The Saudi trailblazers on a levelling up mission for women in the gaming industry

Recently hired by Riyadh company, junior designers in growing sector are playing their part to encourage more young women to follow

Sandsoft hosts the Press Start internship programme every year to find talented new game designers in the region. Photo: Sandsoft
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Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry has been growing steadily since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Vision 2030. The strategic plan aims to invest in the kingdom’s different sectors like tourism, entertainment and technology.

Women are getting involved in the gaming sector and more should be encouraged to do so. That's the message from two junior female designers in Riyadh whose journey exemplifies the Vision 2030 mission.

Norah AlQuaydhib and Reham Yeshar have progressed through an internship programme to full-time employment at Sandsoft, a four-year-old aspirational gaming company. As women in an industry dominated by men, they hope to encourage more young girls – especially those passionate about gaming – to pursue it as a career.

AlQuaydhib has met a lot of women in the region who love games and want to work in the industry but don’t know where to start. She says: “I'm trying to help women by telling them how to change their career if they want to and what they should focus on.”

However, they do realise there is still a stigma about women entering the industry, especially in the Gulf, where it is mostly associated with men. Yeshar says those interested in a gaming career should not be dissuaded from following their dreams.

“Take all that passion, start playing games and study those games,” she advises. “Learn from them and understand how the games are made. Also, take courses if you can.

“I would say to young girls, don't listen to what society or some people say about gaming not being a career choice. It can be a career choice.”

It is an increasingly popular career choice in Saudi Arabia, where the industry is going from strength to strength and looking for talent. Being part of the entertainment sector, the gaming industry has been boosted by large-scale esports tournaments and the country’s burgeoning development companies.

Earlier this month, during the Leap 2024 conference in Riyadh, the National Development Fund and the Social Development Bank announced the establishment of two venture funds worth a total of $120 million to support the industry. This summer, the kingdom will host the largest esports tournament in the world – the Esports World Cup – with gamers from across the globe expected to compete.

Companies like Sandsoft are also playing a big part in the industry's growth. Launched in Riyadh in 2020, it is a video game developer, publisher and investor. Last year, it hired Ahmed Sharif as chief technology officer. He had had previously worked at Meta, PlayStation and Electronic Arts.

In an attempt to expand and support the kingdom’s young gaming population, Sandsoft runs a yearly internship programme called Press Start. AlQuaydhib and Yeshar were taken on as ambitious and talented game developers from its most recent programme.

AlQuaydhib is a junior game programmer and Yeshar a junior game artist. They are also lifelong gamers themelves but have taken very different paths.

AlQuaydhib studied software engineering for her bachelor’s degree, choosing a course that would help to achieve her dream of working in the video game industry. Yeshar, on the other hand, studied pharmaceuticals. After working for different companies in that field, she realised she didn’t have the passion for it and pivoted towards game design.

Yeshar's decision led her to working and interning for several small gaming companies, learning and improving her skills and talents.

The pair joined a team of eight on the Press Start programme, which AlQuaydhib says was a unique experience. “You’re not being forced to do anything,” she says. “We were encouraged to come up with our own ideas.”

Yeshar adds that one of the main benefits of the internship was going through the whole cycle of game development, including anticipating how gamers would react to a new product. “We need to think of a game as someone who's going to play it and ask if they are actually going to like it,” she says

AlQuaydhib and Yeshar speak highly of working at Sandsoft, saying they enjoy the environment of camaraderie and respect and that they have cultivated good relationships with their colleagues in the process.

They also say their job titles are not restrictive. “I can help with game design, I can help the programming,” says Yeshar. “I don't have to stick to what I'm tasked with.

“A lot of game companies are not like that, from what I have heard. They want someone to stick to their job requirement, but how else are we going to work as a team?”

AlQuaydhib and Yeshar appear to be working well as a team and playing their part. They are also blazing a trail for other girls and young women in a sector that is enjoying a boost and appears to have a bright future.

Updated: May 29, 2024, 6:34 AM