Video games featuring extreme violence, nudity or foul language will be edited for the Middle East market under a partnership between two regional companies.
The news comes after yesterday's release of the controversial Medal of Honor video game in North America. The title attracted criticism because in its multiplayer mode, it allowed gamers to fight as "the Taliban" in scenes set in Afghanistan. Electronic Arts, the publisher, has decided to drop the explicit reference for its release in the Middle East.
An initiative to "localise" international console games for the Arab world, formed through an alliance between the media firm Rubicon Group Holding and the Modern Electronics Company (MEC), which distributes Sony products in Saudi Arabia, could result in bans on video games being averted. Several video games have been outlawed in Middle East countries. For example, Mafia II, published for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC platforms, was recently banned by the UAE's National Media Council, according to press reports.
Other games deemed unsuitable in some Middle East countries include the zombie game Dead Rising 2 and titles from the Grand Theft Auto franchise.
But Rubicon plans to dub certain games in Arabic, as well as making alterations such as adding Arabian characters or removing certain scenes. "Those games that are extra-violent, or have sensitive issues for the region, will be edited for content," said Ghassan Ayoubi, the executive director of Rubicon Holding in the Gulf.
"It's not purely dubbing in Arabic, but eliminating things that may be inappropriate for the region. [It's] introducing one or two elements that will be specifically for the region - maybe introducing a new character.
"It's not censoring … it's tailoring or customising it for the market. It's not deviating from the game itself."
Rubicon will initially work on titles designed for the Sony PlayStation 3, focusing on existing titles. Later, it plans to work concurrently on games that are in development, Mr Ayoubi said. The company will work on "two to four games per year", he said.
Mr Ayoubi said FIFA Soccer 11 and the third instalment in the Uncharted series could be among the first games to be "Arabised and localised". There is "a big market here" for video games, he said, but regional distribution can be "difficult" because of cultural sensitivities. The global video game market was worth US$52.5 billion (Dh192.84bn) last year and is set to grow to $86.8bn by 2014, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Entertainment & Media Outlook.
In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the market was worth $18.1bn in 2008 - which is set to rise to $25.3bn by 2013. Mr Ayoubi said part of the purpose of editing games was "to take games and make them value-based; to make them entertaining but not necessarily insulting".
But he said some games would not be suited to the local market, edited or not. "There are titles that we wouldn't even choose to Arabise or localise, because they are off the chart, because they would need reinventing."
Rubicon also plans to develop its own computer games, based on Arabian stories and history, through the partnership with MEC. "We have a unique opportunity to tell stories based on our own culture and history. It's this idea that gives our partnership with Rubicon so much potential," said Bader al Swailem, the managing director of MEC.
"Between us and MEC we also have an agreement to make new IP-based games. We'll produce anywhere from one to two games a year," said Mr Ayoubi.
Rubicon is based in Amman, with subsidiaries in Los Angeles, Manila and Dubai. The company creates entertainment across television, film, mobile and web-based platforms. Its TV programmes include Tareq Wa Shireen, an Arabic animation series, and Ben & Izzy, a 3D animated comedy series broadcast internationally through the Cartoon Network.