Women Gamers Dominating the Arab World

This story is an excerpt that will be featured in the upcoming book The Internet of Women to be published on June 30th

Video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry, with the global gaming market projected to reach over $113B by 2018, according to the analyst firm Newzoo. In the MENA region, the video game market is burgeoning, with an expected annual growth rate of 29 percent. Mobile gaming in the Middle East is the fastest growing gaming sector in the world, and of all the digital games produced in the region, Jordan churns out more than half of them.

Na3m Games, based in Amman, is one company that has received a lot of attention of late. It’s founder and CEO is Saudi prince Fahad Al Saud who, after graduating from Stanford University and before launching his company, was hired by Facebook in 2008 to help launch the popular social media site in Arabic. Na3m is interesting for a lot of reasons, and not in the least because more than a third of its staff are women. Al Saud has made it his mission to advocate for equality through technology by launching a gaming platform that champions, fosters, and celebrates Arab identity with a focus on empowering women and girls.

When asked about his motivation behind launching NA3M Games to help women shatter the glass wall in Saudi Arabia, Al Saud told Talk Media News, “This is my responsibility. As someone who was raised by strong women, I want to represent them through the work that I do.” In fact, Prince Fahad attributes much of the success of NA3M Games to his team’s ability to empower women through technology-driven tools that allow them to reach and connect with the outside world and shine the spotlight on their efforts. He and others believe that diversity and inclusion in the tech industry will not happen by accident and must be purposely nurtured.

Hiring women is not just about empowerment and igniting cultural change, however. Al Saud and the gaming industry as a whole also understand that women make up the largest group of consumers (approximately 60 percent) of mobile games and apps. Having a women’s perspective is important for business growth.

NA3M employees share their thoughts on work, gender, and cultural change

Abeer Ahmad, originally from Palestine, studied computer science in Amman but did not receive any specialized training in gaming. In fact, she was told that she wouldn’t find work in the programming field and that gaming wouldn’t be successful in Jordan. They were wrong on both counts.

Despite her lack of training in game design, Ahmad made a game for her graduation project and received high marks for it. Subsequently she found an opportunity to interview at NA3M, where she has worked since 2013. She loves her work and says that game design provides especially exciting challenges because each game is different than the one that comes before it, and you’re constantly learning on the job.

Her colleague Sarah Kilani says, “When I applied here, and they saw my work and told me that I didn’t think highly enough of myself — ‘You’re much better at this than you think you are,’ they told me. That was a shock for me! I’m not used to hearing things like that, except from my parents.”

She credits her family with the happiness and success she has found at work and feels that the support of family is essential for a woman’s achievement. “When parents see their daughter’s passion and skills and support them, they will find that this is something that can benefit the country, not just the family,” she says.

Kilani is from Jordan, where she studied in the University or Jordan’s visual arts program. When she was in high school, however, she focused on science. While people were originally confused by her transition to art, both skill sets have served her well at NA3M, where she creates game concepts and visuals.

Another employee Jude Soub feels there has been tremendous progress in gender equality not only culturally and in the home, but in the workforce. She sees greater equality in the Jordanian workforce than in the United States, where she studied and interned in PR for several years and where she recalls hearing many colleagues complain about unequal pay between men and women — something she says is not an issue in Jordan.

Soub is also confident that education for both men and women in Jordan is a priority and well advocated for by Queen Rania. “I don’t think education has ever been an issue here,” she says. “I think everyone here strives to be who they want to be. Education is always number one in Jordan.”

Rana Romoh is newer to NA3M, where she provides copywriting and digital marketing for the company, including translation, social media, search engine optimization, and online advertising. She studied English Language Literature in the University of Jordan and wanted to get into the field of marketing ever since she graduated. She attributes her professional interests in part to her brother, who is a successful digital marketer for a large company. “He is successful, why not me?” She asked herself.

Before working for NA3M, Romoh had settled for a public relations job in Dubai. When she moved back to Jordan, she learned about the gaming company and applied immediately. At NA3M she has found a lot of freedom to innovate and to grow her skills through advanced certifications.

All four women see a dramatic and positive change in society among women, especially when comparing across the generations. Women are choosing careers, waiting to have families, and pursuing their ambitions. “Prince Fahad and his team at NA3M are dedicated to achieving more than that. Their goal is to continue to lead a significant change in popular culture, technology and the workplace, both locally and globally.” Although cultural norms worth challenging remain, these women feel strongly while the main interest of most companies is making money, Prince Fahad and his team at NA3M are dedicated to achieving more than that. Their goal is to continue to lead a significant change in popular culture, technology and the workplace, both locally and globally.

Rahilla Zafar previously co-authored Arab Women Rising highlighting women entrepreneurs across the Middle East