Internet Usage, IT skills, Gaming Boom in Saudi

Rapidly developing IT skills across the Kingdom are seeing a booming technology based industry. The "Cultural and Creative Industry" (CCI) contributed 1.5% to Saudi GDP in 2018.
Internet Usage, IT skills, Gaming Boom in Saudi
By Lyn Soppelsa
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Saudi Arabia's internet usage and IT skills are booming with a rapidly the growing Gaming industry contributing to its leading position in the world, according to the Global Knowledge Index (GKI) 2022.

The GKI was launched by the Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation (MBRF) in cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2017. It is the only index in the world that measures knowledge in countries, and is  considered a key contributor to global knowledge system in terms of creating development indicators. The index included 155 variables and 132 countries, including 11 Arab nations.

The GKI measures provide information to support countries and decision-makers in understanding and addressing challenges and potential variables which may impact performance, as well as examining opportunities and trends, and foreseeing future prospects and factors that can enable performance.

The GKI focuses on seven indicators that cover the performance of six key knowledge sectors:

  • Pre-university education
  • Technical education and vocational training
  • Higher education
  • ICT
  • Innovation, research & development (R&D)
  • Economy
  • Environment

The latest index ranks Saudi Arabia first in two categories, including “percentage of the population using the internet” and “percentage of individuals with standard information and communications technology (ICT) skills.” In addition, Saudi Arabia was ranked first in the technical education and vocational training index for the number of students enrolled in post-secondary non-university education in vocational and technical programs.

The GKI highlighted Saudi Arabia’s five major strengths, which include individuals with standard ICT skills, the percentage of internet users, households with internet access, the research share of R&D expenditure, and the net enrolment rate in higher secondary education. Additionally, the Index also noted Saudi Arabia’s strong performance in the area of cognitive infrastructure, placing it at the 43rd position out of 132 nations and the 41st out of 60 countries with a high human development rate. The Kingdom achieved excellent results in terms of a supportive educational environment.

If further proof were needed of the technology-readiness of the Saudi market, a recent report on Gaming in the Kingdom serves only to confirm the size of this booming sector.  There are estimated to be 23.5 million gamers in Saudi Arabia, a country with a population of 35 million people.

While many parents may decry the significant amount of time spent by their children in front of computer screens or on hand held devices ‘playing’ video games on TV, there are ever growing opportunities for the development and participation in practical games that provide real life solutions, as well as games for entertainment purposes.

The aptly named Cultural and Creative Industry (CCI) contributed 1.5% to Saudi GDP in 2018, and the industry is growing at 13% annually. In 2022, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia would be investing $38 billion in the gaming and esports industry. Gaming consumption in Saudi Arabia is projected to surge to $6.8 billion by 2030 and grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22 per cent over the next seven years from $959 million in 2020, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

Miznah AlZamil, Head of Creativity and Innovation at The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) said that innovation and creativity are “key ingredients to growth in any industry”. For this reason, she adds, “any investment in these two areas is crucial”.

The ‘Saudi Arabia Cultural and Creative Landscape Mapping Report’, published by Ithra at the end of 2021, showed that video games in the Kingdom exceeded $1 billion in revenues in 2019, growing by 41% since 2017. Internet podcasting is also consumed significantly by the population, with Saudi Arabia the biggest user of YouTube per capita worldwide. 

Local games, however, represent less than 1% of downloaded games – a key indicator that there is a significant opportunity for Saudi Arabia to become leading producers in the industry.

Designed as a means of boosting Saudi’s creative economy, Ithra has previously featured supported projects enriching education, healthcare, tourism, art, technology, and the gaming sectors. Its annual Creative Solutions program enables all citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia over the age of 18 to submit proposals.  The five finalists of the program receive a total of $100,000, together with development, collaboration, and mentorship opportunities. 

An example of a previous winner’s contribution is that of Jeddah nurse Abdullah Alosaimi’s ‘Syringe and Pandemic’ immersive VR (virtual reality) game, created to improve the medical skills of fellow healthcare sector professionals. The game requires players to find a syringe to administer medicine to save the life of a patient in an operating room and was devised to help combat shortages of medical staff across the world.

Without question, gaming is here to stay and schools will increasingly focus on incorporating Virtual Reality and gaming into their curricula, not solely for the learning that can be provided, but also as tools that students will increasingly be able to use for their studies, and also for their future careers.

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