Games for Change unveils second summit in Abu Dhabi

Games for Change and AD Gaming announced that the second Games for Change Middle East Summit will take place in Abu Dhabi from December 14 to December 17.

The Games for Change summit will bring global and local leaders in gaming and esports to Abu Dhabi to support the growth of the gaming industry in the United Arab Emirates and neighboring countries.

The event has support from the U.S. Mission to the UAE. And it is expected to attract hundreds of international and UAE-based game developers to Abu Dhabi, a capital of the Middle East’s fast-growing gaming industry and an emerging global gaming hub, with over 70 gaming companies now creating content in the emirate.

Given the UAE’s community of gamers, the summit aims to support the industry’s growth in the region by developing local talent, deepening international business relationships, and promoting sustainable and socially responsible business growth. I’m actually going to be a speaker at the event in my first trip there.


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Nine out of ten adults in the UAE play video games, and 23% are frequent gamers playing at least 11 hours per week. The per capita industry spend on gaming in the UAE is amongst the highest in the world.

In its second year, the summit features an expanded focus on esports to cultivate the relatively new regional esports community. As local universities begin to add esports as a program track to game development programs, and educators increasingly show interest in creating esports clubs and dedicated esports spaces for students, there is a huge opportunity to use esports in education and community engagement, especially among youth who comprise 34% of the Emirati population.

Across two days of talks, workshops, and masterclasses, Summit attendees will explore trends shaping the industry and learn from case studies of innovative gaming and esports projects that have made a positive impact in communities.

Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, opens the 2023 event at the UN.
Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, opens the 2023 event at the UN.

Frequent networking sessions will provide ample opportunities to connect with global and regional industry leaders, and an interactive arcade will highlight games created by local game developers and students. Keynote speakers include Allison Matthews (Head of Minecraft Education, Microsoft), Nanea Reeves (CEO, Tripp), Jason Della Rocca (Co-Founder, Execution Labs), Samir El Agili (Chairman/CEO, Tilting Point), Paul Dawalibi (CEO, Holodeck Ventures), Dean Takahashi (yep, me, lead writer for GamesBeat, VentureBeat), Dr. Constance Steinkhuler (Professor, University of California, Irvine), Seth Gerson (CEO, Survios), Sultan Alriyami (Section Head of Gaming & Esports, AD Gaming) and many more.

“After the success of the first Games for Change Summit in Abu Dhabi last year, G4C is thrilled to return to the UAE to support the growing gaming industry in the Middle East,” said Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, in a statement. “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. Our partnership with AD Gaming and the U.S. Mission to the UAE presents 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 Blast Premier is a Counter-Strike professional esports league, and the World Final is the league’s biggest event of the year. Eight of the world’s best Counter-Strike teams will compete for the prestigious World Final trophy and a $1 million prize pool in the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on December 16 and December 17.

“The pipeline of games set to be launched from Abu Dhabi over the next 12 months is the strongest it has ever been. Genre-defining titles are being developed right in the heart of the emirate by AD Gaming members, and as we bring this content to the world, Games for Change will play a crucial role in ensuring the Abu Dhabi’s developers target positive impact through their work,” said James Hartt, director of gaming and digital development at AD Gaming, in a statement. “Alongside supporting the UAE’s shift towards a knowledge-based economy, the positive impact that gaming can have is monumental. The inaugural Games for Change Middle East Summit last year was an outstanding success, and the line-up of gaming industry experts participating this year is even stronger.”

Robin Solomon, counselor for public affairs at the U.S. Mission to the UAE, said in a statement, “The U.S. Mission to the UAE is proud to sponsor the second edition of Games for Change Middle East Summit here in Abu Dhabi. This investment reflects our commitment to the partnership with Abu Dhabi Gaming and twofour54 to strengthen U.S.-UAE collaboration in the growing gaming sector. The U.S. Mission stands ready to connect stakeholders in the UAE media sector with prominent U.S. experts, such Games for Change, to support the creative economy in the UAE. This is a wonderful opportunity to add yet another milestone to the thriving U.S.-UAE partnership.”

The inaugural Games for Change Middle East Summit in October 2022 was a two-day event that drew over 400 participants from the UAE games industry, government, and education. The Summit is part of an ongoing partnership between Games for Change, the United States, and the UAE focused on promoting cross-cultural collaboration by connecting talent in the UAE’s growing video game industry with U.S. expertise and the global G4C movement.

In 2021, G4C and AD Gaming launched Game Exchange, a virtual game design and international exchange program for youth in the United States, the Middle East, and North Africa where students work together to design games that address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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