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‘Game On’ for African gaming sector

May 27, 2021

by Angharad Rhiannon

While Afrobeats and Nollywood have garnered international attention, Africa’s burgeoning gaming industry is frequently overlooked. The sector has had to overcome key barriers – such as affordability and low penetration of smartphones – but is now poised for unprecedented growth. The industry isn’t just taking internationally-produced games and republishing them in Africa, but is nurturing home-grown talent to develop games that are culturally resonant and technically aligned to the needs of the market.

South Africa’s African Space Programme Video Games Studio, founded by Kea’s World developer Khumo Moerane, uses the gaming medium to retell traditional tales – thereby celebrating and preserving African folklore. Meanwhile, Kenyan studio Jiwe recently launched Africa’s first home-grown post-apocalyptic video game. Usoni – ‘stone’ in Kiswahil – was launched on PC and Android in February 2021 and tells the story of Ophelia and Ulysses who face numerous challenges as they journey from Europe to Africa to escape pollution, chaos and disease resulting from catastrophic climate change.

Nigeria’s Maliyo Games is another example of a home-grown mobile gaming company that produces games relevant to the African market, including Mosquito Smasher, where users compete to squash mosquitoes. Its portfolio also includes recently-launched Danfo Racer, a racing game based on a bus that takes players around various parts of Africa, allowing them to explore different countries’ cultures as they play.

Founder Hugo Obi points out that a key barrier for his company was that while he was able to source creative talent locally, he had to initially outsource the technical side of game building internationally with a shortage of local developers. He fixed this problem by running competitions and training boot camps, which means the company’s entire output is now produced in Nigeria.

But it’s not just skills shortages that’s holding the African gaming sector back. Sithe Ncube notes that diversity is another issue that needs addressing. She founded Prosearium to do just that, an initiative aimed at getting 1,000 African women creating and self-publishing their own games. “Sometimes you can see the common thread among communities across the continent, which is usually related to the lack of accessibility of resources when compared to the Western games industry,” she says.

This too is beginning to change, as more Africans develop the requisite skills and as access to capital increases. South Africa’s Carry1st, a mobile games publishing platform that launched in 2019 is a gaming company that has succeeded in attracting international investment. In May 2021, it announced it had raised a further $6 million (€4.92m) in Series A funding, taking total investment to $9.5 million. This round was led by Konvoy Ventures with participation from Riot Games, Raine Ventures, AET Fund/Akatsuki and TTV Capital.

Carry1st enables gaming studios to unlock the African market via its full-stack publishing solution. It also handles distribution, localisation, marketing, customer experience and monetisation across six countries. The company will use the latest round of funding to secure new partnerships with global gaming studios, to grow its business and expand its portfolio of games. Cordel Robbin-Coker, co-founder and CEO, noted that the company’s new investors brought more than just money to the table, including expertise in game development, publishing and monetisation experience.

Ludique Works’ CEO Douglas Ogeto recently noted that while the country is still behind South Africa in terms of development, “affordable mobile data, new teaching institutions that focus on game development skills, and a growing market of young people with access to smartphones” are boosting the country’s and region’s gaming industry.

The industry is also spreading outside Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. According to Dawit Abraham, founder and CEO of Qene Games, there was a small but growing gaming industry in Ethiopia, although it is being held back by a lack of access to platforms such as Google and Apple that enable developers to easily resell their games. He notes that this creates opportunities for telecoms firms to fill the void. “I suspect there would be fierce competition among telcos who have been trying to get into the gaming business to try to fill the gap in distribution and sales,” he comments.

In fact telecoms firms have a critical role to play in the growth of the African gaming market in more ways than one, with mobile broadband coverage, data affordability and smartphone penetration remaining significant barriers to its development.

At the end of 2019, for example, only 26 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africans were using mobile Internet services, with the GSMA forecasting this will rise from 272 million in 2019 to 475 million in 2025. But the GSMA points out the issue isn’t just coverage – nearly 50 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africans are living within a mobile broadband coverage area but not using it because services are too expensive.

The UN says this is because Africans have some of the highest per-megabyte costs in the world, with only Americans paying more. In Malawi, for example, customers pay an average of $27.41 per gigabyte, according to Cable UK. Meanwhile the ITU-T says customers should pay no more than 2 per cent of gross national income per capita, in Malawi they pay the equivalent of 87 per cent. With African telcos also providing the mobile payment and banking services, they hold many of the cards needed to support further growth of African gaming.

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