Soft­ware Game On

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Politics/ Policy - �Hugo Miller, with Corinne Gretler and Susan Decker

Hun­dreds of guests poured into the Pine­field Schools au­di­to­rium in La­gos for the sec­ond an­nual West African Gam­ing Expo, a show­case for soft­ware cre­ated in the re­gion and hard­ware built else­where. Ade­doyin Ogun­doyin, the founder of lo­cal on­line gam­ing mar­ket­place Africgames .com, says he or­ga­nized the expo on a bud­get of $5,000 to demon­strate to spon­sors—in­clud­ing Google, lo­cal bank Gtbank, and the U.K.’S Bournemout­h Univer­sity—that the re­gion’s de­vel­op­ers de­serve more in­vest­ment. The coders’ projects, and the at­ten­tion and fi­nanc­ing they at­tract, also show stu­dents, par­ents, and schools that games can be more than silly dis­trac­tions, Ogun­doyin says. Some of the young de­vel­op­ers who pre­sented at the expo in the last days of Oc­to­ber took home Google Card­board and other mer­chan­dise from the spon­sors. ——Caro­line Tomp­kins, with pho­tog­ra­phy by Ima Mfon

that a phone can al­ready do,” he said. Swatch hasn’t en­tirely sat out the shift to­ward smart­watches, though it es­chews that la­bel. Since 1999 it’s of­fered touch­screen time­pieces such as the $1,250 Tis­sot T-touch Ex­pert So­lar watch, which has a com­pass, can track al­ti­tude, and runs on so­lar power. And Swatch is de­vel­op­ing mo­bile pay­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties for watches based on tech­nol­ogy sim­i­lar to that in touch-en­abled bank cards. The com­pany says early next year it will in­tro­duce a $90 watch called the Bel­lamy that can be used to make elec­tronic pay­ments at stores. Alessan­dro Miglior­ini, an an­a­lyst at Mirabaud Se­cu­ri­ties in Geneva, says the com­pany is hedg­ing its bets while wait­ing to see whether smart­watches take off. “Swatch will ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent func­tion­al­i­ties, and if there is de­mand, they will then push more ag­gres­sively,” Miglior­ini says.

Swatch has been burned by ear­lier for­ays into new tech­nolo­gies. Hayek has said the com­pany still has un­sold mod­els of a 1991 pager that flopped and of the Pa­parazzi, a watch it made with Mi­crosoft about a decade ago that could re­ceive mes­sages and stock quotes. But he also knows the risks of fall­ing be­hind trends and the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing in­tel­lec­tual property. Hayek’s fa­ther, Ni­co­las, formed Swatch in 1983 by merg­ing two strug­gling Swiss watch­mak­ers. Al­though the tech­nol­ogy for quartz time­pieces was de­vel­oped in Switzer­land, Ja­panese com­pa­nies had been more suc­cess­ful in com­mer­cial­iz­ing the new watches. The se­nior Hayek coun­tered with funky, mul­ti­col­ored de­signs that cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion and se­cured Swatch’s for­tunes. The com­pany is now val­ued at about $19 bil­lion. “The quartz cri­sis is in the back­ground of ev­ery­thing they do,” says Jon Cox, an an­a­lyst at bro­ker­age Ke­pler Cheuvreux in Zurich. “It prob­a­bly leaves a bit of a scar on them, and that’s some­thing in the back of their minds when they have tech­nol­ogy: Patent first, ask ques­tions later.”

The bot­tom line Swatch has filed smart­watchre­lated patents in re­cent years, even though CEO Hayek has been dis­mis­sive of the de­vices.

Edited by Jeff Muskus

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