“Sportswashing”: Saudi Arabia wants to become a “global center” for gaming
When Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) officially opens Gamescom in Cologne on Wednesday evening and thus visits the industry fair for the first time, he will hardly be able to avoid the probing questions about the future of state funding for computer games: At the end of 2022, after some back and forth, the Bundestag secured Her 70 million euros in funding for games after the estimated budget of 50 million was used up prematurely. According to the federal government, it should now be 48.7 million euros in 2024. The game association of the German industry, on the other hand, believes that 125 million euros are necessary in order to be able to accept funding applications again.
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on the other hand, doesn’t bother with millions: he announced last September that the kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula intends to spend around 39 billion US dollars to become the “ultimate global center for gaming and E -Sports” to become. The “still untapped potential” contained in it should help to diversify the economy of the country, which has become rich with oil production. According to the plan, the Savvy Games Group will take care of that. It is owned by Saudi Arabia’s $700 billion sovereign wealth fund and is led by industry veteran Brian Ward. The company is to invest the planned billions and thus help to found 250 local companies and create 39,000 jobs over the next seven years.
Savvy’s program will provide about $18.7 billion to buy shares in a number of key companies. Saudi Arabia wants to acquire a leading gaming publisher for 13.3 billion US dollars and thus position itself strategically. 5.3 billion US dollars are to flow into industrial partners, around 533 million into “disruptive companies”.
Words are now followed by deeds. In February, the Saudi fund became Nintendo’s largest outside investor. In early July, the company completed the $4.9 billion purchase of Scopely, the creator of Monopoly Go, Star Trek Fleet Command, and Marvel Strike Force. Also last month, the kingdom hosted the Gamers8 tournament with a record total of $45 million in prize money. Savvy had already announced in early 2022 that it had acquired the German e-sports company ESL for 1.05 billion US dollars. It is considered the main organizer of e-sports events such as Dreamhack and Intel Extreme Masters.
“Sportswashing” with computer games
The 37-year-old bin Salman is considered an avid gamer himself. He sees the foray into gaming as part of Vision 2030, his ambitious plan to revitalize the kingdom’s economy, reduce its dependence on oil, and provide exciting work and entertainment opportunities for its young population. However, the entry into the world of computer games has triggered similar counter-reactions as with soccer and golf: Critics accuse the Saudis and the crown prince of “sportswashing”. Bin Salman is believed to be behind the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi three years ago.
Amnesty International is not the only one to complain that the state is trying to hide human rights violations and whitewash its reputation. As with the ancient Romans, sport is also used as a stage to demonstrate wealth and power, Joost van Dreunen, a professor at New York University, told ABC. But you have to ask yourself the question: “Who is the architect behind it and what are the intentions?”
The increasing involvement of autocratic Arab states has caused debates in the gaming community. Riot Games, the developer of the multiplayer fighting game League of Legends, and Danish tournament organizer Blast Premier both canceled their partnerships with Saudi Arabia in 2020 after fan outcry. Blast then held its world finals in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which drew similar criticism. Major esports organization Team Liquid announced in December that it would donate half of its profits from recent competitions in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to an organization that helps LGBTQ+ people end violence and persecution escape. Homosexuality is prosecuted in both countries. However, experts assume that the scene will follow the money trail in the medium term.
China has the most video players in the world
After a crackdown by the communist government due to fears of gambling addiction, China is also focusing more strongly on the growing gaming market. The number of video game players there has risen to a global record of 668 million, the state-run games industry association CGIGC said in July, according to the Reuters news agency. At the end of June, around half of the population was at least temporarily daddling. The turnover of the domestic market for computer games reached the equivalent of around 20 billion US dollars in the first half of 2023. However, gaming revenue is not yet back to pre-crackdown levels. In April 2022, China issued new video game licenses for the first time in over 260 days.
In this country, federal politicians in the industry meanwhile have little hope of more money from the state. Only subsidies do not create ideas for a good story in a computer game, stressed the games policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Reinhard Houben, to the dpa agency. At the same time, he referred to the bureaucratic burden of funding programs. The Green MP Maik Außendorf and his SPD colleague Anna Kassautzki also remained vague. In principle, the traffic light coalition has decided to strengthen the games location and to “consolidate” funding of at least 50 million euros per year. The game association is now calling for science, research and teaching to be strengthened in this area and for example to found a “games university”. Such institutions could become a magnet for international professionals.
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