With more than seventeen years in the gaming industry and fifteen years in higher education, Reine Abbas is one of the first female game designers in the Middle East and the first to be a founder of a video games company. She is the COO and Co-Founder of Wixel Studios, the first independent gaming company in Lebanon and one of the first in the Mena Region. She is also the CEO and founder of Spica Tech, one of the few gaming academies in the region.
Mrs. Abbas’ work has been recognized around the world and she has won many awards, including the WIT Women in Technology Award 2010, the WOW award for artistic expressions 2013 at the 6th New Arab Woman Forum, Inc.com‘s World’s five most powerful women in gaming in 2013, one of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in both 2014 and 2015 as selected by ArabianBusiness.com, winner of the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Region competition 2017 and Mena Region winner in the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards of 2019. In 2019, she also won the Best Animation award at the ARFF Paris International Awards for her music video “Right Now”. She was featured in Forbes 2019 and was a TEDx Beirut speaker in 2011.
Can you tell us what inspired you when you were young? Did your parents or friends influence your decision to get into games? or were you interested on your own in this so called ‘man’ field?
Since childhood, I was called the freak child who draws on the balcony in summer vacations.
Since the age of 11, I was interested in all kinds of art and liked to go play Atari games.
My two brothers used to go to a ‘flipper’ shop where once I finally was able to sneak-in after cutting my long hair and dressing like a boy.
When I entered this boy zone and saw all big Atari games in the shop, I fell in love with them!
I was grounded many times for my actions but couldn’t help myself because I was very passionate about video gaming and my parents did not used to bring us such games to the house.
Afterwards, it was an easy phase for me as a girl.
I graduated in masters of visual arts and entered the animation world with Warner Brothers for a year to launch a Saudi animation program.
Through my work, someone introduced me to DigiPen (sister company of Nintendo) which was based in Lebanon and was recruiting artists and animators.
I was the only artist at that moment in the department and started to learn development even coding to understand and communicate with a team of 30 developers.
Meanwhile I worked and travelled between Lebanon and the US and soon became head of art department.
When I started with DigiPen, I never realized that we were only two women in the whole company and we were considered minority in this field.
I never understood why they defined a specific category limited to being a woman in the gaming industry.
I even started in 2008 my own company Wixel Studios without knowing the terminology of ‘entrepreneur’ and its meaning.
A major event was in 2010, when I was the only female speaker in the first Arabnet conference held in Lebanon, talking about video games. Twitter traffic and trend was at that day talking about a woman who understood well the gaming industry and was passionate about it.
I was nominated by NGO the female of the year in technology.
inc.com also chose me between the five females in video games.
I am invited to many panels all over the world covering women in business, women in gaming, and women in technology.
Do you see any trend driving the content of mobile games today?
First of all, casual games were mainly used: story driving games and racing cars.
The so-called trend now is Hyper Casual games. They are fast to do with a low production cost, and publishers are demanding these kind of games which drive users.
What criteria and knowledge base increase the chance of designers and developers to get hired these days?
The dominance of Indie Game development is a trend with success, where a group of people creates for example a mind craft or color switch game in their house garage without outside source or publisher.
Concerning the recruitment, video gaming is now the biggest industry in the world, where during the pandemic, remote and online work also made it happen without a need for work visa, or to go to an office.
In MENA region, with a lack of education in gaming, there are very few chances.
On my personal level, I am teaching game design and animation in universities and through SpicaTech, creating mini developers to craft their own products and publish their games.
Can you share the percentage of how much work is completed in house versus outsourced?
Definitely, in-house is ideal for confidentiality, secrecy and protection of our production.
However, sometimes we need to outsource depending on the project. We look for sound designers, musicians, artists, especially after COVID-19 pandemic, the work load increased, everyone wanted to do games and go digital.
So we had to recruit more people; but they are working online from home.
Also outsourcing is not a bad idea, major companies adopt this concept, plus it is cost saving.
We, at Wixel studios, do both.
Please tell our audience about your superpower mom’s project for your son and how it became ‘Spicatech’?
My son was only 4 when he started to learn how to do games.
I always took him to work with me, and he knows that I produce games.
He used to ask everyone: “Are you playing games? did you try this game?”
But everyone was telling him the same answer: “NO”
It was very frustrating for him ’till one day he asked me to teach him, and his colleagues in school, to do their own games.
It was a really weird question for his age. He told me “because everyone is playing, no one is creating”.
I prepared a 14 Hour Course of game design and pitched it to their teacher who was very excited.
I saw how kids changed automatically their mindset, the logic.
For this reason, I wanted to make it official and start SpikaTech academy to test this idea of shifting kids and teens to game production and becoming digital producers instead of consumers.
I am very proud of what we’re accomplishing in terms of awareness, education, investments received and competitions won so far.
We’re teaching kids entrepreneurship, project management, critical and creative thinking,
problem solving, and we’re using their passion for video games to teach them math, science, reading, writing, things they find really boring at school and difficult to learn.
We have more than 1000 students in only 2 years and we’re opening two new models in Dubai and KSA.
My purpose is to create success stories from the MENA region to the world.
In your opinion, how much technology should be used in classrooms?
Is Lebanon on the right track?
It is not a matter of tools (the smart board, iPad, computer) because everyone is using them.
To me, we should change the way we are teaching kids.
The education system must focus on interactive curriculum, fun and easy to remember.
By using games and apps to teach math, science, history, and geography, the material becomes interesting, and all kids will never forget what they learned.
Also, we give a chance for all kids without exception to finish school.
For example in my academy SpicaTech, we had kids with dyslexia, autism, ADHD hyperactivity disorder, everyone did great in finishing their games just like the other kids.
All kids are passionate for games, it is interactive and fun and everyone can do it though games.
Concerning Lebanon – even all MENA region – is not on the right track because unfortunately, there is no education in gaming industry.
We need both education and hub for companies to open in our region and create million of job opportunities in game design and game development.
Any plan for distance learning during the pandemic as kids activity for video games production?
Even before COVID-19 pandemic, we had already started our online platform and we were ready to teach online gaming production and the know-how, while reaching kids through zoom, teams or our online platform.
It’s going well and we were ready anyway.