Arab countries: new Klondike for developers

  • Alconost blog ,
  • Game development ,
  • Localization of products ,
  • Monetizing games ,
  • Sales management

The Southeast Asian market is gradually becoming saturated, and large companies have turned their attention to the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region).

Why is the Arab market attractive?

  • It is one of the fastest growing gaming markets in the world ( 25% annual growth );
  • 22 countries with a population of over 400 million people;
  • The gaming market turnover in the MENA region reached $ 4.8 billion and accounts for 23% of the global games market;
  • and finally, the Arab region boasts one of the highest ARPU (average revenue per user) in the world at $ 181 (compare to $ 48 in China).

Surprisingly, only 1% of the content on the Internet is presented in Arabic, with 70% of the Middle East population choosing Arabic for their smartphone interface. It looks like Western developers and marketers are overlooking an important market.

According to Habib Chams , founder of Digital Games Conference Dubai, “If your game is translated into Arabic, it includes history references and dialogue in Arabic, it will take off like a rocket.”

At Nitro, a professional translation service , we spoke with Hadi Sharafeldin , a linguist and translator from English to Arabic, and asked Hadi about his experience in localizing games into Arabic and how to approach an Arab audience.

Although the focus of this article is on the gaming market, we hope that these insights will be useful to many companies considering entering the Middle East market.

We pass the microphone to our guest, Hadi Sharafeldin.

Should I choose Standard Arabic or one of the dialects?

I speak Egyptian Arabic, but when translating from English to Arabic I use Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), also called Fusha.

Standard Arabic can be considered the universal language in the Arab world. When you localize a product, you probably target all Arabic-speaking countries, right? Well, MSA – Modern Standard Arabic – serves exactly this purpose, so that all Arab users can understand localized content.

We use dialects in everyday spoken language, but MSA is generally preferred in books, online materials, and any other written material. However, dialects can be heard on radio and TV, since the programs are aimed at a specific audience in a particular country where one or another dialect is used.

Some people argue that MSA, also called Literary Arabic, sounds too dry and formal. But when I was involved in localizing Battlefield 4 to Arabic, we stuck to Standard Arabic. If Electronic Arts is using this option and their users are happy with it, why not follow suit?

Other large companies take this approach as well.“We are considering using dialects in our future games, but text localization will always be on MSA to make sure all of our Arabic-speaking players understand the content,” says Malek Teffaha from Ubisoft Middle East.

Regarding dialects, I will note that the Egyptian dialect is one of the most understandable for the Arabs. So if your game or application needs a more informal language, maybe even using slang, you can use Egyptian Arabic – as Sony did in their game Detroit: Become Human .

Square Enix released the title Just Cause 3with Lebanese voice acting, which turned out to be a good decision, and the Saudi Arabian and Gulf communities reacted very positively to the game. Arabic-speaking players noted that, despite some unaccustomedness of certain names, they understood the essence, and the Lebanese dialect blended well into funny gaming moments, says Malek Teffaha from Ubisoft , who is already familiar to us.

However, opting for a dialect may be the wrong move. When Ubisoft announced that The Division 2 would be voiced in Syriac, gamers did not approve of this decision, and the publisher had to return to the voice acting in standard Arabic.

To summarize:You can experiment with different dialects, but you need to be careful so that players don’t get unhappy. And of course, the interface and subtitles must always be in standard Arabic – MSA so that all Arabic players can understand the texts.

Is Google Translate really bad for Arabic translations?

While Google Translate does a pretty good job with general topics, it can let you down in both idioms and individual words which means “discounts.” So: Google Translate thinks that it translates “downloads” because machine translation can’t figure out the context.

And here is another funny translation error that I encountered in my work: “later alligator” (joking “See you!”, Literally “later, crocodile!” !

Texts for games, websites and marketing materials cannot be translated well with Google Translate. Such texts should sound authentic, and marketing texts should be catchy and memorable. Only a human translation can cope with such a task.

Arabic is a very rich language. In a source text in another language, the same word or phrase may be repeated many times, but in Arabic you can find many equivalents for this word. And then it will seem to your potential Arab clients and users that this text was sharpened specifically for them, which will increase their confidence in your product.

Successful Marketing in Arabic

The first difficulty in translation is to creatively convey the meaning, and the second difficulty is to preserve the message that was laid down in the original. For example, Domino Pizza’s slogan is “Happiness is just a bite away” (literally “Happiness is just a piece away from you”). The translators have kept the original message, but adapted it to the Arabic mentality: “The taste will tell you” (literally “Taste will tell you”, but in terms of meaning – “Try it and you yourself will understand everything”).

In English and other languages, you can start a sentence with introductory information, and indicate the main idea. But in Arabic, you have to start with the main idea to highlight it for the reader.

We Arabs don’t like to wade through convoluted sentences. Therefore, linguists need to ensure that sentences are short and understandable when translated into Arabic. For this purpose, we often use the imperative mood.

Good marketing in Arabic makes references to things that will touch our hearts. An excellent example of successful localization from Vodafone: their slogan “Power to you” which means “The power is in your hands, you are the one who owns that power”.

If there are images of people in ad campaigns or screenshots in the App Store or Google Play, replace people of typical Western appearance with those with whom the Arab audience can identify themselves. Like people in any other country, Arab users want to see personalized ads, and “universal” ads leave them indifferent.

Nitro comment: Our client Wachanga , a family development platform, takes this approach for their applications. Check out the pictures for their Clover female cycle tracker :

Other changes that the designers at Wachanga have made for an Arab audience are to cover up a naked pregnant tummy in the pregnancy app and include “laying down the baby prayer” in the Arabic version of the newborn care app. Read this article to learn more about Wachanga ‘s approach to different countries and cultures .

Game localization and Arab gamers

Arabs are avid gamers, which is not surprising given that 50% of the population is under 30. Almost 90% of smartphone owners in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt play mobile games.

Such an audience is a tidbit for developers, isn’t it? However, not many companies care about localizing their games and applications into Arabic. One of the few large companies that has published many games in Arabic is Ubisoft. Interestingly, this company is present on all social networks in Arabic and localizes every trailer for every game in Arabic, and some of the trailers are even voiced in Arabic.

Another such company is CD Projekt. When asked what prompted them to localize The Witcher 3in Arabic (the world of The Witcher breaks many taboos of the Arab world!), they replied: “This is a logical step. We wanted to grow and expand our audience. And since the story and plot are very important in our game, without localization in Arabic, many players would simply be left behind due to their poor knowledge of English. “

I was fortunate enough to be one of the translators for the wonderful Battlefield 4 game . This game immerses the player in the atmosphere of real battles, and makes it possible to feel the experience and emotions of the soldiers. As localizers, we needed to convey the appropriate atmosphere through the text and at the same time make the text understandable for players of all ages.

One of the difficulties was the translation of curses. For Arab users, such words must be softened so that they do not run counter to our culture and religion. For example, we don’t use swear words like “f ** k” and translate them as “damn!”

In game texts, there is usually a lot of colloquial speech and slang, and again, machine translation is not able to convey the subtleties of such speech. To convey the meaning correctly, you need the skills and experience of a human translator.

Names and titles: translate or transliterate?

Usually the name of the game is left in English. But this can change depending on the game. Here’s an interesting example: when the Arabic version of Assassin’s Creed was released , the localizers chose the transliteration of the word “assassin”, because the translation of this word would give the whole game a pronounced negative connotation (after all, assassins-assassins are actually heroes in the game).

In Battlefield 4 , which I worked on as a translator, I had to decide what to do with the names of the weapons and modes . As a result, we left these names in English, since they have no Arabic equivalents and they are known to the players by their English names.

Names of peopledo not translate into Arabic. They can be translated or left in English. I prefer to transliterate and quote them.

In this case, you need to follow accepted transliteration standards, which include the use of long vowels instead of diacritics. For example, the names “Roberto” and “Alexander”

Why translate into Arabic if Arabs know English?

Arabs know English quite well and can express their thoughts in English, although they cannot boast of fluent speech. But here’s what is important to understand: Arabs love and value their native language very much, since it is the language of the Koran, our holy book. Therefore, we prefer to use products and services in our native language.

Keep in mind that over 70% of the population of Arab countries installs Arabic as the interface language on their smartphones. If you reach out to your Arabic audience in a language they understand, constantly use, and admire, your chances of success will be much higher.

Another good reason to localize your product / site: the original English text can be rude and even offensivewithout cultural adaptation. For example, in one of the games, the name of the character coincided with the name of the prophet’s wife, and, of course, this sounded completely unacceptable to the Arabs, and the name had to be changed.

Let’s talk in more detail about what is acceptable in Arab culture and what should be avoided.

How to adapt games and ads to the Arab culture?

Localizing games and advertisements into Arabic presents some technical and cultural challenges.

In the West, it is considered normal to include provocative sex scenes, mentions of alcohol, drugs, swearing, religious references in an advertisement for the sake of increasing sales or humorous effect. However, the Arabs see nothing amusing or attractive in this: on the contrary, they will find such references outrageous.

In some cases, you will only need to correct the text (with the help of professional translators), but in other cases you will have to change images and replace entire scenes that look inappropriate from the point of view of Arab culture.

The Witcher 3 gamecollected almost all the taboos that are possible: nudity, alcohol, deities and mystical creatures. The creators of the game had to make significant changes to the Arabic version in order to get clearance from the Media Council – a commission that checks all new games for violations of the values ​​of the Arab world and bans those games that violate them.

In one of the first scenes in the game, Yennefer appears nude, but for the Arabic version, the CD Projekt team had to dress her up. They also had to replace the word “god (s)” with more abstract concepts such as “universe”, “fate” throughout the game.

Any supernatural, mystical creatures (witches, vampires, etc.) are also banned. An interesting detail: you need to be careful with the words “create / create” and “greatest”, because in Arabic these words are used in relation to God.

The mobile games appropriate step would be to congratulate the Arab players and offer them themed quests or offers to great Islamic holiday of Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (also known as Eid). This is the golden age when spending in games skyrockets, because during these holidays people have nothing to do (shortened work days, summer vacations), and they play games all day long.

The Arabs respect these holidays very much, and even if you just write “Generous Ramadan! your Arabic users will appreciate it.

Look, what event was invented in PUBG Mobile for Ramadan: they brought rewards for daily entrance to the game throughout the Ramadan (which lasts about a month, as we were told in the article ” How to convert holidays in profit for the developer and the joy for the players ‘)

If your mobile game has any special weekend events scheduled, keep in mind that in many countries in the Middle East, weekends are Friday and Saturday rather than your usual Saturday and Sunday.

Drawing conclusions

Should you bet on Arabic-speaking countries? Definitely worth it!

The MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is home to the world’s most active gaming community. By 2022, the mobile games market in Arabic-speaking countries will reach $ 2.3 billion .

Arab gamers are known for their frantic spending on games, and countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates boast the highest average gaming check in the world!

But quality games and content in Arabic are still lacking. Some big companies like Ubisoft and Blizzard have already appreciated the opportunities in the Arab market and are not going to miss this chance.

You can also have time to localize the gameor other content in Arabic, until other companies flooded the market, as is beginning to happen in Southeast Asia. And if you think profit only shines for big companies, take a look at the indie studio Duck Rockets case study . Iranian users are the most active in their game and hold the best retention rates.

Translate into Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) so all MENA players can appreciate your localized version. You can experiment with dialects, but only for voice acting.

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