Rabat – Since the moment my father introduced me to a computer, almost 20 years ago, I have loved playing video games. I used to spend long hours with my back hunched over the screen, immersed in my favorite games. The more I played, the more I wanted to play. My naive child’s mind dreamed of a life where people could play video games for a living.
No longer a naive dream
Fast-forward to 2019, the video game industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, netting more revenue than the music and movie industries combined. Gaming, or the act of playing video games, has turned from being the favorite pastime of introverted adolescents into a social activity that connects people from different backgrounds all over the world. Almost a third of the world’s population plays video games, and, in 2019, people all over the world are paid to play them.
The exponential growth of the gaming industry gave birth to the sub industry of Esports. Esports, also known as Electronic Sports, are the practice of video games in competitive settings, and on different scales. Many countries, including the United States, already consider Esports players as professional athletes.
‘Stop wasting your time’
Older generations in Morocco have, for a long time, perceived playing video games as an exclusive activity for children and a waste of time. If an adult is playing video games, it is seen negatively.
Taking into consideration the disparities between the older generations, who were mainly exposed to local television, and younger ones, who are mainly exposed to international media, the negative undertone that a large part of Moroccan society attributes to gaming is completely understandable and to be expected.
However, this perception is starting to change little by little. With the emergence of mobile gaming and video games that appeal to different demographics, more people are getting into this type of entertainment. Video games are becoming more accessible to the inexperienced public, and therefore more acceptable within Moroccan society.
League of Legends or Fortnite?
According to Inwi, a Moroccan telecommunication company, there are more than one million active gamers in Morocco, and around four million people who play video games from time to time. The community of Moroccan gamers is divided into a number of subcommunities, depending on the players’ favorite games.
The list of the most played games in Morocco, and in the world, since video games follow global trends, include League of Legends (LoL), Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), among other titles.
Players usually join Facebook groups or Discord servers (a chat application used mainly by gamers) in order to meet others who share the same passion.
The number of online influencers in the gaming field is also on the rise in Morocco, especially after fiber optic internet became available in the major Moroccan cities. A number of Moroccan gamers decided to share their passion with an audience, either through making videos on Youtube, or through live-streaming their gameplay sessions on gaming platforms such as Twitch.
The increase in the number of Moroccan gamers gave rise to a new type of businesses in recent years: gaming centers. These new businesses offer an environment where Moroccans passionate about video games can meet and play together. The centers also provide high-end gaming material to enhance their clients’ experience even further.
One of the most successful businesses so far in this domain is Moroccan Gaming Evolution, a company that opened two gaming centers in Rabat and Casablanca. The Casablanca center is the largest in Africa. Its facilities include a gaming space with more than 120 high-performance computers, a relaxation room, a restaurant, and a gaming material store.
Tech giants muscle in
The increasing numbers of video game fans in Morocco has attracted new actors who have shown increasing interest in this fast-growing industry. Small gaming events and competitions that used to be organized by individuals or small associations are now becoming larger and more professionally organized.
Some of the biggest actors to penetrate the gaming scene are Inwi and Orange. The two telecommunication companies operating in Morocco have started sponsoring and organizing gaming events and competitions.
The biggest event to this date is the Africa Gaming Fest, organized by Inwi. The event took place on December 16, 2018 in Casablanca. More than 9,000 people, from across North Africa, attended the event.
The program included video game tournaments with a $15,000 cash prize, cosplay contests, and musical shows, among other activities that attracted a varied public.
During the event, Brahim Amdouy, content manager at Inwi, told the press that the telecommunications company wanted to support gaming in Morocco because “it represents an important pillar of the younger generations’ culture”.
Inwi’s involvement in the Moroccan video game industry does not only concern organizing events and competitions, but also financially supporting video game developers.
“Inwi helped developing a number of mobile games that are 100% Moroccan, such as Ronda, Tomobile Racing, and Ghoul,” added the company’s spokesperson.
An expensive habit
While more actors and sponsors are getting involved in the Moroccan gaming scene, Moroccan gamers are still facing a number of obstacles that hinder both their individual gaming experience and the development of the gaming culture in Morocco as a whole.
The major issue the Moroccan gaming community faces is purely financial. Gaming consoles, high-performance computers, gaming gear (mice, keyboards, headsets, etc.), and video games, are all sold for exorbitant prices. Gaming hardware in Morocco can cost as much as five or six times the prices of the same material in Europe.
“MAD 5,000 for a console, MAD 600 per game, and more than MAD 10,000 to get a good gaming computer. Hardware prices are exorbitant in comparison to Moroccans’ average income,” Salim “MagicVDK” Ghazzal, a Moroccan gaming influencer and organizer, told Morocco World News.
The reasons behind these excessive prices include the unavailability of official suppliers. Most of hardware sellers buy their products from Europe and bring them back to Morocco. The import taxes imposed by the Moroccan customs administration inflate the prices.
Another important problem facing video game fans in Morocco is the lack of structure, as there is no organization that currently represents the voices of this fast-growing Moroccan community.
Younes “Sazan” Lesfer, a Moroccan engineer who worked at and founded a number of gaming organizations in Morocco, told MWN that the key to the development of Moroccan gaming lies within the community itself.
“The key is associative movement. If there are enough gaming associations in Morocco, they could possibly unite to form a federation. That is when the gaming industry can really flourish, because a federation will force the government and other entities to officially recognize this industry and invest in it.”
The recognition of this industry by the Moroccan government would also attract video game companies to invest in the Moroccan market, which would significantly reduce the prices of video games and gaming material.
Another important step, according to Sazan, would be the programming of regular events: “This will help instate a competitive environment for Moroccan gamers, allowing them to invest more in this activity as it will be more rewarding.”
Gaming and Esports are still fairly new concepts within Moroccan society. However, audiences are getting wider by the day, and soon enough, they could turn from a niche into a mainstream market.
While this domain’s potential is huge, it is for Moroccans, gamers and non-gamers, to decide on how it will turn out. Teenagers in bedrooms across Morocco are driving the change, but while I remember being introduced to a computer, the new generation of gamers have grown up with technology that is developing faster than our society.
Will Morocco follow the steps of developed countries that turned a niche market into a major revenue source? Or will it miss on the opportunity and regret it when it’s too late? Only time will tell.