African de­vel­op­ers set eyes on mo­bile gam­ing boom

The Phnom Penh Post - - LIFESTYLE -

AN ARMY of hu­mans laid waste to an alien colony as South African video game maker Si­mon Spreck­ley en­thu­si­as­ti­cally con­trolled the ac­tion us­ing his phone’s touch screen.

“The pen­e­tra­tion of mo­bile de­vices in Africa is huge. Peo­ple of­ten have two or three phones, which is pretty crazy,” said Spreck­ley, 40, who wore a T-shirt em­bla­zoned with “Brute”, a four-armed mus­cled alien from the game.

“So that’s one of the big pluses and why we are try­ing to do this,” he said, pro­mot­ing “In­va­sion Day” which will likely launch on Ap­ple’s App Store and Google’s Play plat­form next year.

The multi-player tac­tics game, set in the 1950s, is the brain­child of Spreck­ley’s eight­strong team at VSUS, a Cape Town-based de­vel­oper.

Many other African de­vel­op­ers are also opt­ing to tai­lor games for mo­bile de­vices in­stead of tra­di­tional con­soles like PlayS­ta­tion or desk­top com­put­ers, lead­ing to a surge of hand­held in­no­va­tion on the con­ti­nent.

“There’s enor­mous po­ten­tial in Africa be­cause the con­ti­nent is pri­mar­ily mo­bile,” said Sidick Bakayoko, 34, the founder of Par­adise Game, an um­brella group for de­vel­op­ers in Ivory Coast.

“We’ve done a jump and in- stead of first go­ing with PC, we’ve gone di­rectly to mo­bile,” he told AFP at last week’s Africa Games Week con­ven­tion in Cape Town which brought to­gether African games coders, de­vel­op­ers and artists with top ex­ec­u­tives from Sony and other in­dus­try gi­ants.

“With the emer­gence of a num­ber of low-cost smart­phones, it’s now very easy to pur­chase a mo­bile phone,” he said while video games enthusiasts tried out the con­ti­nent’s lat­est dig­i­tal of­fer­ings on screens nearby.

Bakayoko said that the in­creas­ing num­ber of African gam­ing prod­ucts for hand­held de­vices mir­rored the ex­plo­sion of mo­bile bank­ing and fi­nan­cial tools like Kenya’s Mpesa on the con­ti­nent in re­cent years.

“So there’s great po­ten­tial for video games us­ing elec­tronic pay­ments . . . it can work well with Kenya as a prime ex­am­ple,” he said.

“There’s no rea­son for Africa not to jump on the band­wagon.”

Another part of mo­bile gam­ing’s ap­peal over other plat­forms in Africa is that it con­sumes less data, which can be slow or costly.

“In Nige­ria they even get games pre-loaded on the phones be­cause data is so ex­pen­sive,” said Evan Green­wood, 37, the di­rec­tor of South Africa’s lead­ing com­puter game stu­dio Free Lives.

“There’s the po­ten­tial [in Africa] – but data has to get cheaper and the right games have to be made.”

Ivory Coast’s Point Point, based on a tra­di­tional chil­dren’s game played us­ing pa­per, and Mada­gas­car’s Gazkar, a rac­ing game fea­tur­ing the is­land’s ubiq­ui­tous Citroen 2CV, have proved pop­u­lar with mo­bile gamers – though not read­ily prof­itable.

But Google’s de­ci­sion in June to al­low games de­vel­op­ers from African coun­tries in­clud­ing Nige­ria, Zim­babwe, South Africa and Tan­za­nia to make money from their cre­ations sold on its Play store could revo­lu­tionise the sec­tor.

“Most peo­ple use [Google] An­droid here,” said Sithe Ncube, 24, the founder of Zam­bia’s Ubongo Game Lab.

“Peo­ple haven’t had a way to mon­e­tise their mo­bile games. Peo­ple have ac­tu­ally been de­vel­op­ing apps for a while but there hasn’t been a way to use it as a busi­ness model,” said Ncube.

“If Google Play can let us do that, then that’s a good plat­form for peo­ple to start on.”

Spreck­ley said that choos­ing the mo­bile sup­port for his game would mean “we can get it in more peo­ple’s hands quicker”.

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