A project has been launched to help Saudi Arabia’s next generation of tech innovators take lead roles within the industry.
Riyadh is hosting Gamers8 — the world's largest esports event — with players from around the world travelling to the Saudi capital.
The eight-week event, which began in last month, is being held by the Saudi Esports Federation at a venue in the entertainment district Boulevard Riyadh. The competition has a prize fund of up to $15 million.
Now Ithra has teamed up with the event through its Creative Solutions programme to launch a platform for the kingdom’s next tech pioneers.
Ithra, also known as the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture, was launched by Saudi Aramco as a vehicle for cultural and creative talent development and cross-cultural experiences.
Ithra’s Creative Solutions programme is one of the kingdom’s leading content creation platforms within immersive technology.
Sixty creatives have been chosen from about 2,000 applicants in the first phase of the project, with phase two allowing 15 innovators to present their ideas at Gamers8 on August 21.
Those chosen will then pitch their ideas directly to partners, stakeholders and sellers.
According to market researcher Niko Partners, the value of Saudi Arabia's gaming market reached $1 billion in 2021, the highest in the region.
"The gaming and esports economy is huge in the country and KSA is one of the top five consumer markets in the world,” said Filipe Martins Gomes, Saudi Aramco's head of innovation programmes.
“Ithra’s mission is to promote cross-cultural experiences and accelerate the development of talent and Saudi Arabia’s creative economy. Ithra aims to inspire minds and take talents into transformative journeys, supporting creatives to become makers and adding value to the future of the kingdom.”
Mr Gomes said the mission was aligned with the kingdom’s Vision 2030, which includes the diversification of the economy, inspiring people and supporting Saudi Arabia's position globally.
The participation of young Saudis in the 2022 Creative Solutions "has been amazing", he said.
The 34 participants are working on 15 ideas after finishing 14 masterclasses. They are now preparing their pitching presentations, aiming to be selected as one of the five finalists of the programme, receiving the grants and mentorship support to develop their ideas into working prototypes by January 2022.
A diverse group comprises 53 per cent male and 47 per cent female participants, from across the kingdom.
Ideas are focused on art, education, games, tourism, health care, film, museums, energy and the environment.
All applicants had to go through 12 masterclass sessions including 3D production, virtual reality headsets, narrative storytelling and augmented reality, among others. Saudi innovation takes centre stage in the UK.
Ithra recently showcased five prototypes created by young Saudi innovators in the UK as part of its inaugural Creative Solutions initiative on July 14.
The programme aims to boost Saudi’s creative economy by empowering digital content creation in immersive technology. It was launched in 2021 as a platform and incubator for innovators to pursue ideas and create prototypes.
Once the ideas are selected, applicants move on to attending masterclasses in immersive technology, storytelling and design research methods among others.
Participants then pitch their ideas and five winners are chosen for the next step, and move on to international boot camp classes to engage with an immersive digital content ecosystem.
"Our project is a VR storytelling experience that takes place in the 1900s aboard the Hijaz Railway, where you embody different characters learning about their story and their journeys through the train," said applicant Maram Alghamdi.
"The project purpose is to recreate the experience of travelling on the Hijaz railway in this unique time period in the history of the Hejaz region.
“What inspired us is our belief that this monument deserves preservation and better understanding, not just as an instrument for varied purposes, but as a train that, for a brief period, carried people and their stories.”
The innovators are given 12 to 14 weeks to work on the development of their ideas with the support of the Creative Solutions team.
They are given 75,000 Saudi riyals ($19,970) to spend on the project development.
At the end of the project, participants showcase their prototypes and engage in a network event which helps them meet potential investors, partners and other participants.
During Gamers8, Ithra will showcase the five winning projects in the Creative Solutions programme in Riyadh.
The five winners from last year will continue to work on their prototypes, engage with partners, building on the next stages of their careers, as well as serve as creative solutions mentors.
"I truly believe that immersive experiences will be used by all of us in the future," said Ithra panellist and stakeholder Simon Benson.
"After all, immersive tech is actually just providing us with a more natural way to interact with our digital world, something that we do every day, but via interfaces that are not necessarily the most efficient ways such as by using a keyboard and mouse, or our tiny smartphone screens.
“The skills and capabilities that we are investing in this area can form the backbone of the capabilities required for this future.”