The UAE's love of gaming is anything but child's play for ambitious students plotting a course for career success in the growing industry.
UAE residents are eager to make their mark in everything from game development and design to graphics as the sector goes from strength to strength.
The value of the Middle East and North Africa gaming market is projected to exceed $5 billion by 2025, up 19 per cent on 2019 figures, according to a 2022 report by the consultancy RedSeer.
Gulf nations such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have young and tech-savvy populations with a gaming culture, are significant drivers of this increase.
Increased investment is opening up more opportunities for young people to get a foot on the career ladder with internships and part-time roles, as well as a variety of full-time positions.
An Arab perspective on gaming
Many are aiming to put an authentic Arab imprint on the video game world.
Emirati Faris Kazim, 25, a final-year digital media student at the American University of Dubai, is excited about the chance to show the best of the region in byte-sized form.
“We Arabs have a wealth of stories that are perfect for video game platforms. So it is nice to see things starting up in this direction,” Mr Kazim told The National.
After enrolling for a game-building course with Endless Studios, which operates a youth-centred game-making studio in Dubai, Mr Kazim said he is developing an Arab-themed game called Al Ghroob, which means sundown in English.
“It is a horror game based on UAE folklore, with mythological creatures. I collaborated with other students who are equally passionate about game building. It was a wonderful experience.
“The game is in the making. There is no set release date as of now."
He said he has been passionate about gaming ever since he laid his hands on his first Game Boy, a handheld console first released by Nintendo in the late 1980s.
Bringing an artistic flair to gaming
Yemeni student Layan Showlaq, 21, has already landed a part-time job with Endless Studios while studying digital media at the American University of Dubai.
The game designer is keen to bring a dash of creativity to her work.
“I am a designer and I design costumes for games. You have to do a lot of research. It is like bringing art and technology together because I have to implement my designs on a video game,” Ms Showlaq said.
She said she designed the skin or costume for the main character and villain in Al Ghroob.
"Working in the gaming industry gives me a unique skill set as an artist. This is super good because I believe in modern art movements and, as an artist, I don’t want to be defeated on technology.”
As the UAE embraces the business of a beloved hobby, there will be greater opportunities ahead.
G42 Cloud, a unit of Abu Dhabi's artificial intelligence company G42, has teamed up with leading mobile games creator PUBG Mobile and Endless Studios to help find the next generation of game designers.
The competition is open to university and high school students in the UAE, who are invited to create their own fanart and design concepts for game skins, which are outfits featured in games.
Entries must be submitted by April 12, with finalists selected by a panel of judges and the winner decided in a vote by game players.
“It is great to team up with a company like PUBG Mobile that has the ambition and aspiration to ‘Arabise’ content and make it relevant to people in this part of the world,” said Talal Al Kaissi, chief executive of G42 Cloud
“The gaming industry is growing rapidly in the UAE with a strong drive locally to develop homegrown talent and games."