Maverick Citizen


The video game industry has many opportunities Africa should seize

The video game industry has many opportunities Africa should seize
About one in three people worldwide play games in some shape or form. (Photo: Unsplash)

The value of the international video game industry is projected to reach $366bn this year, with mobile games comprising a significant chunk of that. About one in three people worldwide play games in some shape or form. While much of the industry is focused on the US, Japan and China, with the former two making up the vast majority of console hardware production, there is still huge potential for software development that is not bound by region.

An oft-overlooked avenue for economic development is gaming – yes, video gaming. It’s an immersive experience on either a console or your mobile phone that has the rare distinction of packaging not just a story, but also art, music, geography and culture. 

For many people, video games are windows into cultures and geographies far from home. This makes games an opportunity for Africa to tell its own story. But despite some promising signs, there is a lot still to do.

Games reach audiences in an immersive way that other mediums can’t do, virtually replicating the experience of being in a particular place or time while interacting with your environment. 

For example, the effects of films encouraging tourism have been well documented; for Rwanda, Gorillas in the Mist increased tourism by 20% in 1998. Out of Africa spawned a surge of tourism to Kenya – a report by the Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Tourism Board found that 70% of respondents based their first trip to that country on what they’d seen on film. Visitors to the National Wallace Monument in Scotland increased by 300% in the year of Braveheart’s release.

Increasingly, the same has been found for games.

Video games can be a way to both preserve and transmit culture. One can consider the passive absorption of Japanese culture through things like Pokémon, Yakuza or the old fighter games which introduced entire generations to karate and other martial arts. And those who have played games like Grand Theft Auto have become very familiar with the fictional cities presented in the game that feature real-world monuments and are based on real places in the US.

The value of the international video game industry is projected to reach $366-billion this year, with mobile games comprising a significant chunk of that. About one in three people worldwide play games in some shape or form.

Africans are gaming

The African continent currently stands to grow significantly in terms of representation in games and domestic production of games.

Nyamakop’s Squish, Africa’s Legends by LetiArts, Qene Games, Usiku Games and Khanga Rue are some local games and local developers, but the numbers are relatively small, and, as yet, no AAA African games exist (these are games that have higher development and marketing budgets than other games, akin to a movie blockbuster).

But Africans are gaming. Almost half of South Africans play video or mobile games, according to the 2022 State of the African Games Industry report. The sector generated $290-million in 2021. 

Other markets include Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia. Africa has the youngest, fastest-growing population in the world, and is growing its mobile subscriptions more rapidly than any other region. It would certainly be an oversight not to focus on this critical sector.

However, there is a risk that international portrayal of African settings once again “sets the narrative” about the continent, which Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi warned of in her speech about the danger of a single story, where the repeated depiction of a particular image or people becomes the only understanding of them.

There are only a handful of games that feature African settings. Other than sports games or those set in ancient Egypt, the images of Africa rather depressingly revolve around war, conquest or conflict.

In Far Cry 2, the player explores an unnamed Central African country torn by civil war, and players are challenged to set bushfires in the savanna. Resident Evil 5, in which the player shoots zombified Africans was, of course, poorly received at the time of release. The rich culture and diversity of African countries are notably absent.

All-round benefits

A homegrown African game can employ artists, designers, programmers, musicians and composers. It can tell a new story with new themes and is without doubt a fun vehicle for soft power. The game can tangibly boost the economy through tourism and increased brand value. The IP associated with games can live on in other media: movies, Netflix series, merchandise and spin-offs. All of this can feed into jobs, tax revenues and prosperity at home.

Cape Town is already leading the way in South Africa when it comes to the film industry, which is supported by the government through incentives. It is also emerging as a tech hub through increased presence of tech companies (more than 450 in Stellenbosch alone, and employing more than 40,000 people), and perhaps gaming is the next frontier for this innovative city.

There have already been some green shoots in this area. Recently, Wesgro entered the metaverse by creating an interactive replica of Table Mountain, including fauna and flora, in Roblox, to encourage younger players to learn more about Cape Town and the biodiversity of the famous mountain. 

As games grow and take off, the local ecosystem benefits at the same time. The games industry can support development of expertise in the emerging fields of virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D modelling (which ties in with additive manufacturing) and 3D printing, as well as artificial intelligence, which many games employ extensively.

Gaming is not just a fun way to pass the time – the industry is a tangible component of technological advancement, economic development and identity that we across the continent should not miss.

To maximise the benefits of the tech revolution, African nations must be creators and not just users of technology.  DM/MC


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