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Africa’s games makers dream of exporting to the world

Africa’s games makers dream of exporting to the world

By Gabriella Mulligan
Cape Town
Mosquito Hood screen grab

Games developer Momentum Core aims to make games that have social impact

Allan Mukhwana has been instrumental in ensuring that more than 1,400 households in high-risk malaria zones in rural Kenya receive insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

But he’s not an aid worker, nor a medic – he’s the boss of a gaming studio, Momentum Core, in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

His firm specialises in developing games with an educational twist.

Players of the game Mosquito Hood are tasked with killing increasingly pesky mosquitoes. When a player completes all levels of the game, the Kenyan government has agreed to donate one mosquito net to a family living in a malarial zone.

Malaria is the leading cause of mortality in Kenya, and is particularly deadly among young children.

Mr Mukhwana has also created games aimed at raising awareness about HIV, as well as educational games for children.

Momentum Core’s Allan Mukhwana believes mobile will transform the Africa’s games market

“We aim to make learning about these important topics fun and engaging to players,” he says.

Minuscule market

Momentum Core is just one of several games developers aiming to raise the profile of African gaming.

The market is very much still in its infancy on the continent – video games don’t have much uptake among the population, especially on PCs and consoles.

Kenya’s video games market was worth $44m (£28m) at the end of 2013; Nigeria’s was valued at $71m, according to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Compare this to the size of the US market in 2013 – $20.5bn – and the African markets seem minuscule.

But over the coming years, all the African gaming markets are expected to see annual double-digit growth, and gaming enthusiasts like Allan Mukhwana are ready for the market to take-off.

Mobile gaming

But it will be the mobile phone that dominates as the gaming device of choice, not consoles and computers, experts believe.

Mobile games can be downloaded quickly, making them more accessible

“Because of the portability and accessibility of mobile phones, mobile is the best medium for gaming in Africa,” says Mr Mukhwana.

“Most people are engaged with their mobile phones. Also, not everyone wants fancy games that cost hundreds of dollars and that require a lot of commitment to play.

“Since mobile games often cost a dollar or less and can be downloaded in a pinch, even people who aren’t avid gamers can still enjoy a quick game during a break from work, or when they’re sitting on the bus,” he says.

Local flavour

Over in Nigeria, Abiola Olaniran, founder and chief executive of Gamsole, agrees that mobile is the present and future of the African gaming market.

Gamsole specialises in creating games for the Windows Phone platform, and has seen its games downloaded over 10 million times in the last 18 months.

The company is now looking to expand its products to other mobile systems, including feature phones – as basic, low-cost phones are called.

Gamsole likes to make games with African characters and plots

“Gaming is still a nascent industry in Africa,” says Mr Olaniran. “Due to the high rate of mobile device penetration, mobile can serve as a converging point for both casual and hardcore gamers.

“Mobile is the single channel that cuts across all demographics of gamers.”

Gamsole creates games with an African flavour – based in African cities, telling African stories, with local characters.

“African-themed games can be the future of gaming if people can relate with the content on a personal basis, based on their daily life experiences,” he says. “This is one way to push adoption of games in Africa.”

But he also believes African-themed games can become popular across the world.

“At Gamsole, our idea of African games is not games by Africans for Africans. No, it’s games by Africans for the globe.”

Abiola Olaniran wants to make “games for Africans for the globe”

University student Feyi Aderibigbe says she enjoys Gamsole’s African-themed games as they relate to her everyday life and are “a good way to kill boredom”.

“Personally I believe African-themed games relate better with our everyday life experiences,” she says.

“Africa is shifting to a position where we don’t only want to learn other people’s story, we also want to share our stories, cultures, experiences, and lifestyle with the whole world, and I think that African-themed games are a good medium to achieve this,” she says.

Challenges

Nigeria’s Kuluya Games also focuses on using African characters and anecdotes as the core of its games.

Founder Lakunle Ogungbamila says Africa’s rich wealth of cultures places the continent in good stead to create quirky content that may appeal to the rest of the world.

African gaming needs more investment to thrive, says Lakunle Ogungbamila of Kuluya Games

“Africa has a lot of stories and cultures to tap from to make thoroughly engaging gaming content,” he says. “It’s a long shot to be a global gaming capital, but we are sure Africa will be up there.”

There are still a number of challenges facing Africa’s games developers – financial and reputational, he says.

“Local games can only be popular if people know they exist. Discovery is still a big issue for development shops like ours, but we are making active moves to resolve this.”

The limited amount of investment being pumped into Africa’s games studios is also hindering development of the sector, he believes.

Despite the challenges, Mr Ogungbamila believes the future is bright.

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