Game Development in the UAE
Game Development in the United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates has emerged as a global gaming hub in recent years. It has attracted investments from companies such as Ubisoft, Disney, and Electronic Arts. But there are challenges that developers face in the UAE such as the high cost of living, lack of incentives for developers, and a dearth of skilled talent. The UAE’s game industry, which has expanded to around 100 companies, is set for an ambitious rollout of its first virtual reality (VR) arcade and will be the first to introduce a mixed digital-physical distribution platform that allows developers to create and test their products without having to invest in digital labs. The UAE’s gaming market is projected to grow to $1.6bn by 2020. It has been recognized globally as one of the best regions for game development.
How to Overcome these Challenges and Succeed as a Game Developer in the UAE?
There are many challenges that developers face when they want to succeed in Dubai. The UAE is known for being a hub for game development, growing in popularity and talent in the past few years. This has led to many companies setting up offices or headquarters inside the country, such as Red Spear Game Studios, but there are still many challenges that developers face. In order to understand the difficulties faced by developers and what can be done to make things easier, a good example to follow is Double Damage Games. They have been developing games for nearly 10 years and are known for their work on BioShock 2 and the Borderlands series. They recently announced the release of their newest game, Sea of Thieves. Before Double Damage Games can even consider developing games in Dubai, they needed to go through a process, as any other Game studio. The studio must first apply for their license and meet the requirements set forth by the government. This process can take anywhere from 6-12 months or more, depending on what is needed to be met. To apply for a license in Dubai, a company must have all of the following items in place:
1) A representative who has been licensed and is registered with the government. The representative must be available 24/7.
2) An office that is within Dubai’s jurisdiction. The office can be anywhere in Dubai, but it must be easily accessible to the government.
3) A working capital of at least Dhs60,000 (Approx $14,000 USD). This is only required if a license is needed.
4) A valid business plan with a projected profit of at least Dhs60,000 (Approx $14,000 USD) per month with a projected growth of at least 20% a year. This will also be required if a license is needed.
5) A detailed marketing plan with a start and end date for the project that will be submitted to the government for approval before moving forward with any other steps in the process.
6) Proof of production facility setup, including website addresses and contact information.
On the other hand, Abu Dhabi has introduced the twofour54 Media City and Gaming and eSports License. The twofour54 Media City was started in 2005 by Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi to uplift the UAE’s media industry. In 2007, the International Media Production Zone was opened, one of its first large tenants was the international headquarters of Sony Computer Entertainment. In 2008, the first popular sports event was held in the Media City, called the Emirates International Endurance Championship. The need for a physical location for competitive gaming and e-sports became apparent. In 2017, a gaming center opened and by 2019 plans are underway to open an eSports Arena. The Media City and Gaming License has helped launch new businesses. and built a strong cluster of media and technology businesses, which has the potential to grow at an exponential rate. The twofour54 Media City and Gaming and eSports License will be explored as a case study of successful entrepreneurship around the UAE.
So, after recognizing the potential of both these expanding sectors, twofour54 and the Media Zone Authority (MZA) decided to introduce new licenses for gaming freelancers and businesses. This meant that professionals in fields like game development, eSports, virtual and augmented reality, animation and web and app development were suddenly able to set up a business in Abu Dhabi more efficiently and smoothly than ever before in the country.
Since then, we’ve since seen countless SMEs and innovative brands go through us to get their trade license in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Twofour54 was the first free zone in the region to offer a dedicated e-sports license. This area is only going to continue to grow and grow and that more free zones across the globe will soon follow suit.
The UAE has some restrictions on the kind of content that is able to be produced. Below is a snapshot of the kinds of rules that apply:
- Media content, Videos, and pictures must not contain instigation about Islam; no criticism of rulers of Emirates; and no encouragement of the commission of sin or crimes, etc. Board Resolution No. 26 of 2017;
- The National Media Council provides ratings regarding video games. Gaming classifications go up to 21 years and those are games that contain references and depictions of nudity/sexual themes, references to gambling and direct use of alcohol/illegal drugs. Games that are more explicit may be banned;
- Anything that suggests dangerous or anti-social behavior, imitable acts (e.g., dangerous stunts, suicide or self-harm), instructional criminal behavior, offensive on-camera gestures (e.g., middle fingers, chin flick, clenched fist, forearm jerk, etc.) are ill-advised to say the least;
- Content is not allowed to promote alcohol. The Content Res states in Article 44(7) that “No advertisement on alcoholic drinks or prohibited drugs shall be allowed by any means directly or indirectly. drug abuse is not tolerated in the UAE however, depictions in foreign content are usually acceptable. It would be unacceptable to depict a local person partaking in such activities, even in fictional accounts.