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The growing business of African mobile gaming

March 26, 2013  »  MobileNo Comment

Mobile games may not be the first thing we download when we buy a new phone, but they are often close behind. In general, African apps receive a more attention than games. Perhaps games get less credit since they aren’t perceived as solution to pressing issues (even though many can and do educate players on serious issues like the environment and women’s rights).

There’s nothing wrong with games designed purely for entertainment. After all, we all need a break sometimes. And such games contribute to economic growth.

kola studios - zword

Zword, by Kampala-based Kola Studios has fewer than 1,000 downloads since November 2011. Even the most popular mobile games developed by Africans have fewer than 10,000 downloads.

Just recently, African mobile games have encountered the means to be profitable. This was not the case just a couple of years ago. Android phones are more common than ever. Expanded mobile broadband service allows games to be downloaded. Mobile money platforms allow for easy payment. Cost – of device, data, and game – is perhaps the greatest challenge. Data is still expensive in and of itself and adding the cost of a game is a tough sell when social networking often holds a higher priority. Releasing a game for free is a good way to grow a brand and please consumers, but without funding such a model is not sustainable.

VentureBurn, using viewpoints of Leti Games‘ management, recently commented on the growing business of mobile gaming in Africa, finding a general lack of skilled developers, but amazing opportunity to localize games. According to Leti Games, “Successful game publishers and developers realize that localized versions of their games can drive revenues and increase international appeal.”

Key points about African mobile gaming (sourced from VentureBurn):

  • Java is common since Android is so popular
  • Only 10 or so big gaming studios are located in Africa (Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda)
  • Making games for the diaspora is challenging
  • Games are first made in English or French, then in “long tail” languages
  • Even one of the top African games only has 6,900 downloads
  • Lack of Internet access means lack of access to app stores
  • Many games are serious; many are puzzle-type too; others reflect local experiences
  • Custom game development cost varies, but can be upwards of $5,000
  • An estimated 1-in-100 African game developers is female
  • Challenges: limited funding and scarce creative and coding talent

Check out a few top African gaming companies. Most create mobile-only games but a few focus heavily on web-based games:

  • Afroes – based in Pretoria, South Africa, Afroes creates “uniquely African mobile applications and tools for social development agencies and corporate enterprises keen to spread educational and branded messages across the continent”
  • Kola Studios – mobile app studio based in Kamapal that strives “to solve everyday problems with mobile technology”
  • Leti Games – a company from Ghana that hopes to build an African industry (they create African superheroes too)
  • Luma Arcade – a South African firm that is “all about creating great games on mobile devices”
  • Maliyo Games – the Nigerian company has a simple philosophy: “to share the experiences of everyday Africans with a global audience through games”
  • Kuluya – with over a hundred titles, the Nigerian firm intends to change the gaming landscape in Africa by keeping “African players as the key focus”