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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More