UAE malls look to gaming zones to attract visitors

According to data and research company Statista, revenue in the video games segment is expected to reach $306.10 million this year. It is expected to grow at a 5.04 per cent annual rate (CAGR 2023-2027), resulting in a market volume of US$372.60 million by 2027.

Meanwhile, a report by consultancy firm Redseer had earlier said that the size of the Middle East and North Africa gaming market is projected to increase 19 per cent to more than $5 billion by 2025, from 2019. With this untapped potential, malls in the country are rushing to add gaming zones as major attractions, looking to hone in on the four-and-a-half million users that are predicted to be part of this industry in the UAE by 2027.

For example, just last December, Circle Mall in Dubai’s Jumeirah Village Circle gave incentives to attract shoppers to participate in its gaming zone. Shoppers could spend AED 150 at the mall, and shoppers get to play online football tournaments for free.

“Malls are betting that gamers in the UAE are ready play and compete out in public,” said a retail sector analyst to Gulf News. “Most of these dedicated players are typically confined to the privacy of their rooms when testing out their skills with the best in the gaming universe. Malls believe with the right atmosphere and all the latest tech and devices, these gamers can be persuaded to play in the open. If malls make that happen, they get a captive audience and best use of the dedicated gaming zones.”

Al Zahia City Centre – Majid Al Futtaim’s latest mall in Sharjah – features stores like Yalla Fun that not only sell but also allow shoppers to play these games in-store.

The 4,500 square metre ‘Pixoul Gaming’ hub at Al Qana, Abu Dhabi’s sparkling new leisure and entertainment destination, has been open since late October. Aldar, the master developer, recently formed a partnership with Nigma Galaxy, an esports entity, for a dedicated training facility at Yas Mall. In addition, Aldar plans to construct gaming zones in its residential communities.

Meanwhile, the gaming sector is no more limited to children and teenagers in the country. “Gamer demographics are also expanding, to include the 35-40 age bracket and more women gamers than before,” said Jobin Joejoe, Deputy Managing Director for Sony Middle East and Africa to Gulf News. “The GCC is growing faster than the rest of the region, especially in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Apart from this, the gaming industry has picked up pace since the Covid-19 induced pandemic, after witnessing a decline in 2022. “After several years of growth, the UAE gaming PC market is expected to post a decline in 2022 of around nine per cent,” Fouad Charakla, Associate Research Director, Client Devices (META), at tech firm IDC told Gulf News. However, he added that his company expects to see a six per cent growth in the industry in 2023.

Meanwhile, the gaming industry in the Middle East is also providing employment opportunities for young people, where Youtubers are earning money through playing video games online. Born and raised in the UAE 25-year-old Bashar Mohammed Khair Al Kayal earns an average of $15,000-$20,000 from ads and sponsorship deals in the gaming ecosystem, according to a Gulf News report. His YouTube channel has 1.41 million subscribers. In Saudi Arabia, the e-sports market in Saudi Arabia will grow by 250 per cent in the next eight years, according to the same report.

But for malls, the challenge remains that gaming equipment is expensive, and needs constant upgrading. “Gaming in malls is still relatively new and such places remove the need to buy equipment which can get expensive quickly with the frequent upgrades,” Sandeep Ganediwalla, regional Partner at Redseer told Gulf News. “So, an infrequent player will find these mega-malls attractive. Especially as it can become part of family-time, where there is something for everyone in the mall.”

However, if malls want to attract more dedicated gamers, they must get those updates and the latest in gaming gear as soon as possible. “It will not be like the equipment at family entertainment zones in malls, which can last for years…gaming is a whole new experience – and these guys want cutting-edge at all times,” the retail analyst concluded.