Saudi geek and prince: MBS conquers the video game industry

Middle East

17:34 22.02.2021(updated 18:13 22.02.2021) Short url

Why is Mohammed Ben Salman interested in video games? Its recent investments in the video game industry confirm its desire to diversify the Saudi economy, but are also a way for it to improve its image internally, believes Umar Karim, researcher at the University of Birmingham and specialist in Gulf countries .

Pillory of US diplomacy by Joe Biden, Mohammed ben Salman (MBS), Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, nonetheless continues to invest heavily in American companies. Recently, its Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund invested $ 3.3 billion in three giants of the American video game industry: Activision Blizzard, EA and Take-Two.

Is this a way of easing recent tensions between MBS and Biden, who no longer wishes to speak with his father, King Salman ben Abdelaziz Al Saoud? For Umar Karim, researcher at the University of Birmingham and specialist in Gulf countries, this investment is not geopolitical, it is above all economic.

“This investment does not target Biden. This is only part of the policy of all-round diversification of the economy of the Saudi kingdom. MBS is doing what he has always done since he has been at the head of the country: propel Saudi Arabia towards a modern, post-oil economy, ”he explains at Sputnik’s microphone.

From his arrival at the head of the presidency of the Council of Economic Affairs and Development of Saudi Arabia in 2015, MBS – who was only 30 years old at the time – wanted to change the austere image of his country. The following year, he launched his famous economic plan vision 2030.

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Video games, a “strategic choice” for MBS

This project aims to modernize the economy of the Saudi kingdom from a rentier economy based solely on oil to a diversified economy. Since then, the country has opened up to tourism, hosts sporting and cultural events, and invests in many international companies.

“The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund has already injected funds into companies such as Uber, Facebook, Softbank, Boeing, Disney and Starbucks,” said Umar Karim.

In short, the Saudi economy has gone global under the tutelage of MBS. To boost its investments abroad, it is not surprising that the Crown Prince places his marbles in the video game industry: this sector is by far the most lucrative area of ​​the entertainment industry.

As proof in 2019, video games generated more than twice the global turnover of the cinema and music industry combined. This meteoric boom was confirmed with the global coronavirus pandemic. Sales and profits reached records in 2020. Mohamed Ben Salman is aware of “the latest trends,” said the researcher at the University of Birmingham.

“Saudi investments are targeted. They are part of the long term. MBS is doing business and wants to invest in a sustainable and growing industry, and this is the case with the video game industry. ”

By investing in three behemoths of the American video game industry, MBS made a “strategic choice”, believes Umar Karim. These three big publishers have licenses in world famous games such as FIFA, Star Wars or Battlefield for EA, Call of Duty for Activision Blizzard and GTA for Take-Two.

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Fan of “Call of Duty”, MBS takes care of its image among young people

Umar Karim reminds us that this attraction for video games does not date from yesterday. Indeed, the MiSK Foundation, created by MBS, which has as main objective to support Saudi youth in the fields of technology, arts, culture and social, has already invested in this area.

Last November, “the MiSK has already bought a third of the shares of the Japanese game group SNK and even plans to acquire 50% soon,” said the researcher.

In addition to increasing market share in a booming sector, this investment would also serve “the personal interests” of MBS, considers Umar Karim. Indeed, the popularity of the young crown prince is at half mast. His takeover of the country did not make that happy and many are the Saudis to blame him for monopolizing powers and undermine the old guard of the kingdom. Investing in video games is a way for him to get even closer to Saudi youth.

“MBS is only 35 years old and wants to stay close to the centers of interest of the Saudi population. Young people are fond of video games, new technologies and that, the crown prince understood it well. This investment is a way of remaining in harmony with young people. ”

The Saudi population is indeed very young: 65% of the population is under 30 years old. The young crown prince is himself “passionate” about video games. “He even boasts of having a particular fondness for the popular Call of Duty game,” said Umar Karim. And that’s good, he has just acquired market share within his publisher, Activision Blizzard. Will this give him the right to “cheat codes” for his favorite game?

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