The second Games for Change Middle East Summit will be held in Abu Dhabi next week (14-15 December, plus the BLAST Premier World Final matches on 14-17 December), further buffing the capital’s growing rep as a regional hub for game development – more than 70 business are now creating gaming content in the emirate – and reflecting the medium’s popularity locally (apparently nine out of ten adults in the UAE play video games, and 23 percent play at least 11 hours a week).
The Summit will attract hundreds of international and UAE-based game developers to Abu Dhabi for two days of talks, workshops, case studies and masterclasses. Networking sessions will be crucial, and local game developers and students will be highlighted in an interactive arcade.
There’s a good roster of Keynote speakers, too – among them several CEOs (Seth Gerson, Survios; Nanea Reeves, Tripp; Jason Della Rocca, Execution Labs; Samir El Agili, Tilting Point; Paul Dawalibi, Holodeck Ventures; Christoph Timm, Nigma Galaxy) and other egames notables. There should be an interesting take on the market from Constance Steinkhuler, professor of Informatics at UC Irvine and a past White House analyst advising on policy matters about video games and learning. Allison Matthews, now head of Minecraft Education at Microsoft, is good on the power of game-based learning to engage young people in everything from coding and literacy to sustainability and active citizenship. Dean Takahashi, lead writer for the GamesBeat industry-watching tech news site, should be able to give a great overview – he’s widely regarded as one of the best independent observers of the games business.
And naturally there’ll be a slot for Sultan Al Riyami, section head for Gaming & Esports at AD Gaming, the Abu Dhabi government’s promotion/sponsorship arm for the emirate’s gaming business (goal no.1: “make Abu Dhabi the #1 location of choice for all gaming industry businesses”). James Hartt, director of Gaming and Digital Development at DCT Abu Dhabi, is also down to speak.
For this second edition, the Summit features an expanded focus on esports to cultivate a relatively new regional community. As local universities begin to add esports to game development programmes, and there’s increasing interest in esports clubs and dedicated esports spaces for students, there’s an obvious opportunity to develop esports in community engagement.
The Summit is organised by the Games for Change organisation, a nonprofit founded way back in 2004 to explore how digital games could be used to support impact causes; and as G4C’s president (and one of its cofounders) Susanna Pollack puts it, “for 20 years the Games for Change community has proved that the games industry is not just an engine for economic development, it’s a vehicle for social impact”.
It runs several programmes, but its major public event is the annual G4C Festival in New York. The Abu Dhabi event aims to mirror this, and Ms Pollack – who’ll be among the speakers at the Summit – describes the event as “an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine the gaming sector’s role in global development and international collaboration, and cultivate an ecosystem focused on innovation, education and real-world impact”.
The Summit is also part of an ongoing partnership between AD Gaming, G4C, and the US Mission to the UAE (which is basically the embassy in Dubai plus the consulate in Abu Dhabi). In 2021, G4C and AD Gaming launched Game Exchange, a virtual game design and international exchange programme in the USA and the MENA region where students work together to design games that address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The Summit is at the W Abu Dhabi and runs concurrently with the first two days of the BLAST Premier World Final; eight of the world’s best teams from the Counter-Strike professional esports league will be competing for a $1 million prize pot (half of which goes to the winner) in the Etihad Arena. (It looks like a shoo-in for Team Vitality, with ZywOo and Spinx on fire at the moment, but hey what do we know.) There are group matches on 13 and 14 December, quarter-finals on the Friday, semis on Saturday, and the big one on Sunday 17 December.
There’s more information about the Summit here.