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Saudi gaming company courts giants of Japan and South Korea

Savvy Games woman at computer Shutterstock
There are 288 million gamers in the wider Middle East and North Africa region, and Savvy wants to bring them local content
  • Savvy has $28bn from PIF to spend
  • Wants to bring big names to country
  • Claims 40% global market share

Japanese and South Korean gaming companies such as Nintendo and Kakao are being targeted by Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Games Group, which wants them to set up in the kingdom to make products aimed at local consumers.

Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy, told AGBI: “If locally made Arabic games tap into the ancient lore and history of the region, there is significant potential for growth in the kingdom.”

Savvy is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and still has $28 billion left of the $38 billion (SAR142 billion) it was given in 2022 by PIF to spend on esports and games ventures.

It recently met gaming companies in Japan and South Korea to identify areas for collaboration and encourage them to consider setting up Mena regional divisions in Saudi Arabia.

“We want to attract major publishers to create hubs in the kingdom,”
Ward said.

As well as Nintendo and Kakao Games, Japan and South Korea are home to others among the biggest gaming companies in the world, such as Capcom and NCSoft.

Savvy, founded in 2021, currently holds a 40 percent stake of the global esports market share, Ward claimed.

“We’ve already made significant investments,” he said, pointing to the ESL Faceit Group, acquired in January 2022, and Vindex, bought in March 2023.

Last year Savvy also acquired Scopely, a California-based mobile games company, for $5 billion. Scopely’s Monopoly GO mobile game generated $2 billion in revenue after more than 150 million downloads.

“These acquisitions, coupled with a 30 percent stake in VSPO, a Chinese esports player, further cement our position in the market,” Ward said.

He said he expected to see more mergers and acquisitions throughout this year, although he declined to provide specifics, other than “it will probably be through Scopely’s lens.”

The company’s plans not only cater to the Saudi gaming market – which market research firm Imarc Group expects will reach $1.28 billion by 2027 –but also taps into 288 million gamers in the wider Middle East and North Africa region.

It is exploring incubation and acceleration for local entrepreneurs who want to start gaming and esports companies in the kingdom.

Expanding portfolio

The group is also expanding its game development platform.

Steer Studios, formerly Savvy Games Studios, its in-house development team, made up of of both local and international talent, is negotiating the development of an AAA console title, although details remain secret.

“AAA” classifies video games that typically have higher development and marketing budgets than other tiers of games games and are generally produced or distributed by major publishers such as Activision Blizzard or Ubisoft.

However, Saudi Arabia has experienced a significant decline in foreign investments in gaming and esports, despite ambitious plans outlined in the country’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy.

“The geopolitical situation, such as the Russia-Ukraine war, hampers esports investment,” Ward told AGBI earlier this year.

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