Cafe Bazaar is the provider of a marketplace for applications, games, and digital content catering primarily to a Persian speaking audience. Twenty-nine million people use Cafe Bazaar every month, and 5.3 million use it every day! Cafe Bazaar is a third-party Android app store with over 40 million users. It is designed around the language, culture, and tastes of the Persian-speaking people of the Middle East. It includes over 160,000 applications and games built mainly by over 22,000 local developers. It also hosts about 800 products from over 120 foreign developers and publishers from around the world.

The company was launched in 2011 by a number of young engineers and graduates of top tech universities in the country. At the time, Google Play was not even operating in Iran. Iranian users were looking towards technology to improve their everyday lives, and Iranian engineers were building applications and games. But both groups found the task of finding each other on international app stores that were built around the needs of others cumbersome and inefficient. Cafe Bazaar created a bridge between developers and users that have helped make applications and games an indispensable part of daily life for Iranians. As broadband internet, smartphones and e-commerce became a normal part of everyday life for everyone around the country, the app store and the local applications ecosystem thrived.

Iran’s Applications Ecosystem 

Iranian applications span all fields and according to Cafe Bazaar’s latest seasonal report, the highest performing categories have been education, books, and resources, entertainment, health and wellness, lifestyle, restaurant reviews, cooking, travel, tools and exercise applications. Some of the most popular applications in the Iranian market include Digikala, Iranian largest e-commerce platform that has in recent years developed an Amazon-like dominance in online sales of non-digital products, Snapp and Tap30, the country’s two biggest ride-hailing applications, Divar, the largest classified ads application and a sister company of Cafe Bazaar, Takhfifan, that offers group discounts, Bdood, that offers bike-sharing, and Aparat, a video sharing platform. 

Also, among the most popular are applications developed by Iranian banks, phone and internet services providers, universities, and soccer teams to provide online services, and popular international brands like Instagram, Whatsapp, and ShareIt. One of the key features of the Iranian tech sector is that, with few exceptions, much of the firms that define it were built as completely private entities with little regulatory interference. This has allowed the tech sector to develop a more youthful, innovation-driven, and progressive disposition that takes cues from international cohorts on management style and office culture.

With Cafe Bazaar providing them an efficient channel to consumers and revenue, Iran’s community of app developers has commercialized and become increasingly sophisticated. But the development of applications and games has also become a national endeavor. In Tehran, successful startups are growing into larger complex enterprises, and old factories are being converted into chic tech-space housing hundreds of young startups. Other large cities like Isfahan and Shiraz have become hubs for app developers building the country’s top applications in fields like healthcare, education, and fintech. Cities like Qom, historically associated with tradition and spirituality, are punching above their weight, and even small rural provinces are now home to hundreds of mobile app developer teams.

Mobile Gaming in Iran 

Of particular note in this eco-system is Iran’s thriving mobile gaming market. There are over 31 thousand games available on Cafe Bazaar’s digital marketplace – the vast majority being built locally. Cafe Bazaar has become the country’s hub for mobile gaming, with nearly 29 million users now downloading mobile games from the app store. The gaming market has seen significant year-after-year increases in revenue, with domestic game revenue increasing by 59% in the previous Persian calendar year. Prominent research firm Newzoo recently ranked Iran third in the region with total gaming revenue of $560 million a year, and a more recent report focused on the region put annual revenue at $600 million.  

The rising mobile game market in the Persian-speaking world – and the Middle East in general – combined has also attracted the attention of international app developers. Some of the most popular games are Iranian word games like Amirza, and strategy and adventure games Pesarkhandeh – an Iranian game that has done very well globally – and Supercell’s Clash of Clans. Over the last year, Cafe Bazaar has increasingly focused on bringing high-quality Chinese games to Iran’s market and worked closely with major studios like Moonton, Youzoo, Elex, and Tap4Fun.  

Foreign games coming into the Iranian market undergo a localization process principle focused on translation to the Persian language to optimize their performance among our users. While Google Play is available in Iran today, it still does not provide financial services, meaning the only way to monetize games in Iran is to partner with Cafe Bazaar and make use of our own financial system which users can use to make purchases and in-app purchases using their banking cards and fintech apps.  

The Future 

Looking to the future, Cafe Bazaar is working to further support the local app developer community as well as deepen its partnerships with mobile app developers around the world. We even published our first-ever Global Report, our first report published in English and Mandarin, to provide an international audience with a more comprehensive understanding of global appeal and engagement efforts. Iran’s app developers, long focused on the domestic market, are increasingly looking abroad for investment, development cooperation and markets.