Rampant piracy is the biggest threat to the US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) video game industry in the Middle East, according to industry executives. Michael Wombwell, the chief executive of Red Entertainment, one of the region's largest video game distributors, said that out of an estimated 600,000 copies of Fifa 2009, a popular football game in the Middle East market, only about 4,000 were sold by his company. The bulk of the rest were pirated, he said.
Mr Wombwell said about half of the computer games available in the UAE were pirated. He said that educating consumers as well as policing retailers that sold counterfeit copies with "deterrent penalties" would ensure compliance. "You must have someone put in jail. People don't realise the knock-on effect it [piracy] has on the economy," he said on the sidelines of the Gaming Alliance Middle East Show, which brings together members of the industry to co-ordinate strategy in the region.
The piracy rate on Sony's PlayStation 2 game console is estimated to be 95 per cent, said Tim Stokes, the sales and marketing director of the company's PlayStation division in the Gulf. However, industry players were optimistic about the market's prospects, sentiment that is boosted by growth figures that defy the economic recession. Between last year and this year, the Xbox 360 video game console experienced 100 per cent sales growth, reaching an estimated user base of about 2.7 million in the Middle East.
Gamer demographics were expanding as well, with women over 30 among the fastest growing groups in the region, said Aman Sangar, from Microsoft's Middle East entertainment and devices division. Distributors and console makers like Microsoft and Sony estimated the Middle East market, which is made up primarily of gamers from the GCC, is worth between $750 million and $1bn, the majority of which are hardware and accessory sales. The estimates do not include sales of hand-held devices, Nintendo's Wii game console and online game sales.