All week long here at LOGNET, we will be honoring the 20th anniversary of the Xbox platform. Each day you can look forward to a piece from the team highlighting a key moment in time for Xbox. LOGNET Assistant Editor in Chief, Mahmood Ghaffar, tells us about Xbox in the Middle East.
First Come, First Serve
First impressions go a long way in the Middle East. In general, whatever product gets released here first will generally leave a lasting positive impression. That is why Pepsi is huge in the Middle East and why PlayStation reigns supreme in the region.
Despite what Sony President and CEO Jim Ryan says, the Middle East has a long history of gaming before the release of the PlayStation in the 1990s. Though, Sony’s console has developed a strong base in the region because of good marketing, distribution, and localization efforts. But getting back at the point here. First impressions are key and the Xbox fumbled hard when it was released back in the region back in 2001.
The biggest issue Microsoft’s new system at the time faced was a lack of clarity from distributors. There were local and regional agents to distribute Microsoft goods and services. Most notably, Windows and Microsoft Office products. When the OG Xbox came out, none of these suppliers carried it. Even though they could because they were authorized, regional distributors. But because they never dealt with video game consoles or probably even knew they could carry it, 3rd parties instead decided to stock up on them. This caused another set of problems.
In the Middle East, third-party stores are notorious for inflated prices. We discussed this extensively in our previous how consoles launch in the Middle East write-up. Despite this, it was difficult for Xbox to move systems. This is because there was hardly any localization, distribution and marketing efforts back them. It’s improved over time, but more could be done. Regardless of the inept presence, there were some strong aspects that attracted Middle Eastern gamers to Xbox.
The Forza is Strong With This One
By far the strongest pull Xbox has in the Middle East is the Forza series. For a region of motorheads, Forza manages to have a strong word of mouth effect, despite Xbox’s lack of overall mind share. In fact, it’s common for people to pick up Xbox consoles for the sole reason of playing Forza games in this region. Regardless, Turn 10 recognizes the region’s love of cars and aptly included the Middle East’s stamp in their games.
From the inclusion of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Formula 1 track in Forza Motorsport 6 to Dubai’s Circuit of the Emirates in Forza Motorsport 7, the region is now a part of Forza‘s legacy. Though as a Bahraini, I do hope the Bahrain International Circuit makes an appearance in Forza sometime in the future as well. So fingers crossed.
The Xbox Future in the Middle East is Bright
Despite its early setbacks, Xbox’s future in the Middle East is brighter than ever. In fact, the Xbox Series X was the fastest-selling console on Amazon for a bit in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE ahead of its November 2020 launch. Xbox Game Pass is slowly making its way around in the region. In fact, many big electronics stores are selling prepaid Xbox Game Pass Ultimate memberships.
I have to say, when I booted up Back 4 Blood via Game Pass and was quickly paired with other Arabs in the region in multiplayer matches shows that the service is being adopted. Though, again I still have to emphasize that there still is some more to be done when it comes to marketing, localization. Especially, it is important to expand digital storefronts in more countries in the region.
It would be nice to have more local digital storefronts in the Middle East. Currently, there are only 4 officially supported countries in the Middle East, which is disappointing, to say the least. However, I appreciate the complexities when it comes to opening and operating a new digital storefront presents. Despite this, the rise of PC gaming in the region will also suit Xbox nicely. Which goes to show that the platform is much more enduring than the console itself. Now, people can just buy Forza and change their horn to DOOM music directly from different PC storefronts instead of buying the console for only one franchise.
It’s safe to say that Xbox’s future is bright in the region. Though it might not come solely through the consoles, the burgeoning PC gaming adoption in the region presents an opportunity for Xbox. Both as an ecosystem and Xbox Game Pass in particular. Here’s to another 20 years of Xbox.