Animation skills: Students at SAE institute at Knowledge Village Dubai work on various animations. Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images to create an illusion of movement. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Dubai: There comes a point in every video-gamer's life when a nagging parent or spouse pesters them to turn off the game and come to dinner or get to bed.

This moment always seems to come at the crucial time when a race is about to be won, an enemy defeated, or a mission completed.

The worst moment of all though; the moment when what appears to be a passive gamer turns real-life monster, is when the nagging person in the background walks over to the console and turns it off.

With what seems to be an increasing number of people of all ages from across the world immersed into the imaginary world of video-gaming, it is not surprising the gaming industry is one of the fastest growing in the world.

A 2007 online Harris survey of nearly 1,200 US youths aged eight to 18 revealed that on average, teenage girls play eight hours of video games a week, with teenage boys reaching 14 hours of weekly play time.

Market gap

Experts believe given the UAE's position as a regional technology-savvy nation, similar results could be estimated for young gamers in the UAE.

"If we consider the different types of games now available on different mediums we will see a gigantic growth in the amount of time young adults spend playing games," said Keiran Bartlett, Campus academic coordinator and games lecturer at the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) Institute Dubai. The increased video-gaming habits of a nation also pose a gap in the career market. Data released by global market research firm the NPD group shows the video game industry generated more than $25 billion (Dh91.7 billion) in revenues for 2010.

The US, Japan and some European markets basically boast veteran status when it comes to entertainment software development. Yet, countries like Colombia and China are making it a national priority to develop their own gaming industries to compete on the world market.

However, the Middle East and the GCC and more specifically the UAE remain mere consumers of entertainment software rather than cashing in on this rapidly growing market.

Instead of gamers wasting away endless hours on game play, experts believe the industry growth offers the youth a chance to turn a profit from their gaming hobbies.

"Gaming is a hot topic, with social media and wireless technology now adding a social flavour to it," said Dr Fadi Aloul, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). "Games are becoming even more popular with higher connection speeds and the increased processing power of smart phones as well as tablets like the iPad."

He added that with cheap downloadable mobile application development software made available from corporations such as Microsoft and Apple, students can now get started on mobile game development in their bedrooms.

"Using the downloaded programme they can write a game, send it off to Apple who'll market it in the iTunes store and send the developer a percentage," said Dr Aloul.

Growing demand

"They don't need to be part of large organisations outside the UAE to develop mobile games. With these programmes a kid anywhere in the UAE could develop a game that would become international."

In the US there are over 300 colleges, universities and technical schools offering courses in video game design and development. In the UAE there are just a handful.

The SAE Institute Dubai is one of the few which offers a bachelor of arts (BA) in interactive animation. It is also set to roll out a bachelor of science (BSc) in games programming, come November.

"We've seen a need to introduce the BSc programme here in the UAE because students who do animation may be better suited to game programming," said Bartlett. "Our BA in interactive animation is already our second most popular course after audio engineering."

He added that the students at SAE are highly motivated about game development and, therefore, the institute is aiming to establish a form of synergy between the games design and programming students. "The students come through here with a lot of motivation and energy actually able to produce games of marketable quality," he said. "Their biggest problem is having an idea and then getting it out into the market."

Dr Aloul also believes the student demand for games development offerings at universities in the UAE are growing, due to market demand.

"At AUS, we're aware of the growth in the gaming industry which is why we started offering an elective course in game design," he said. "It is not a requirement but students interested in learning how to develop games can take it."

However, students interested in games programming and design have an array of opportunities.

  • 37: is the average age of a game player
  • 55%: of gamers play games on their phones or hand-held devices
  • Dh91.7b: revenue generated by the international gaming industry through the sale of video games, hardware and accessories in 2010
  • 42%: of all gamers are women

Turning a passion into a career

A hard-core student gamer has found a way to turn his love of video gaming into a career like a lot of people born in the 80s and 90s, Muhannad Al Tinai grew up playing video games. However, this 20 year old has found a way to turn his hobby into a potential career path.

Al Tinai enrolled into an undergraduate computer engineering degree at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) because it was the closest field to computer gaming.

Yet, although he did not manage to get his degree of choice it is through the AUS games club the self-professed hard-core gamer, is managing to turn his hobby into a career. Through a mutual collaboration by the student club and one of the country's leading software distributors, Al Tinai has gained experience as a video games promoter.

"The AUS games club works with Red Entertainment Distribution to help market new games when they're launched," he said. "Our most recent collaboration was for the launch of the new mortal combat game at Dubai Festival City."

The partnership involves an agreement for the AUS student games club to provide a master of ceremonies at game launches; as well as create local buzz around an event, using social media.

Gamer for life

Al Tinai has been gaming since he was a child and first started out on the popular Sega Mega Drive 2 console of the 90s.

"Before the age of 10, I had virtually every game platform available except the Nintendo which I used to play at my friends house," he said. "My favourite types of games are those that involve a lot of imagination and thinking."

More than a decade on, Al Tinai shows no sign of giving up on his passion as he has big career plans for his gaming hobby. He is involved in a personal project to develop an online gaming and gadget portal, www.letsgogadget.com, set to go live at the end of the month.

Through this website, Al Tinai aims to become a professional gamer by getting further involved with the gaming community and help game developers create successful products through his consulting and marketing services. Al Tinai believes that as a young person with years of gaming experience he is an asset to games developers when testing a product as he is essentially their target market.

Gaming in the classroom

Some experts believe the introduction of video gaming as a core element of teaching is inevitable while others believe it is a more complimentary learning tool.

Given the large amount of time youths and adults spend playing video games, some experts believe they could become a permanent fixture in classrooms of the near future.

"Games can be quite educational and are known to be good for teaching manual dexterity," said Michael Zyda, Director of the Game Pipe Lab at the University of Southern California recently. "I can see a possibility for us to develop specific curriculum games to teach twice as well as teachers."

The Game Pipe Lab is an incubator for student-developed video games and was where one of world's best-selling games, Black Ops: Call of Duty came from.

Dr Fadi Aloul, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the American University of Sharjah believes video games hold great learning potential; but could never fully replace teachers — who are an integral part of the learning process.

"The old fashioned form of instruction is fading out and to maintain youths' interest we need to adopt the latest methods and technologies," he said. "For example, in one of my classes I could see how I'd set the students a video game to play as homework."

He added that video games in the classroom could merely attract students to knowledge because they make learning fun.