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Africa’s gaming industry: Expert shares her thoughts

Pippa Tshabalala is a South African gaming enthusiast and commentator.

Pippa Tshabalala is a South African gaming enthusiast and commentator.

Much has been said on the topic of Africa’s emerging markets and growth potential in a number of sectors. But is the continent’s gaming industry up and coming as well?

According to PwC, South Africa’s video game market saw revenues of US$181m generated in 2013. Further north, Nigeria’s predominately mobile and online gaming market generated $71m the same year, while Kenya saw revenues of $44m.

South African gaming enthusiast and writer, Pippa Tshabalala, has been establishing herself as an expert in the industry for years, working for number of media companies such as Gearburn. How we made it in Africa asks her to share her thoughts on the African gaming industry and its future.

Where did your love for gaming start, and when did it become a job?

I’ve been playing games as long as I can remember, but we got our first PC when I was eight or 10. I never saw the fact that I played games as unusual in any way and brought it into my academic studies as well. My M.A. thesis was on video games. I started presenting a TV show called The Verge while I was lecturing at Wits University in the animation department, and from then on it’s been something I’ve done professionally in various capacities.

What is happening in Africa’s gaming industry at the moment, and how is it changing? Is it changing?

Africa’s gaming industry is growing quite substantially. We don’t currently have anything resembling an AAA gaming industry. However, the Indie scene is quite big.

Why do you think there is this lack of AAA gaming companies in Africa?

Funding – I think that’s the main problem. It’s expensive to develop a game and lack of funding and resources is a major challenge. We also don’t have a huge variety of training opportunities here. There are university courses like the one that’s been running at Wits for a few years, but it’s one of the few and it’s very competitive to get in.

What makes Africa’s gaming industry unique compared to places like the US?

Africa has its own stories to tell, and the challenges are very different to those of a first world country. We have the challenges of resources, internet connections and training opportunities. The US has an entire industry that has been built up to support this sector, whereas Africa in many ways is in its infancy in terms of game development.

Which countries on the continent stand out as having a strong gaming industry? And why do you think that is?

South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda – those are the ones that pop to the front of my mind. My own experience is obviously with the South African studios, but there are other countries on the continent who face the same challenges we do. Countries with growing economies.

Are there any South African gaming companies we should be looking out for?

Free Lives, creators of Bro Force. Thoopid, the makers of Snail Boy. The Brotherhood, who made Stasis. Of course there are already those like QCF Design who established themselves with Desktop Dungeons a while ago.

Where do you think the continent’s potential in gaming lies?

I think to a certain extent we’re established ourselves solidly in the indie field. Games that can be made with small teams and which aren’t dictated in terms of what is popular at the moment. We make the games we want to make, tell the stories we want to tell.

Over the next decade, where do you see gaming on the continent? 

I hope to see the gaming industry on a much more solid footing than it is now. I think we have the opportunity to do great things. In fact people are already doing great things – so this can only grow and get better. At some point, with any luck, funding will become available for people to follow their passion and develop their talents.

Your advice to young Africans who wish to become a professional in the gaming industry?

What’s stopping you? There are many ways to become a part of the industry – from coding, to animation and art direction, to level design and writing. If you’re passionate about it, play to your strengths. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s a waste of time.

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