News / Science & Technology

S. Africa Video Game Developers Going Viral

Students studying Game Design at Wits University, Johannesburg, May 27, 2014. (Gillian Parker/VOA)
Students studying Game Design at Wits University, Johannesburg, May 27, 2014. (Gillian Parker/VOA)
The global video game industry is huge - worth $78 billion in 2012 - the size of the world’s movie and music businesses combined. Yet almost all games are produced in the developed world. But now Africa is slowly making its mark on the global industry as independent game developers begin to carve their creative niche and hone their technical skills.

At Wits University in Johannesburg, game design students tap furiously on keyboards, staring intently at computer screens perfecting their prehistoric looking characters or ridding their games of glitches. Students at Wits aspire to contribute to the growing video game industry. South Africa’s video gaming market is currently worth around $163 million - which just accounts for consoles and games on disc.

“As a medium it is so young, there’s not a very deep discourse about it yet. With game development we are still falling over our feet. There’s not too much discussion on how to create, how to use the interactive media in a greater scope. That’s really where the importance comes in game design education,” said Timothy Flusk, a third year student studying game design.

Hanli Geyser is a game design lecturer at the university. She is also a founding member of MakeGamesSA, which has become instrumental in supporting the community of game developers in South Africa.

The hard reality, she says, is that many of the students will not be game developers for the rest of their lives but a strong IT industry in South Africa and a burgeoning video gaming business offers strong prospects for future students.

“The guys who are building the games are watching us carefully to see what happens… people are interested to see if the dual nature of having engineers and artists working together throughout their degree can help produce the holy grail - which is the tech artist - people who can go into animation and advertising - and speak between the technical and the artistic where you currently have gaps in understanding,” said Geyser.

A lot of independent gamers are pretty much learning as they go. Dominic Obojkovits is the co-creator of Pixel Boy, a top-down dungeon crawler where players can craft armors and build weaponry prowess to overcome the dangers of the dungeon. Obojkovits began developing games and mobile phone apps at 15, teaching himself the skills to code and create. He believes that South Africa’s game developers are in a unique position.

“We are sitting with a lot of cultural diversity…that tends to lead to very interesting products being made and because of that, there is a huge potential for success from a creative perspective and all we need to do is improve our technical skills…and then we can be serious contenders. South Africa definitely has the potential,” said Obojkovits.  

After years of work, Pixel Boy is now being released on the world's biggest online games distribution service, Steam. The digital market, Obojkovits says, is an enormous factor in boosting the local indie game industry, which is now exposed to a global audience.

“Not having to put down money for retail space and all those production costs have really opened up the ability for those who just want to make games to be able to and then release them without as much start-up capital and investment - which has also led to more experimental games because you can be a bit more risky when you are not throwing huge amounts of money at a project,” he said.

However, 70 percent of all games are still bought off the shop shelf, making it crucial for today’s up and coming game developers to be able to pitch to both digital and traditional retail markets.

Travis Bulford is a co-creator of South Africa’s first successful video game in 1996 called Toxic Bunny, based on a coffee guzzling, gun-slinging maniac who is having a really bad day. His company, Celestial, has sold 150,000 units internationally. Despite Celestial’s meteoric rise, the developer runs on a small team. Bulford says that creating a sustainable career depends on gamers being able to multi-task.

“You really have to be a one-man publishing house," he explained. "At the moment, we are producing it, we are marketing it, we are trying to retail it, we are trying to do the live appearances, we are trying to be a visible online and communicate with the people and talk to publishers…you are developing a lot of skills, and if you lack in any of those departments, you actually struggle.”

Bulford says that funding remains a problem for many African entrepreneurs, who battle to get the financial backing to expand workforces and reinvest in their companies.

Desktop Dungeons, Pixel Boy and Toxic Bunny are just a few of South Africa’s video games that have hit the global arena. There is clearly the enthusiasm and the drive in South Africa, but a cash injection could ensure true growth, creating jobs and long-term stability making game development a realistic career choice for the country’s youth.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kopano Ntsoane from: Joburg
June 11, 2014 3:49 AM
My company does social video games in South Africa, this is what i love doing and i believe the is a big social contribution that video games to solve. I am very much intrested in seeing this cause i am enjoying the small grow that South Africa is showing and will like to be at the front when the indurstry is booming

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs