JEDDAH: Teenagers in Saudi Arabia are turning to game development more than ever before, thanks to the help of online educational videos.
Online gaming has been a big part of many young people’s recent upbringings, and many are looking into becoming developers through self-learning, with some already kick-starting their careers before they’ve turned 20.
Mohammad Murad, a 19-year-old game developer, has launched two games. Despite it being a young industry in Saudi Arabia, he has taken a risk and is looking to better his skills to succeed in the industry long term.
He told Arab News that he is self-taught and takes pride in it. “I learned through YouTube videos and the method of trial and error. I did not attend any classes or register for any courses. I was just interested in game development for almost five years. From what I know, it is easy to do something you love. So, it was easy for me to learn it.”
Sharing that same sentiment, 16-year-old Ahmad Kubbi, a Yemeni national living in Saudi Arabia, said his fascination with games led to curiosity in how they came to be.
“When I was 13, I started doing my research, and I found some of the answers on YouTube. One thing led to another, and I was finally able to program a game last year.”
Kubbi believes that anyone who likes game development can learn how to do it, telling Arab News that he now solely uploads videos on YouTube that follow the themes of either playing the games or the tips and tricks of developing them. He has more than 4,000 subscribers on YouTube and 110,000 followers on Tik Tok.
“I hope I can inspire people to try this; I also want to help smaller developers to get better and make games that they want to develop,” he added.
One thing that both young developers found difficult in their journey was the lack of information available in Arabic; they first had to learn English to absorb the knowledge on YouTube.
“I couldn’t find any good quality Arabic videos, so at that time, I had to learn some English,” Murad said. “Then I couldn’t find ways to promote my game. I just tried different methods for the promotions; some worked, some didn’t.”
Another hurdle was that he was also still a school student while developing the game. “I had to focus on my studies, and while that happened, I still needed to work on my games and pursue my passion. I needed to find a balance,” he said.
So far in his journey, the two games he takes pride in are “Get Out,” a horror game about escaping from a house, and “Abdoo Lugaymat,” a Saudi culture-related game involving feeding lugaymat — sweet balls of fried dough dipped in syrup that Saudis widely enjoy — to Abdoo, a child who likes the sweets, without destroying them.
“The thing I am most proud of ‘Abdoo Lugaymat’ is it was downloaded 10,00 times in the first week,” Murad said. “I programmed the whole game myself, even the designs and everything, as opposed to ‘Get Out,’ where I was taking help from the internet.”
Kubbi developed the game ‘To The Tea’ which has not been published yet, and adds he will soon be uploading a demo of the game. It follows a simple premise: A sugar cube falls from its box, and the player has to help the cube get to its final destination — the cup of tea.
Murad had trouble publishing his game on Steam. Another issue that he is still struggling with is stereotypes that surround the game development industry about Saudi Arabia. People automatically assume his game is bad, he said. “They won’t even bother to give it a try, this is (an) issue young developers face in Saudi because of the history.”
However, Murad added: “I will do everything for the thing I love, and I love game development.”
Kubbi said that there might be a lot of challenges ahead, “but that should not stop anyone from achieving what they want. With training and practice, the game development scene in Saudi Arabia will improve, and I hope to have a hand in this.”