The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region spans over 16 countries and around 400 million people – all with a common culture, media and language (Arabic). 60% of the population is under the age of 25. The region can be split between affluent and fast-growing markets like Saudi Arabia (SA) and the United Arab Emirates (AE), and countries with a large user base and early stage monetisation such as Egypt (EG) and Iraq (IQ).
1 Popular game and app categories
The region’s top categories are strategy, action, RPG (role-playing games) and casual.
Strategy: This is the top-grossing genre in MENA and one that’s seen the biggest investment by global developers. Most of the big strategy games are also localised to Arabic.
Action: These games experienced strong growth in 2018 – and with the genre always evolving, are unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
RPG: To date, growth in this high-potential genre has been limited by device and storage requirements, and a lack of high-quality app localisation.
Casual: This is the region’s top-performing genre by number of downloads, and a frontrunner in terms of spend. Typically, most casual games aren’t localised.
Top-performing genres in the region include media and entertainment, social and communication, shopping and photography. In recent years, app subscriptions have grown in popularity due to the increase in music streaming services. The region has also witnessed a surge in tech startups offering goods delivery services.
While some MENA regions (particularly Saudi Arabia) have a strong representation of high-value users, developers should also cater to mass user bases (in Egypt, for example) with a low ability or willingness to pay. Both the SAR (Saudi Riyal) and AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) are pegged to the dollar, and sub-dollar pricing is also available in Saudia Arabia and Egypt.
Mobile app subscription model
Monthly renewals are the most popular type with developers offering incentives to upgrade to annual. There is significant reliance on carrier billing among users (with several on prepaid plans) – so it’s essential to have an ‘account hold’ and/or a grace period implemented.
3 Device optimisation
Device types vary by country. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (SA/AE/KW/QA/BH/OM) devices tend to be dominated by either high-end or low-end models, rather than mid-range ones. While demand is high for the latest top-spec devices in the GCC, this is balanced by a large blue-collar population seeking lower spec products. Outside the GCC, devices are mostly mid-end or low-end. As such, in-app data usage and APK (Android Package Kit) size should be minimised, and developers should also allow for reduced performance.
For more details on how to reduce your app’s APK size click here.
A mix of translation and transliteration could be more beneficial when it comes to making a decision between whether to transliterate or translate your Arabic text.
For example “Dead Warfare: Zombie Shooting” would be very awkward if it was directly translated to “حرب الموت: إطلاق النار على الأحياء الأموات “ (translates to: “War of Death: Shooting the Living Dead”) instead it would be much more relevant to the game’s title if it was changed to “حرب الموتى: قتل الزومبي” which translates to “The war of the dead: killing zombies”. “Zombies” was transliterated instead of translated to “الأحياء الأموات” since Zombie is a very common word now in the MENA region due to the huge adoption of Zombie themed TV shows.
Bear in mind though, while transliterating commonly-used words in the region can work well, it can occasionally be confusing. For example, the transliteration of “Dead Warfare: Zombie Shooting” is “ديد وارفار غيبوبة”, which makes no sense in Arabic.
To ensure your app or game is localised correctly and makes sense to regional users, we recommend hiring a native Arabic translator.
5 Font, layout and user interface
Although people across MENA all speak different variations of Arabic, formal Arabic is understood by everyone. Many users also understand basic English terms like “Start”, ”Play” and “Continue”, but this drops away as more complex phrases are used. The majority of users are familiar English numbers, so these don’t need to be translated.
Arabic text flows right to left. For example, ”مازن" is read from right to left, but if the incorrect Arabic formatting was used the word would appear as “نزام”. To form meaningful words, letters should also be joined where required. For example, “م ا ز ن ” should be written ”مازن", otherwise the letters are read individually and the text doesn’t make sense.
Example: Arabic text not following the correct formatting. In the image below, the text is written from left to right, which doesn’t make any sense in Arabic.
User interface and layout
Arabic words and phrases tend to be longer than English, so always be aware that your translated text might not fit. You may have to be creative and come up with contextually-relevant alternative translations.
Example: Arabic text overflowing and not fitting the UI.
While countries in MENA all share the same language and mostly follow the same religion, their complex mix of cultures means they actually vary significantly. As such, it can be challenging for developers to know what will work well, and be accepted, across all user bases.
While official Arabic works well for navigational purposes, using Arabic slang in your UI and promotional material will also help your product feel more relevant to users in the region. Arabic slang is prevalent within the entertainment sector and understood by most people – especially in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon where its use is commonplace.
Along with the usual global holidays, the MENA region also celebrates Ramadan, Eid Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha and Coptic Christmas. Consider running special campaigns and offers around these times to generate more interest and downloads.
You should remember that while some countries such as the UAE or Lebanon are multilingual, most others have a strong preference for Arabic. It is therefore important that you localize your communications and assets to Arabic.
7 Mobile app user acquisition strategy
Whichever channels you rely on to acquire more users, you should also focus on building a community around your app or game. Given the social nature of the region, word-of-mouth and referrals continue to be strong drivers of adoption.
‘Featuring’ is available in MENA, but achieving a top 5 spot in Google Play’s ‘New + Updated’ section requires Arabic localisation. In Saudi Arabia, the ‘Highlights row’ can also be used – with in-stream banners available in the rest of the region.