“The Middle East, Africa, and Turkey present a veritable and rich tapestry of countries [and] cultures,” Tpay Mobile vice president of gaming and esports Onur Ergüney tells me. For those unacquainted with Tpay, it’s a company that provides mobile wallets in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “The MEA [Middle East and Africa] region has limited access to traditional banking infrastructure, with 63 percent of the adult population unbanked. While this is common in emerging markets, it does mean that traditional transactions based on credit and debit cards are not a realistic prospect for many gamers.”
While many of us in the West wait for PS5s to come back in stock, other regions are tapping into mobile gaming for the first time. It can be easy to get caught up in silly ‘console wars’ and ignore the fact that the video game industry is booming all over the world in many different forms. Thanks to the rising affordability and accessibility of smartphones, Turkey and the MEA region – with a combined population of over 1.6 billion – make an attractive market for mobile game developers. Current predictions suggest there will be over 700 million mobile internet users there in the next few years.
“The mobile gaming market alone [was] worth over $77 billion in 2020,” Ergüney says. “Because of the accessibility, consumers are able to easily buy games or spend money on microtransactions and DLC within a game. In the MEA for instance, mobile playing is the primary form of gaming, not least because the ownership of smartphones has been growing rapidly in recent years, but so has the coverage offered by mobile providers. These two factors have opened up the prospect of enjoying mobile games for the first time to millions of people in African and Middle Eastern countries.”
Next time someone attempts to say mobile gaming isn’t real gaming, just hit them with those figures. However, one big barrier to mobile gaming still remains: these regions don’t have the same access to traditional banks found in other parts of the world. Ergüney tells me that Tpay uses direct wallet billing to help mobile gamers pay for games and in-app purchases more easily. No bank account is needed, meaning more people can access mobile gaming.
“By ensuring that Tpay Mobile continues to test the game with all groups the game is designed for to understand the user experience for the payment flow and localisation,” he says. This focus on localisation shows that he understands Africa and the Middle East are not singular entities, but regions containing many diverse cultures.
There are several top-up methods available and kiosks you can deposit cash in, as well as family members and friends paying directly into each others’ wallets. That Tpay needs to exist highlights the gulf in accessibility many of us in the West take for granted. Not being able to just use a debit card or PayPal to add funds to your PSN wallet or pay for your Game Pass subscription every month would seriously hinder many gamers. Even buying a game on your phone while you’re waiting for a bus is something we do without thinking about.
Even though more access to gaming is a good thing, technological advances can often come with downsides. Data tracking is a big one. “Game systems can exploit behavioural tracking data to optimise purchasing offers and lack basic consumer guarantees and protections,” Ergüney explains. “To protect our customers from predatory industry practices, we have a dedicated compliance team…We take the necessary steps to ensure that customers’ data is not at risk.
“We protect our users from fraudulent practices by using a three-dimensional control system,” says Ergüney. “We host all the payment and subscription pages to monitor the traffic and to detect the ‘manipulated’ traffic. In addition to this, we work with third-party monitoring companies in order to detect any fraudulent marketing activity by advertisers, affiliates, [or] publishers.”
Watch clips of congress questioning Mark Zuckerberg and you’ll realise that technology is far outpacing the legislation and infrastructure needed to govern and effectively utilise it. Traditional banking options being unable to keep up with smartphone usage in the MEA is just one example of our rapidly expanding digital world.
A recent press event was just one more example of how video games consistently fail Arabs in terms of accurate representation.
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