DUBAI // A fantasy video game scheduled to hit the shelves next month may feature a typical cast of wizards, warriors and knights but it comes with a twist – it will be primarily in Arabic.
Developers are already predicting a rush for a collectors' edition of the popular online game Runes of Might, which will be available at major retailers in the Emirates from November 20.
The launch will put a successful end to a quest by a small number of staff at the Dubai-based Tahadi Games, who have been translating both language and content to match the needs of a growing base of hardcore regional gamers.
"Kids can either play English-language games, with half-naked characters and lots of blood and violence, or they can subscribe to something that everyone is more comfortable with," said Steve Tsao, the Tahadi chief executive.
"That's the option we are giving people."
The game was first launched in a mostly English version online in October last year. However, more people have flocked over from more popular pastimes such as World of Warcraft as the level of Arabic content has risen. The average number of users at any one time has doubled from about 1,500 six months ago.
"We are seeing an increase in users of about 50 per cent month on month," Mr Tsao said. "The growth is accelerating as the quality of the Arabic is getting better."
The shift towards Arabic gaming is part of a trend across the region, and has led the digital content firm SyndiGate Middle East to evaluate the possibility of translating popular games into Arabic, said Mark Gatty Saunt, the Dubai-based company director.
However, the task of translating a game as advanced as Runes of Might is no mean feat. Just 30 per cent of the game has been translated to date by a team of 12 linguists in Dubai, Cairo and Oman. Mr Tsao said that there was a vast quantity of material to work on.
"The game right now is not perfect, but it's good enough for a certain segment that didn't have a choice before," he said. "As it gets better the segment opens up even wider."
The boxed retail version, which is similar to the free-to-play online version, offers players skills and characters, which can only be accessed through buying a hard copy of the game.
So seriously do players take those skills, be they magic powers or new weapons, that Tahadi has no concern that gamers will baulk at the Dh160 cover price for an upgraded version, the company's marketing manager Faysal Henedi said.
A high-powered in-game character was sold for Dh1,800 two weeks ago by a youngster in Cairo to a player in Saudi Arabia.
Among the game's most die-hard fans are a group in Al Ain who meet regularly at the Warrior Cafe to socialise and play. Derek Santos, an assistant at the internet cafe, said six or seven people play every day from 6pm to midnight.
"I think it is a good thing that games are now being translated into Arabic because the language is widely used in this country," said Abdullah Al Nuami, a 27-year-old Emirati, who leads a team of Al Ain gamers. "Although we can speak English some phrases can be a little hard to understand. Now it is much easier to follow."
* With additional reporting by Bana Qabbani