential of video games throughout the GCC is only beginning to be explored.

As we’ve touched on, both the ambition and the appetite is plain as day within players across the Gulf – only the telecoms infrastructure and the truest, most confident brand engagement strategies need to catch up.

In that case, how best to take advantage of these Gulf gaming insights and speak to Arabic gamers on their terms? A clumsy misstep when connecting to a new territory is hard to overcome later down the line – and gamers are a surprisingly discerning kind of people.

Here at D/A, we’re ready to help you reach, connect with and convert Arabic audiences across the GCC. With our combination of homegrown business initiatives, proven marketing expertise and bespoke Sila AI solution, we’re your trusted partner in understanding how best to reach into the promising frontiers of the GCC gaming audience.

So… ready for some co-op?

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