Saudi Arabia invests millions in tech-powered entertainment era

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DUBAI: As Saudi Arabia enters another busy event season, including grand celebrations in the cities of Riyadh and Diriyah, a host of new tech-powered entertainment businesses are opening in the Kingdom.

The latest move came in October when the Kingdom announced it was investing $55 million in HyperSpace, a three-year-old Saudi startup that designs digital theme parks in shopping malls.

Funding came from Riyadh Season, a government-backed entertainment initiative under the Public Investment Fund, which provided most of the debt and equity raised by HyperSpace.

Other participants in the funding round included US-based Galaxy Interactive, Georgia SEGA Ventures and UK-headquartered Apis Venture Partners.

“It is truly the most innovative entertainment attraction in the world,” Alexander Heller, CEO of HyperSpace, told Arab News, adding: “It offers a completely new approach to location-based entertainment, as an extremely innovative, built on technologies that already exist in the digital world and are integrated for the first time into a physical front-end.

Heller describes the attraction like this: “TikTok and Fornite had a big physical baby.”

He added: “This is part content creation business and part physical video game. A park truly built on broader themes of content consumption, internet culture and hype culture, transforming into a full-frontal physical entertainment space.

HyperSpace offers a mix of digital and physical entertainment, including gaming attractions, immersive theater experiences and interactive zones for content creation.

The company opened its latest venue, House of Hype, in the capital as part of the fourth edition of Riyadh Season, dubbed the world's biggest winter entertainment event.

Bright, colorful phosphorescent lights greet guests as they enter several futuristic-designed rooms at the new Riyadh House of Hype.

Visitors are then virtually immersed in technology, play games and can even go shopping in what has been dubbed the largest immersive entertainment park experience connecting the real world with the world of virtual reality.

“He's very inspired by the idea of ​​building a large physical video game and bringing the identities and tactics of the AAA gaming world into a physical space,” Heller added.

“The PARX platform brings to life the digital layer of the park, designed to enhance the place of play through a token-driven rewards system reflecting the gaming economies of the gaming world, and, ultimately, to enhance engagement of visitors' digital identity.”

“It feels a lot like a physical interpretation of a great video game,” Heller added. “Built on a AAA game economy powered by the world's most advanced physical gaming system we've built, which is far more complex and intelligent. »

“AAA” refers to high-budget, high-profile video games, typically produced and distributed by well-known publishers. This means the high standards of production values, development resources, and marketing budgets used to create the game.

The 60,000 square foot park uses an in-house currency called HyperCoin and generates gaming challenges using artificial intelligence data.

Saudi Arabia is positioning itself at the forefront of new innovations and technologies in many major sectors. It's breathtaking.

Alexander Heller, CEO of HyperSpace

Heller explains how the PARX app forms the digital layer of HyperSpace, providing the physical attraction with a gaming-focused and digital identity component designed to further engage the visitor in the park and after their visit.

Additionally, Heller added that House of Hype was built to evangelize Web3 technologies to a mass audience. It introduces customers to their first wallet, non-fungible tokens, a “global currency” and allows them to engage in a meaningful and accessible way, in which they succeed.

Essentially, customers will engage more with new technologies in a controlled sandbox, where their success and engagement is measured by their willingness to play.

House of Hype reflects the desire to integrate new technologies into Saudi Arabia's booming entertainment market, amply illustrated this year by the program and range of events and experiences as part of the Riyadh season.

HyperSpace was founded in Dubai in January 2021 and comprises a team of multidisciplinary experts from renowned companies such as Google, SNAP, The Mill, Amazon, Unity and Apple.

The company bridges the gap between the appeal of AAA video games, social media and other forms of digital entertainment and the timeless appeal of in-person fun with friends and family.

Its first entertainment attraction, AYA, located at Wafi Mall in Dubai, is an immersive digital experience with 12 experience zones across 40,000 square feet. It sold more than 480,000 tickets in its first nine months of operation.

His House of Hype in Riyadh will become a permanent attraction at Boulevard City after the end of the Riyadh season.

The Riyadh season, which began on October 28 and will end in April 2024, has become a massive attraction for local and international visitors.

From international cuisine, offered by exclusive high-end restaurants, to dynamic rides and immersive experiences, the city will capture and reflect Riyadh's Najdi heritage to its current, forward-thinking dynamism as it projects towards the future.

In a video posted by Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, on his X account in September, he announced that the Riyadh season would offer a range of 60 “new experiences” leveraging high-tech elements.

The first he talked about would be the world of “Barbie,” reconnecting with the brand’s history and reflecting the release of the hit film earlier this year.

The event also welcomes Disney Castle for the first time in the Middle East as part of the company's centennial celebration, which it says includes “incredible shows inspired by the most famous Disney animated films” .

Other immersive experiences include “Dancing Fountains” and “Blippi Wonders,” an educational and entertainment experience for children. Additionally, the “Zero Latency Experience” allows visitors to interact with digital content in a realistic way.

“We are excited to witness the rapid growth of HyperSpace in Saudi Arabia as they strive to build this generation's next entertainment company, which sits at the intersection of technology, AI and Web3,” Alalshikh said in a statement. In addition to emphasizing new technologies for entertainment and leisure experiences, AlalShikh said the fourth edition “aims to create more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs and enable nearly 2,000 local businesses and international”.

The Riyadh season will cover an area of ​​over 7 million square meters of entertainment experiences.

“This season is different,” he said, adding: “It’s a big moment.”

The move towards an era of technology-enabled entertainment is part of the Kingdom's Vision 2030 plan to reduce its dependence on oil revenues by investing in other areas, including culture, tourism, sports teams and production of electric vehicles.

Saudi Arabia's efforts to become a global gaming hub have paid off after Public Investment Fund-owned Savvy Games completed the acquisition of Scopely, a major US-based video games company. United, for $4.9 billion.

Qiddya Entertainment City, located approximately 45 kilometers from central Riyadh, is also expected to become the world's largest entertainment city by 2030. The city will span 334 km².

The entertainment buzz clearly reflects the Kingdom's Vision 2030 plan which aims to improve the quality of life of Saudi citizens through cultural, entertainment and sporting activities.

The Kingdom's entertainment and amusement sector is expected to be worth $1.17 billion by 2030.

“Saudi Arabia is positioning itself at the forefront of new innovations and technologies in many major sectors,” Heller told Arab News. “It’s mind-blowing.”

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