Arabs play on as 2014 marks PlayStation’s two-decade roll

Two decades on from the original PlayStation 1, Sony's consoles - loved by Arab gamers - are now in their fourth generation. (Shutterstock)

As 2014 was the year that saw the 20th anniversary of Sony’s flagship PlayStation gaming console, Al Arabiya News takes a look back at the gaming phenomenon’s impact in the Arab world.

Two decades on from the first, gray-colored PlayStation – considered to be ahead of its time due to its CD-based technology rather than the traditional small-capacity cartridges used by rival console-makers – the brand is now in its fourth generation.

“It is undeniable that this region has always been dominated by the PlayStation,” said Mufaddal Fakhruddin, an editor at the Middle Eastern branch of popular U.S.-based video games and entertainment site IGN.

Yet back in the mid-‘90s, Sony’s new product wasn’t guaranteed to take off given the dominance of rival console makers.

Sega and Nintendo, who had been in the gaming business since the 1980s, had long been the established favorites of gamers hooked on exploring the pixelated, two-dimensional world of Nintendo’s colorful plumber Mario and Sega’s blue hedgehog Sonic.

New tricks

But Sony had a trick up its sleeve. Due to its rivals’ poor marketing and a lack of emphasis on the Middle East, the PlayStation was quickly able to make a foothold, according to Fakhruddin.

“With a lack of an official Nintendo presence in the region, Sony took the opportunity to establish itself as a gaming brand that offered a significantly better experience when it came to graphics and features,” he said.

Kishan Palija, managing director of games retailer Geekay Group MEA, which has numerous outlets in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, said that due to the PlayStation’s enthusiastic adoption in the Middle East, the brand and its plethora of games now stretches over generations.

“The Arab gamers on PlayStation go a long way [back.] They started playing the PlayStation 1 first, then moved to the PS2, and then to the 3 and now to the 4, so it’s generations of gaming that’s being carried forward … a lot of people who used to buy for themselves are now buying for their kids,” he said, adding that the PlayStation and its games account for a majority of sales in the company’s stores.

Spurred by the popularity of the PlayStation brand, global game-makers have begun to adapt best-selling franchises to suit Arab audiences.

In 2011, California-based Electronic Arts released for the first time an Arabic-language version of its best-selling FIFA footballing series – an exhaustive process that involved re-recording around 140 hours of dialogue, and working around issues such as regional dialects, UAE-based daily The National reported.

Later, French giant Ubisoft set up a localization and culturalization office in the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, and is tweaking games towards the $1bln-a-year Arabic market, U.S. gaming website Polygon reported in 2013.

In that same year, Jordanian game development studio Quirkat launched a table football simulator for the PS3 – notable for being the first game on the console to be released out of the Arab world.

And in an effort to further reach audiences, Sony announced in September this year that they have now included the Arabic language into the console’s development architecture.

Childhood memories

Ahmed bin al-Sheikh, an Emirati who lives in Sharjah, remembers halcyon days playing well-known franchises such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon on the PlayStation 1 – the first console he ever purchased.

“It was like a huge period in my life … I would say that was a highlight of my childhood,” he said.

After a hiatus of over a decade, al-Sheikh renewed his dedication to the brand in 2009 by buying the PlayStation 3 – and today owns the PlayStation 4.

His “loyalty” to Sony’s console “has to do with me being a fan of Sony back in the day. You [now] can even buy some of these games as downloadables through your system, so it also has a nostalgic feeling,” he added.

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