Economy, Domestic Economy

Video Game Industry Booming

Video Game Industry Booming
Video Game Industry Booming

Eight years after the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance approved the first-ever domestic production of video games, the industry is warming up to the prospect of making its international mark and grabbing the government’s attention.

Although Iran joined the video game community relatively late, it has made huge progress in catching up with Europe, America and East Asia in terms of quality and popularity of its video games.

For the Iranian government, which is not only looking into new ways to make youths imbibe Islamic-Iranian education, but is also eager to develop markets unrelated to the dominant oil industry, the video game industry presents a considerable bonanza.

In 2014, the global video games industry generated over $83 billion, excluding tax revenues, according to Newzoo, an Amsterdam-based market research firm.

Iran is the world’s 41st and the Middle East’s third largest video game market, earning $124 million last year. It also has one of the largest Internet-active populations in the Middle East, endowing the industry with healthy growth prospects and much unused capacity (see graph).

The government has supported the video game industry since 2007, when it approved the establishment of the Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation, an independent society of game developers that provides intellectual and financial support. In the few years of its existence, the Iranian video game industry has already managed to produce several internationally renowned titles, including Extraterrestial Armies, Mir-Mahna and Garshasp.

One of the prime advantages of the Iranian video game industry is that it can exploit the country’s extensive native mythology, according Danyal Samiei, head of Khatam ul-Anbia Digital Culture Complex. To give but one example, Garshasp: The Monster Slayer, produced in 2011, follows the story of Garshasp, an ancient Iranian hero mentioned in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.

The country also enjoys young and inexpensive labor force, many of whom are digitally adept. According to Amir Hossein Fassihi, director of game-maker Fanafzar, digital designers in Iran earn on average seven times less than their western counterparts.

Low labor costs could be an important incentive for international game developer firms to relocate to Iran, in much the same way as what has happened to the Czech Republic in the past decade.


Many creative Iranian game developers have played a key role in the advancement of the western local video game and IT industry. For example, Iranian national Mohammad Alavi is one of the main developers of the best-selling game titled Call of Duty.

Some experts criticize the government for failing to produce a long-term video game industry development plan. With the rise of app-based games for Android and iOS, market leaders seem split on whether to continue developing labor and design-intensive games, or focus on simple and light, but highly addictive smartphone games.

Government indecisiveness about the impact of the video game industry on pedagogy and children poses a further obstacle. While some have pointed out that children should not be confronted with violent scenes, others condemn the adverse influence of foreign culture on Iranian youth.

Experts argue that the government should put its full weight behind the development of age-appropriate games conforming to Islamic-Iranian cultural ideals. The latter is also the official line of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, with its head, Ali Jannati, stating that: “On the pretext of evading the social harm it may cause, we should not stop producing quality local games, since technology is part of the children’s world in modern times.”

  Combating Illegal Video Games

The development of a domestic video game industry has been matched by efforts to clamp down on the smuggling and illegal copies of foreign games. During the last Iranian year (ended March 20, 2015), over one million illegal copies of games were confiscated, according to Khosro Kordmihan, head of the Anti-Illegal Games Task Force.

“These games are illegally downloaded on a disk or smuggled into the country,” he said.

Kordmihan added that this is not due to the distribution of approved games as Tehran alone has over 1,550 retail and distribution outlets, but the ease with which these video games are sold and the rising demand from youth and adults.