Q&A With CEOs of Africa’s Rising Gaming Industry

Written by Veronica Pamoukaghlian

It is no surprise that the 2013 Game Developers Conference featured Ghana´s LETI ARTS creators among its main gaming industry speakers. The presentation was entitled, “The Emerging Landscape of African Game Development.”

The last couple of years have seen abundant buzz about the African gaming industry. From BBC to Indiewire and CNN, international media have been paying attention to Africa’s pioneering game developers.

As the African middle class grows and smartphone use soars, the market for mobile games and apps is growing across the continent. Local gaming industry startups are expanding and diversifying.

Ghana´s Leti Arts and Cameroon´s Kiro´o Games have something in common; they are both local companies that focus on developing games and comics, often based on African history and legends. While they are at different stages in their development, in a way, they represent some of the most dynamic players in a promising gaming industry.

AFKInsider interviewed Leti Arts CEO Eyram Tawia and Kiro´o Games CEO Olivier Madiba about the present and future of their companies and the environment in which they are developing. While Tawia represents one of the continent´s most successful gaming companies, Madiba is at the helm of one of its most talked about up-and- coming game developing endeavors.

Their sometimes parallel and sometimes opposing visions can offer a comprehensive perspective of Africa´s gaming industry today and what we can expect for its future.

AFKI: How do you differentiate your market from those based in the U.S. or Europe?

KIRO´O: Very simply, let say that our market is equal to the U.S./Europe market plus Africa market. We plan to target all the world (even Asia) because we think that, due to our position and history (colonization, etc) we understand the needs of everyone, So, we can make games that integrate every philosophy in the world.

The main challenge for us, the first Africans studios (Kiro’o, Kuluya, Effix, and all the others) is that we must create our professional distribution circuit across the continent. There is a lot of gamers all around Africa, but we must work out the logistics needed to bring the games to them at the right price.

LETI ARTS: There are several differences between the African gaming market and other markets. The major difference is the lack of a widespread video game culture in Africa as compared to other markets. The video game culture is lacking both from a consumer and business perspective. There is currently a relatively small pool of avid gamers in Africa and most businesses do not yet consider gaming a good promotional tool for sales, brand growth and customer engagement. The African market also differs from US and Europe with respect to internet access and payment infrastructure, both important parts of the modern gaming ecosystem worldwide.

AFKI: What are Africa´s competitive advantages in terms of the world gaming industry?

KIRO´O: Our competitive advantages are:

– Very low budget of production: The video game industry´s costs are mainly related to human resources. If you pay big salaries in African money, they are still low in Euros or dollars, so, we can make games profitable for investors.

– Innovative materials : There is only one Greek mythology, one Japanese mythology, one American history, but there are a lot of African mythologies. For the last 20 years, game developers have focused a lot on Western and Asian cultures, but you know, in Cameroon, we have more than 300 ethnicities so a game developer can draw from a very large set of unknown stories or traditions to create new games and new level design patterns.

On the flip side, poor internet connections and teams with little experience are difficulties we have to face every day, but this is balanced out by all the advantages I mentioned.