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African-centric video games leap forward

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The number of gamers has skyrocketed in Africa, going from 77 million in 2015 to over 185 million by the end of 2021. Driven by ever-improving Internet access and the increasing affordability of smartphones, mobile gaming is leading the way. Estimations project that nearly 95% of African gamers use mobile devices. With 650 million smartphones in circulation, the mobile gaming market is even expected to grow at an annual 12%. And as gaming booms across the continent, so thrives the demand for games made in Africa.

Much of the gaming market’s growth has been attributed to Africa’s dynamic demography. By 2050, the continent might see its youth population double. In Ghana, most of the population is already aged between 18 and 34. Several game developers are taking the initiative to appeal to that demographic by telling stories from an African perspective. Locally-produced games are steadily creating a place for themselves. And their developers share a common desire to build upon African culture and stories.

As early as 2009, Ghanaian entrepreneur Eyram Tawia created Leti Arts along with Kenyan producer Wesley Kirinya-two. The studio’s name was no random pick, as Tawia stated he wanted to act as the guiding star of a nascent African gaming industry. Leti Arts’ first game was developed shortly after. Following a Masai shepherd protecting his herds from wild animals, IWarrior was a commercial failure. But the studio persevered and eventually published the successful Africa’s Legends in 2013. Putting African heroes and legends at the forefront, this fight simulation game was a resounding hit in Nigeria, Egypt, and Ghana.

Another pioneer, Andrew Kaggia developed Africa’s first 3D game in 2010. This first-person shooter entry imagined an alien invasion sweeping across the streets of Nairobi. And the local video game scene has come a long way since then.

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Several African studios took centre stage during the Africa Games Week. Last held in Cape Town in early 2022, the event brought attention to the many games pushing the African narrative forward. Masseka Game Studio, for instance, introduced a mobile game based on a beloved Central African board game. The studio’s founder, Teddy Kossoko, shared his goal of creating unique games relying on oral traditions, legends, and myths. Simultaneously promoting and financing local initiatives, Kossoko made it to the Forbes list of young people building up the new Africa.

Jay Shapiro shared the same ambition to make games less Western-centric. On BeYoutiful, young girls can dress up characters that look just like them, instead of carbon copies of foreign beauty models. The Kenyan founder of Usiku Games also added a social component to his games with the #GamingforGood movement. In his own words, Shapiro aims to mobilize the “power of gamification” to bring positive social changes. Some games, thus, help to reforest the continent. Others contribute to financial savings, so that players can think long-term and redirect their winnings towards pension schemes.

Many more local studios are shaping up the future of the gaming industry on the continent. In 2016, Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan by Cameroon studio Kiro’o Games was released to critical acclaim. The renowned Nigerian game developer Maliyo has also left its mark with African-inspired games like Aboki Run or Whot King.

And this momentum has not slipped past the international gaming sector. Games such as Survival Africa have played the African theme as of late. Even the iGaming industry jumped on the bandwagon. Pragmatic Play, for instance, recently expanded in Central Africa. The award-winning content provider subsequently launched a new Egyptian-themed slot machine. Along with top Vegas online slots, Queen of Gods is now available on the best casinos online. Other African-inspired slots like Cleopatra or Zulu Treasure are just a click away as well. What’s best, players can make the most of thousands of fun-filled slots for free. And from classics to quirky video slots, they’re all accessible on mobile devices.

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So, where may the African gaming industry go from now? Analysts are adamant Africa shall exceed a billion gamers in the wake of China and India. This booming market will surely mean opportunities for locally-based developers to develop the sector. All the while, it will allow content creators to build even more bridges between Africa and the world.

Photo Credit: Kojo Kwarteng – Unsplash

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