In this research, the aim was to dive deeper into the way business in game development is done in African countries. What countries to look at first if you want to enter the African market? What business opportunities and future prospects lie on the continent?
When we talk about Africa as a region, it is extremely important to understand that we’re talking about a whole continent with 54 different countries. Africa represents different cultures, politics, and economies, thousands of languages, four time zones, and a different level of engagement in the global and local game development industry. So, what should be the first thing that you learn about the continent? Do not take it as a homogeneous region, asking questions like “How is it in Africa?”, “What is a typical African game?”, or “What is the most popular monetization method for mobile games in Africa?” Instead, focus on specific countries or regions.
CEO, Co-founder, and Chair at Interactive Entertainment South Africa IESA, Nicholas Hall
When we talk about Africa as a region, it is important to say what we actually mean. Often, North Africa is excluded from these conversations because they are considered to be a part of MENA. In the interview, Nick focuses mostly on Sub-Saharan Africa (Egypt, Morocco, etc. excluded).
There is a bit of a danger here. Many people treat Africa as a country or a homogeneous region — which is absolutely not true. There are 52 different countries, thousands of languages, and hundreds of thousands of different cultures. So, trying to brush this notion of the African game doesn’t really make any sense. So, what is of interest in South Africa is markedly different from what you would find in East Africa, Kenya, or Nigeria.
The countries of North Africa ethnically and culturally lean towards the Middle East (MENA) region. So, in this research, we focused on the sub-Saharan region (46 African countries) with a deeper dive into five specific countries (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zambia).
Looking For Opportunities: Factors To Consider When Entering an African Market
Founder & CEO at Digital Realm Entertainment, Thomas Shiva
There is a promising game industry ecosystem in Africa. One of them is East Africa (Rwanda and its regions). Central Africa is also a great territory for game studios. There's also a regional ecosystem: from Namibia and all the way down to Botswana. Another promising territory is South Africa, and then there’s West Africa, with Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon.
For a better understanding of game development on the continent, we short-listed some major spots of the most commercially active countries in Africa. Among them are South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius, Zambia, Ethiopia, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Senegal, Cameroon, Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Tunisia. Highlighted on the map, you can find countries with a higher among other African countries GPD (PPP) that have at least some activity in gamedev and speak a European language (making entering such markets easier).
You’re on Your Own, Kid
Despite Africa being a whole continent with 54 countries, there are many obstacles standing in the way of the rapid growth of the gamedev industry. Most of them mainly derive from a broader issue — systemic exclusion from the global community. Citizens of African countries have limited opportunities to participate in the global economy; a great example is difficulties with international transactions. It’s hard to receive payments from abroad. The latter complicates global partnerships and remote work opportunities. Another illustration of the systemic exclusion is how challenging it is for African game developers to get visas and go overseas to meet with partners and participate in conferences. For example, GDC is held in the US, which is one of the hardest countries to obtain a visa to.
Co-Founder and Managing Director at Forspex Entertainment, Mohamed Bendjebbar
Africans don’t have a lot of events where they can meet up and talk about specific industries. They have to fly to another continent for a meeting with a partner; for example, you sometimes have to travel from Algeria to Ghana via Dubai if you cannot find a seat in the Egyptian Airlines.
There are also specific development-related limitations, isolating the African continent even more. So, next time you see that something is “available globally,” don’t be fooled. Here are some examples:
- As of now, only developers from one country (South Africa) in sub-Saharan Africa can legally create a full-fledged Google Merchant account. There are some other countries that are currently added, but only to the beta version.
- Xbox and PlayStation cannot legally deliver development kits to Africa, so developers have to travel overseas in order to get the hardware.
CEO, Co-founder, Chair / Interactive Entertainment South Africa IESA, Nicholas Hall
Mobile development is big in South Africa, but there's only one country in Sub-Saharan Africa that can actually legally create a Google merchant account, which is South Africa. However, many other countries have been added to a beta. How are you expecting to have a thriving game development industry where they cannot monetize through the platform that exists for them to do so?
The African game development industry has the potential to thrive in the future, but in order to get there, the “systemic exclusion” issue has to be addressed.
Vicious Circles Of African Gamedev
In addition to the challenges that African game developers face when trying to interact with the global community, there are plenty of internal issues as well.
Governments of African countries don’t support game developers, so there is very little chance to win a grant or get tax rebates if you’re building your own studio. Plus, getting access to publishing is difficult (remember the systemic exclusion?) So, if you want to create your own game, you will most likely rely on your own financial resources. These obstacles create a high entry barrier into the gamedev business within the region, and that’s why there’s a very small amount of commercially viable studios in Africa (and the majority of them are indies).
Founder & CEO at ChromaPixelGames, Edwin Kapesa
A lot of studios in Africa lack funding. Funding is something that is really hard to get. Even after a few years of launching my company, and as I speak, I always think of where to find more funds and whom I should pitch our game to as well.
Since there are no large employers in the region, it’s also hard for the local talents to find a job. This problem is even more prevalent with junior specialists who don’t have much experience. People in small studios usually have to take on multiple roles which require additional competencies. So, naturally, companies would look to hire someone who is more skilled.
Managing Director at Free Lives, Dominique Gawlowski
The problem really is that the chances of getting a job at a local game studio is very low because there are only a few studios around Africa. So, if you want to get into gaming (like going and actually handing your CV to somebody) you either have to go overseas or work remotely for a foreign company.
For example, if some fairly big foreign company wants to open an office in Africa, it’s not going to be easy. They would need to find around 50 skilled local developers and technicians to fill the seats, which isn’t impossible but is really hard.
Free Lives also struggle with finding skilled talents, so they invest a lot of time and money on student game jams and festivals to get younger people into gaming and to create awareness.
As you can tell, these problems are very interrelated, essentially creating vicious circles for local specialists (or aspiring specialists). The game development industry hasn’t skyrocketed on the continent because many people have been caught in these vicious circles.
Ripe For Further Development
The sub-Saharan countries that we focused on in this report are fairly new to the game industry. The strongly increasing popularity of smartphones and the increasing quality of Internet connectivity have expanded the region’s focus on mobile game development as well as general gaming market growth. At a large corporate level, Africa is starting to be recognized as the next consumer market that needs to be developed.
Local developers claim that the region is being overlooked by the Western game development industry, but that the region has a lot to offer — extremely gifted artists, developers, and programmers, low cost for hire and rent, a growing market, etc.