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RIYADH: Almost 3,600 video games have been cleared and classified in Saudi Arabia since 2015, according to Hattan Tawili, general supervisor of the video games department at the General Commission for Audiovisual Media.

According to Tawili, “things are going well in terms of developing the sector as a whole.”

The department has two legislative and regulatory roles in the Kingdom’s video games market, including issuing licenses and permits, as well as categorizing video games content with appropriate age classification.

About 300 Saudis recently took part in a four-day training course organized by the commission in collaboration with the Japan Cooperation Center in the Middle East to discover and develop national talents, and develop video games for mobile phones.

The course was designed to help electronic game developers with low to medium skill levels to “raise their development efficiency and level from a mere game developer to an independent game developer up to the stage of game publishing.”

Under the direction of head coach Ken Watanabe, a former Nintendo developer who worked on popular titles such as New Super Mario Bros., Pikmin 3 and Splatoon, 10 individuals were selected for further training during the course.

Tawili said that the electronic games market in Saudi Arabia was worth about $1 billion in 2021, the highest value in the Middle East.

“Given the importance of the field, we see the Public Investment Fund investing $3.3 billion in electronic games companies such as Activision, EA and Take-Two, and we also see the PIF’s acquisition of the largest ESL globally in the field of electronic sports and the establishment of the Savi Group for Video Games, all of which reflect the importance and volume of the industry,” Tawili said.

He said that age classifications in electronic games and other entertainment sectors helps families to choose appropriate content for their children.

Electronic games have developed significantly in recent years and their forms have diversified, with games suitable for the family or specifically for adults.

Tawili said that sports games generally are suitable for all ages (3 and above), while those that contain only cartoon or comic violence are rated 7 and above. Games with a high level of violence will be classified as appropriate for +18.

“We do not prefer to prohibit any video game. Companies appreciate this, particularly their understanding of age classification system and the importance of the Saudi market. Companies avoid violations that could result in their game being banned, such as religious insults or abusive political matters,” he said.

The Saudi classification system — one of the new age ratings on the global market — is believed to be the first in the Arab world and Middle East region. Since August 2016, all games sold in the Kingdom have been rated according to the Saudi age classification. Tawili said that there is a discrepancy in video game classifications around the world due to cultural differences.

“It is true that there are many titles that have great similarities between the classifications, but in some cases you find, for example, a game in Saudi Arabia is rated +12, while in the world it is rated +7, or vice versa, due to cultural differences.”

Classification of a video game begins up to 18 months before the game’s planned release with communication between the publishing companies and the Saudi commission, including information about the game and the target classification. Excerpts and images from the game are also provided to the commission. After the content is evaluated, a preliminary approval certificate with the appropriate age classification is issued.

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