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RIYADH: Nearly 3,600 video games have been laundered 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 the development of the sector as a whole”.

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

About 300 Saudis recently participated in a four-day training organized by the commission in conjunction with the Japanese Middle East Cooperation Center 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 “elevate their efficiency and level of development from a simple game developer to an independent game developer to the stage of game publishing.

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

Tawili said 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 game companies such as Activision, EA and Take-Two, and we also see the acquisition by the PIF of the world’s largest eSports ESL and the creation of the Savi Group for video games, all of which reflect the importance and volume of the industry,” Tawili said.

He said age ratings in electronic games and other entertainment industries help families choose appropriate content for their children.

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

Tawili said sports games are generally suitable for all ages (3+), while those that only contain cartoons or violent comics are rated 7+. Games with a high level of violence will be rated as suitable for +18.

“We don’t prefer to ban any video games. Companies appreciate this, especially their understanding of the age rating 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 questions,” he said.

The Saudi classification system – one of the new age classifications in the global market – is said to be the first in the Arab world and the Middle East region. As of August 2016, all games sold in the Kingdom are rated according to the Saudi age rating. Tawili said there is a discrepancy in video game ratings across the world due to cultural differences.

“It is true that there are many titles that have great similarities between the ratings, 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.

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

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