No, Jim Ryan – Gaming In The Middle East Existed Long Before PlayStation – IGN MIDDLE EAST – ENGLISH

A few days ago, GamesIndustry.biz ran a lengthy conversation with Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO, Jim Ryan. The interview touches on Sony’s ambitions with the PlayStation 5, and how Ryan hopes that the PlayStation brand and its games can be accessible to “hundreds of millions of people”, in a similar way that music and movies are.

But there was one, seemingly off-the-cuff remark Ryan made that has caused quite a bit of stir in the Middle East’s gaming community, not only for its remarkable inaccuracy but also for how unknowledgeable the CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment sounds.

When discussing the impact the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 had worldwide, Jim Ryan said, “One of the things that I am proud about there is that we kind-of pushed the envelope. We opened up markets that had never had any gaming culture ever. Middle East…people had never played games before PlayStation in the Middle East.”

I mean…huh?

Understandably, this did not go down well with gamers in the region, and they took to Twitter to demonstrate how misinformed that statement was.

In fact, the entire quote from Ryan read as a ‘we art thy savior’ vibe to it. He added, “Russia had a tiny gaming industry before PlayStation. Spain had a very small gaming industry before PlayStation. So we really pushed the envelope geographically.”

There is no doubt that the PlayStation has had a major impact on many parts of the world. The Middle East, especially, is a predominantly PlayStation market, and its games all the way back from the PS1 era are loved and adored by the many fans here. But to say that the region had no gaming culture whatsoever before PlayStation landed and introduced us to the wondrous wares of the games industry is just plain dumb.

The picture Ryan paints of the Middle East makes it seem like a backwards region, where kids only played with sticks and stones, or scribbled tic-tac-toe on torn newspapers before the PlayStation brought glorious videogames to the land. That is, in fact, far from the truth.

The region has been cultivating a small and passionate gaming culture since the ‘80s, with the release of Atari consoles, Super Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom, Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis, if Ryan is more familiar with that name) being extremely popular, and which truly pushed the envelope in homes adopting gaming consoles. I remember when my brothers and I collected school lunch money for an entire year so we could buy a Sega console, and play Sonic and Street Fighter at our homes rather than queuing up at the arcades.

Oh yes, we also had arcades – who would have thought? As we grew up and the region matured, there were a ton of local arcades that opened up to cultivate the increasingly fervent needs of the gaming community in the region. Long queues for King of Fighters or Street Fighter II were a common sight, with excited players holding bags of coins to challenge their friends, or take the lead in the local leaderboards. Many arcades even hosted tournaments with a bit of prize money to not only sustain footfall, but to feed the large appetite for competition in the region.

Gaming cafes ushered in a new era of gaming, which thrived on LAN gaming for titles such as Warcraft, Starcraft, and Counter Strike that brought swaths of new players eager to explore what gaming was all about. It wasn’t uncommon for me to dwell at a gaming cafe after school, or on weekends, for hours competing with my friends or partnering with patrons there to shoot a few rounds and demonstrate my skills. Net cafes are still a huge part of the gaming culture in the region, and continue to thrive as they are a cheap alternative in many parts of the Middle East to play games.

All of this was before PlayStation was even known to anyone here. Heck, we weren’t averse to buying the many knock-off gaming consoles that featured 100-in-1 games – of which half of them didn’t work or were simply repeats – just so we could consume anything we could get our hands on. Hacked Nintendo consoles weren’t uncommon as well, as pirated copies of games were more easily found than retail copies that were just not sold here. In fact, Nintendo still does not have an official presence in the Middle East, but thanks to retailers carrying their games, and access to the online store, their games continue to sell. There is an inherent nostalgia associated with it because of what was possible before – a thriving, passionate gaming audience that made things possible, even when the options were limited.

I don’t mean this to be a hit-piece against Jim Ryan, but we expect better from someone who is the CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, and has had such a long career in the industry. PlayStation wasn’t the savior it is poised to be, and neither did it make home consoles more accessible in the region. It was simply another player among many, and their official presence and regional pricing certainly helped garner it more favor.

But something tells me that even if they had completely ignored this region, the gaming community would have thrived regardless, and would have made things possible. Just like it always had, just like it always does.


Do you have particular memories of gaming in the Middle East before PlayStation arrived? Let us know on social media!

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