Iran’s population is close to 80m people and in 2010 50 per cent of those were under 35, according to local distributor Doostan Co.
Such a young audience makes the market a prime target for the video games industry, but rampant piracy means there is little in the way of strong retail chains. Most games are sold through independents. A major cause of piracy is strict censorship on games.
Doostan’s Babak Bahizad estimates that 90 per cent of popular video games are banned, which means there are very few official distributors in Iran.
“We haven’t got copyright law in Iran, and therefore people use pirated games,” he explains.
“The main consoles used are Xbox 360 and PS3, consoles that people can buy pirated games for at $1.”
All video games are classified by the strict Entertainment Software Rating Association. These ratings range from 3+ (kids) through 12+ (‘beginning of adolesence’) and 15+ (‘second half of adolescence’). Interestingly, 18+ is deemed ‘adult, single’ while 25+ is ‘adult, married’.
In addition to the use of violence, language and sexual content, the ESRA also monitors games for religious values violation, such as the misuse of mosques or churches, and hopelessness – content that ‘may cause players to feel bad and/or sinful’.
Last year’s Battlefield 3 was refused a release in the region thanks to its depiction of battles on the Iraq-Iran border and an aerial assault on Iranian capital Tehran.
An online pressure group said at the time: “We understand that the story is hypothetical but we believe the game is purposely released at a time when the US is pushing the international community into fearing Iran.”
This concern was taken to greater extremes in January 2012, when US-Iranian citizen and games developer Amir Mirza was sentenced to death.
Mirza had been arrested in August 2011 and apparently confessed to acting as a CIA spy. He also allegedly confessed to creating video games designed to turn consumers against the Middle East. His death sentence was later overturned, and a retrial was ordered.
The Iranian Army is actually developing its own video game, Battle in Gulf of Aden. The game will depict the navy’s battles against pirates that prey on cargo ships. It will be shown off at The Second International Computer Games Expo and Festival in Tehran this month.
GDP (per capita): $6,359
Capital City: Tehran
DC GamesGroup, Gorough Doostan Rayenah Narmafzar Company
Fanafzar Game Studios, Piranha Games, Pluto 13, Puya Arts Software, RSK-IR