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BUSINESSTODAY 10 February 2022

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OPINION 10.2.2022 Alexiei Dingli Prof Alexiei Dingli is a Professor of AI at the University of Malta and has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades, assisting different companies to implement AI solutions. He forms part of the Malta.AI task-force, set up by the Maltese government, aimed at making Malta one of the top AI countries in the world H aving a solid iGaming Industry, Malta is flowing with talented individuals who conceive, de- sign and program games. However, it is always wise to diversify and avoid keep- ing all the eggs in one basket. Because of this, various governments have been trying to kickstart the Digital Gaming Industry since the skillset of the people working in these two industries is very similar. For those of you not familiar with the two industries, both of them are in the business of creating computer games. However, the iGaming Indus- try focuses on the gambling side of Gaming, whereas the Digital Gaming Industry deals exclusively with the en- tertainment side. It includes creating computer games, casual games on mo- bile devices, and big movie-like games (typically called AAA games) on ma- jor gaming platforms like Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo. So if one of the industries starts to falter, the other can take over those people. Furthermore, industry analysis clearly showed that the digital gaming industry is resilient. It withstood the global economic crisis of 2008, contin- ued to expand during the recent pan- demic, and the size of the worldwide gaming market is exploding from a meagre $27 billion (a few decades ago) to half a trillion dollars by 2028. In 2012, large gaming companies in the AAA gaming domain were knock- ing on our doors, but it was immedi- ately evident that we couldn't sustain the flow of talent they required. Be- cause of this, many of them founded their studios in foreign jurisdictions such as Canada. At the time, it was ap- parent that Malta needed a National Gaming Strategy. Following the rec- ommendations, the University of Mal- ta added a Gaming Stream for students of the Faculty of ICT. It also set up the Institute of Digital Games to offer Master Courses in Digital Gaming at an advanced level. e rest is history, and today, the Undergraduate Gaming Stream trains around 50 students every year, and the courses offered by the Institute of Digital Games are ranked amongst the Top 20 worldwide. Back then, the University also started using the Unity Game Engine. Unity is a game development toolkit that helps designers and programmers create very complex games. It is so popular that almost half of the world's games make use of it. e courses offered by the University make sure that students learn not just the theory of Gaming but also the practical side so that they are immediately ready for industry. At the end of it, students pass through a 48 hr Game Jam for their assessment, thus getting them to dirty their hands and create a full-blown game in a short time. Another essential step along this path was the setting up of Gaming Malta around 2015, an entity solely dedicat- ed to promoting Malta as the world's premier online gaming jurisdiction and a centre of excellence. e support provided by this entity was incredible, and in 2018 it funded the certification for the students trained in Unity. It es- sentially means that our students are not only proficient with the theory of Gaming and benefit from a high level of practice, but they can also get an in- dustry certification directly from Uni- ty. For investors thinking of setting up in Malta, finding a highly-skilled work- force certified by a world-leading gam- ing company is highly desirable. In 2019, Gaming Malta also renewed Malta's vision by launching the Video Gaming and eSport strategy. It aims to make Malta a central European hub through a long-term plan covering the next decade. e country plans to grow the eSports niche into an important economic sector. e strategy aims to achieve ambitious targets by having the eSports sector contribute up to 1% of the country's GDP whilst facilitating the creation of around 3,000 new jobs. e cherry on the cake is the Unity Center of Excellence agreement signed between Unity and the Government of Malta a few weeks ago. It means that our educational institutions will be- come a Center of Excellence certified by Unity. Our lecturers are currently receiving advanced training through a Unity Certified Train-the-Trainer course delivered by experts from the United States. Furthermore, both in- stitutions will organise several events collaborating with Unity as part of the agreement. To give you an example, the Game Jam mentioned earlier, which already reached 90 participants this year, will keep growing. But it will also have the support of Unity, thus allowing us to offer our students more industry-rel- evant experiences. All of this would not have been possible without the tre- mendous support obtained from Gam- ing Malta. When one considers the massive shortage of talent in the industry worldwide, the gaming industry in Malta is still strong, growing at a steady pace while offering flexible packages with excellent salaries. On the other hand, the government is pumping a lot of resources to boost the sector. So it should be a no-brainer to start a ca- reer in Digital Games. e future looks bright, so why not take the first step and start creating games? Turning Malta into a digital gaming centre of excellence

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