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AMSTERDAM — The price of oil continues to drop, but Saudi Arabia still has cash to burn on mobile games.

Only around 30 million people live in Saudi Arabia, but that population generates approximately $350 million per year in revenues for mobile games, according to research firm Newzoo. Most of that comes from a class of megaspending men and women (commonly called “whales”) that don’t care if a game is localized as long as it’s trendy. To help further illustrate the habits of this audience, Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, cofounder of game localizer Gameguise, took the stage at the Casual Connect Europe last week for a lecture. He helped put this esoteric player base into context of the wider $30 billion mobile gaming sector.

“Saudi Arabia is very peculiar and random when it comes to its online habits,” said Bozorgzadeh. “It’s the second biggest market of Snapchat users in the world, and it has the highest ratio of views-per-user on YouTube.”

You get those kinds of behaviors because Saudi Arabia has so much money that it has never taxed its citizens (although that’s changing due to dropping oil prices). Despite not having any taxes, the country has free healthcare and education, and a huge portion of the population work in cushy jobs at Saudi Aramco, the government-controlled oil company. Saudi Aramco is one of the biggest privately owned corporations in the history of the world, and experts estimate it is worth more than Google and Apple combined.


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Naturally, that kind of lifestyle means people have free time to watch YouTube videos, make messages on Snapchat, and play mobile games.

“Saudi Arabia is ranked No. 27 in the world in terms of game revenues,” said Bozorgzadeh. “And Saudis like the typical top genres. They are interested in seeing what the top developers are releasing.”

Because Saudis, in general, have so much money and time, they have the resources to tune into global culture. This means the country is one of the easiest for foreign developers to enter, according to Bozorgzadeh.

“They want the best even if the game isn’t localized,” he said. “The audience there follows popular global trends. They want the Ferraris. You don’t have to chase them for their attention. Just keep building them Ferraris. You don’t need to focus on the market at all. You don’t need to go work with people in the region.”

And this is good news for developers because if you can get the attention of this market, they’re ready to spend their money.

“A whopping 42 percent of total Saudi gamers pay for in-app purchases,” said Bozorgzadeh. “And this is a proper whale’s den. Two-thirds pay less than $10 per month. That’s pretty normal. But 22 percent pay $10 to $50. And then 11 percent pay $50 to $100 per month. 4 percent pay $100 to $500. And a 1 percent killer whale group pay up to $1000 per month.”

With that kind of spending, many developers race to get onto the Middle East App Store and Google Play markets, but even that isn’t necessary.

“Half of Saudis are not using the Middle East app stores,” said Bozorgzadeh. “Half of those Saudi gamers do not want the sanitized experience. They want access to where the best games are.”

The Casual Connect organization paid for my trip to the event. Our coverage remains fair. 

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