Saudi gaming business plays a big part in building soft power

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Updated 24 April 2022

Saudi gaming business plays a big part in building soft power

Saudi gaming business plays a big part in building soft power
  • The industry has engulfed scores of startups and multinational corporations into its fold

RIYADH: Last April, top strategy and consulting firm Accenture estimated that the global gaming industry exceeded $300 billion, much more than the combined market of music and movies. The industry added 500 million new gamers between 2019 and 2021. And that was just the beginning.

Driven by the surge in mobile gaming and the urge for social interaction during the pandemic, the industry has engulfed scores of startups and multinational corporations into its fold. Besides the demandside traction, the potent technology mix of blockchain and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, has also allowed game developers to leverage these tools and create virtual worlds.

In fact, some of the developers are smiling all the way to the bank by effortlessly tapping into unexplored cultural niches. One of them is Jordan-based mobile game publisher Tamatem, which smartly publishes games targeted at Arab users and builds brilliant narratives around Arab culture. 

“Arabic is the fourth most spoken language globally, yet only one percent of the overall content is in Arabic. That’s a huge gap to fill, especially in the Middle East and North Africa gaming industry,” Hussam Hammo, founder and CEO of Tamatem, told Arab News.

Flavored with local tastes

A few of his earliest games include the Awad the Delivery King, a mobile game featuring a food delivery guy racing around the pothole-riddled streets of Amman. Despite being a cartoon character based in Jordan, the game was the No. 1 app in the app stores of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, reported US-based online publishing platform Medium.

Its current chartbusters include VIP Baloot and Clash of Empires.

Launched in 2013, the game developer collaborates with international players and converts their content into Arabic. For instance, another sought-after game, Escape the Past, was a partnership with French studio 3DDuo, where Tamatem customized the content to suit the local tastes and culture, the Medium reported.

Such has been the buzz around Tamatem that, according to a company press release issued last December, it raised $11 million in Series B funding led by PUBG developer Krafton. But reaching this crucial milestone wasn’t easy. Set up in 2009, Hammo’s first gaming venture, Wizard, shut down because the industry in the region was in its infancy.

“It resulted in a negative perception among the investors’ community. It also put a huge question mark on my leadership and in the industry,” recollected Hammo. He barely had a bank balance of $200 when he planned to launch Tamatem. In the nick of time, he found 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based investor that infused $50,000 in exchange for a 5 percent share, valuing the gaming company at $1 million in 2013. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Tamatem currently ranks as the No. 1 game publisher in the MENA region in user engagement. It has one million active users across its games, three million users playing monthly, and 150 million downloads,” said Hammo, while adding that he is constantly looking for ideas to sustain the numbers.

Last February, Tamatem roped in Saudi poet and social media influencer Ziyad bin Nahit to launch the Baloot League, an extension of its popular app-based card game VIP Baloot that led to over 700 people participating in the fete.

Harnessing the game plan

The hunger to compete and excel is palpable across the region. According to Saudi Social Development Bank, the Kingdom’s video games market has a value of $1 billion and expects to grow to $2.5 billion by 2030. Boston Consulting Group’s outlook is more optimistic. It projects that Saudi Arabia’s revenue from gaming will reach $6.7 billion by 2030.

Interestingly, much of this growth is being led shoulder to shoulder by a public-private partnership. In January this year, Amazon Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced a collaboration with MENATech, a GGTech Entertainment Group company, to launch Amazon University Esports, the first educational esports league for each country. In the same month, Riyadh-based Savvy Gaming Group, backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, or PIF, purchased ESL, formerly known as Electronic Sports League, for $1 billion.

In November 2020, the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation, or Misk, announced a strategic investment of around SR813 million ($217 million) to acquire a 33.3 percent stake in Japanese gaming Company SNK Corporation. Two months ago, the foundation increased its share to 96 percent, reported Verge, a technology news platform.

The industry is already buzzing with activity. Last February, the PIF disclosed stakes of more than 5 percent in two Japan-listed gaming firms, namely Capcom Co. and Nexon Co., with combined holdings worth around $1.2 billion, Bloomberg reported.

The public fund also purchased a 5.02 percent stake of $883 million in Nexon, the company behind role-playing games like MapleStory and Dungeon&Fighter, Bloomberg added.

According to US-Saudi Business Council, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, or MCIT, is also adding fillip to the private-public partnerships and infrastructure investments. The ministry has been deeply involved in developing the Kingdom’s telecommunications and IT infrastructure, including broadband, fiber optics, and 5G.

“With MCIT’s assistance, US-based Activision Blizzard announced a partnership with Saudi Telecom Company to host the regional servers for one of their most popular titles, Call of Duty, in Saudi Arabia,” said the industry body in its recent paper on Gaming and E-sports in Saudi Arabia.

Going nifty with NFTs

What’s more? Many gaming publishers in Saudi Arabia are boarding the NFT bandwagon. What does that mean? NFT is a certificate of ownership of a digital asset that’s scarce. You own a certified token for it on a digital ledger or blockchain. Simply put, you get a link that proves your connection to that asset.

For instance, a game developer like Activision’s Call of Duty could introduce its popular emblems as NFTs, which could be used as your profile picture for your social media accounts. The company could sell weapon camouflage, operator outfits, and other in-game paraphernalia, a massive draw in Call of Duty fandom.

Game developers in Saudi Arabia want to capitalize on this fandom. Tamatem’s Hammo will soon be announcing its NFT project, and so will others, including Riyadh-based UMX Studio.

“In the future, players can make revenues based on reselling those items using the blockchain,” said Ali Al-Harbi, founder and CEO of UMX Studio, a game developer who has already started auctions at his games where players can trade stuff. It is a precursor to the outbreak of new opportunities on the blockchain.

Publishers of the popular drag-race game Climbing Sand Dune and police-chase game King of The Steering, the studio has 200,000 daily active users and has clocked 50 million downloads. Starting in 2014 with around $4,000 in the kitty, Al-Harbi made headway pretty much on his terms. His first game fetched him $200,000 in the first few years of its inception.

Al-Harbi has never felt the need for external investors or funding. He makes his money from in-app services, online subscriptions and advertisements. His mantra of success: He listens to his players. “We continue to grow to the next level only because we listen to our audience. We will soon be releasing a lighter version of the game on their demand.”

The opportunity for gaming developers to grow is endless, thanks to the toys at their disposal and the state support. But what will make the Saudi gaming industry tower over the rest in the room is when it listens to the customer and builds a unified narrative celebrating the Arab culture. After all, success in the gaming business isn’t about making money; it’s about building visibility and soft power.


Alibaba beats revenue estimates as lockdowns spur online demand

Alibaba beats revenue estimates as lockdowns spur online demand
Updated 8 sec ago

Alibaba beats revenue estimates as lockdowns spur online demand

Alibaba beats revenue estimates as lockdowns spur online demand

China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. on Thursday beat market expectations for fourth-quarter revenue, powered by demand for its ecommerce and cloud services as lockdowns in the country’s biggest cities forced offices to shift to remote work.

US-listed Alibaba shares, which have lost roughly a third of their value so far this year, were up about 2 percent in premarket trading.

The e-commerce giant’s strong results come as Beijing extends support to its tech companies to avoid a hit from new COVID-19 outbreaks.

Demand for online services ranging from shopping to cloud-based products has skyrocketed in China as strict lockdowns prompt people to work, shop and keep themselves entertained from homes.

Overall, revenue rose 9 percent to 204.05 billion yuan ($30.35 billion) in the quarter.

Revenue in the cloud computing division rose 12 percent to 18.97 billion yuan in the reported quarter.

At the core commerce unit, its largest, revenue rose 8 percent to 140.33 billion yuan.

Analysts on average had expected revenue of 199.25 billion yuan, according to Refinitiv data.


Kremlin says West is to blame for Ukraine grain crisis

Kremlin says West is to blame for Ukraine grain crisis
Updated 6 min 6 sec ago

Kremlin says West is to blame for Ukraine grain crisis

Kremlin says West is to blame for Ukraine grain crisis
  • The Kremlin says Ukraine had made commercial shipping impossible by mining its waters

LONDON: The Kremlin on Thursday said the West only had itself to blame for a brewing food crisis due to problems getting Ukraine’s grain out to world markets, demanding the United States and its allies scrap what it cast as illegal sanctions.

Besides the death and devastation sown by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war and the West’s attempt to isolate Russia as punishment have sent the price of grain, cooking oil, fertilizer and energy soaring, hurting global growth.

The United Nations, which says a global food crisis is deepening, is trying to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports though Western leaders have blamed Russia for holding the world to ransom by blockading Ukrainian ports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected those accusations and said the West was to blame for the situation.

“We categorically reject these accusations and, on the contrary, accuse Western countries that they have taken a number of illegal actions that led to this,” Peskov told reporters.

“They (the West) must cancel those illegal decisions that prevent the chartering of ships, that prevent the export of grain, and so on” so that supplies can resume, Peskov said.

Russia has captured some of Ukraine’s biggest seaports and its navy controls major transport routes in the Black Sea, where extensive mining has made commercial shipping dangerous.

Sanctions have also made it hard for Russian exporters to access vessels to move commodities to global markets.

Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies.

Chicago wheat futures hit a record price in March on supply concerns, and are still up by 30 percent since Feb. 24.

Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus — which has backed Moscow in the war and is also under sanctions — account for over 40 percent of global exports of the crop nutrient potash.

Time is running out to get some 22 million tons of grain out of Ukraine ahead of the new harvest as Russia continues to blockade the country’s Black Sea ports, Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniia Kravchuk said on Wednesday.

“We have about maybe a month and a half before we start to collect the new harvest,” she told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, adding there was not sufficient space to store the fresh harvest.

Ukraine has lost the ports of Kherson and Mariupol to Russian occupation, and fears Russia may try to seize a third, Odesa.

The Kremlin says Ukraine had made commercial shipping impossible by mining its waters.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is among those who have accused Moscow of using food exports as a weapon, while Kyiv has said Russia has stolen hundreds of thousands of tons of grain in areas their forces have occupied.
“Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom, and he is essentially weaponizing hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said during a visit to Bosnia on Thursday.


UAE Wrap — Dubai issues eight new customs policies and announces DubaiPay as a new payment method

UAE Wrap — Dubai issues eight new customs policies and announces DubaiPay as a new payment method
Updated 20 min 53 sec ago

UAE Wrap — Dubai issues eight new customs policies and announces DubaiPay as a new payment method

UAE Wrap — Dubai issues eight new customs policies and announces DubaiPay as a new payment method

Dubai issues eight new customs policies and announces DubaiPay as a new payment method : UAE Wrap 

Eight new customs policies issued

Dubai Customs has issued eight new policies, in order to secure the flow of trade and facilitate the flow of goods and shipments to commercial markets without delay, according to a statement issued by the Dubai Media Office.

Over a period of time between January 2020 and April 2022, the Department of Tariff & Origin released eight major customs policies relating to passengers’ disclosures of currencies, negotiable financial instruments, precious metals and precious stones.

“These customs policies issued by the Tariff & Origin Department aim at the first place to facilitate trade by defining controls and procedures applied at Dubai Customs to implement customs measures related to trade agreements with member states that have agreements with the GCC countries,” said Ahmed Al-Khrousi, Director of Tariff & Origin Department in a statement.

The customs policies issued during this period dealt with enabling a country’s free trade agreements with other countries and determining the origin of its products for the purposes of applying non-preferential and preferential treatment to the originating products.

Additionally, the department established a customs policy which governs exchange conditions and controls for trade, as well as an Arab free trade zone, to facilitate the implementation of this agreement.

Furthermore, the organization released a customs policy on the conditions and controls for applying the Free Trade Agreement to the countries of the European Free Trade Association.

Additionally, the policies described the procedures for applying the TIR Carnet, which outlines how to deal with land-transported trade following TIR arrangements.

The TIR Carnet allows road transport of goods in transit between countries that are members of the TIR Convention without the payment of duties and taxes. 

Dubai announces DubaiPay as a new payment method for Al Ansari Exchange

DubaiPay’s payment services will be made available to Al Ansari Exchange users through its partnership with the Government of Dubai, represented by the Department of Finance (DoF) and Dubai Smart Government Establishment (DSG), according to a statement issued by the Dubai Media Office.

The agreement was signed by Wesam Al Abbas Lootah, CEO of DSG, Jamal Hamed Al Marri, executive director of Central Accounts at DoF, and Rashed A. Al Ansari, CEO of Al Ansari Exchange, at the headquarters of Digital Dubai.

Al Ansari Exchange, one of DubaiPay’s first private companies, will become one of the company’s service providers. DubaiPay is now available on Al Ansari Exchange’s mobile app as an alternative payment method.


Saudi Power Procurement Co. receives A1 rating from Moody's

Saudi Power Procurement Co. receives A1 rating from Moody's
Updated 35 min 53 sec ago

Saudi Power Procurement Co. receives A1 rating from Moody's

Saudi Power Procurement Co. receives A1 rating from Moody's

RIYADH: Saudi Power Procurement Co., the sole licensed principal buyer of electricity in Saudi Arabia, received an A1 rating from Moody's Investors Service on May 23.

The rating reflects SPPC’s low-risk profile, the transparency of its regulatory framework, and its ability to maintain a good liquidity profile despite the high seasonality of working capital, it said.

"The A1 issuer rating and stable outlook assigned to SPPC are aligned with that of the Government of Saudi Arabia, because of the company's very close integration into the public sector, with a clear public policy mandate that aligns SPPC's interests and objectives with those of the government," Moody's lead analyst on SPPC, Paul Feghaly, said. 

 


BlackRock, Fidelity among bidders for UAE’s Borouge $2bn IPO: Bloomberg

BlackRock, Fidelity among bidders for UAE’s Borouge $2bn IPO: Bloomberg
Updated 40 min 34 sec ago

BlackRock, Fidelity among bidders for UAE’s Borouge $2bn IPO: Bloomberg

BlackRock, Fidelity among bidders for UAE’s Borouge $2bn IPO: Bloomberg

RIYADH: Borouge’s $2 billion initial public offering has drawn interest from big investors, including the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock Inc. and Fidelity.

The UAE-based firm received bids from the two international funds for the share sale that could value it at $20 billion at listing, Bloomberg reported citing unnamed sources.

Borouge had generated orders at 17 times the amount offered as of mid-day May 25, the third day of book-building, which will run until May 30, Bloomberg’s sources noted.

Other sources told Al Arabiya that the total requests reached 21 times coverage, representing almost $40 billion, by the end of the third day on May 25.

Borouge, which is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and Austria’s chemical producer Borealis, produces plastics used in a wide range of products.

Representatives for Adnoc and BlackRock declined to comment to Bloomberg on the news.