TSHIMOLOGONG GAMING HUB LAUNCHES
When it comes to the creative industries, South Africa has certainly laid claim to its own distinctive style of music, fashion, art and even interior design – but it seems that the gaming fraternity is lagging. As a result, many young South African gamers are losing out on the opportunities offered by the $90.7-billion global games market.
As a result, a quintessentially African game has yet to come to market and the growing numbers of local young gamers are instead putting their money behind games developed and marketed by large global conglomerates.
Critical shortfalls – including poor business skills, a lack of mentorship and funding shortfalls – are just some of the obstacles. It is these that the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct’s newly launched gaming incubation hub is already working hard to address.
The Tshimologong Precinct is a digital innovation ecosystem in Braamfontein under the umbrella of the University of Witwatersrand that provides skills and on-the-job training whilst accelerating the growth of digital enterprises. It enables students and entrepreneurs to showcase their work publicly and access commercial opportunities. The gaming incubation hub focusses on this segment of the digital economy, providing highly equipped facilities and specialised support for start-up gaming enterprises.
But this kind of equipment and expertise comes at a price.
Step up Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS).
Alongside IFAS, AFD first partnered with Tshimologong in 2018, providing EUR 950,000 (R 14,500,000) in funding for the establishment of a Digital Content Hub at the precinct. The partnership was renewed in April this year and a further EUR 450,000 (R7,200,000) in funding paved the way for the creation of the gaming incubation hub.
“The initial investment in 2018 was a first for AFD in digital innovation in South Africa. Furthering the investment reflects our recognition of the cultural, creative and tech industries’ important contribution to the social and economic development of the country,” says AFD Head of Operations in South Africa, Audrey Rojkoff.
A LONG WAY TO GO
Joy Mawela, the precinct’s Head of Digital Content Hub, says the launch of the gaming incubator followed research on the local gaming industry that was convened by Tshimologong in 2020.
The findings from the research report, which identified weaknesses and suggested future growth strategies, noted that the importance of mobile game development both for Africa as a consumer market and internationally as a driver of the global industry’s growth, should not be underestimated.
Mobile games are expected to account for 52% of the global games market, already valued at US$90.7- billion. Although there are no reliable figures for the value of the mobile gaming market in Africa, mobile games are already the most popular gaming platform in Africa with South Africa having the fastest growing mobile gaming market worldwide.
However, this is off a small base and Africa remains the smallest game market globally. Out of three of the country’s 60 active gaming studios, only six employ more than 10 people.
Instead, the majority of studios are microenterprises that are not active commercially and have no cash flow.
The researchers suggested that the majority of game developers were in fact hobbyists or passionate gamers who were able to self-fund and were probably unlikely to bring their games to market.
Cape Town and Johannesburg are hubs of an industry that is more than 80% white male dominated with significant barriers to entry for females and African entrepreneurs. A lack of opportunities is seeing home grown talent either moving into other industries, leaving the country or working for global developers from bases in South Africa.
According to the report, both private sector investment and government support are urgently needed to realise the full potential of gaming in South Africa. This includes the creation of incubators such as Tshimologong’s.
DEVELOPING AN AFRICAN GAMING AESTHETIC
Tshimologong’s nine-month long gaming incubation programme aims to not only lower the entry barriers for African start-ups but assist with access to market. The programme also provides a series of workshops centred on entrepreneurship, business foundations and building soft skills relevant to the industry.
The winners of a gaming hackathon that was held as part of the 2021 Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival were the first SMMEs to have access to this program. The winners included Atrybute Graphics, Skinnyboy and Southgate Studio.
Mawela says that each of the incubates will be supported at different levels from advanced level through to the very early stages of development. “The idea is to upscale SMMEs and also to empower and equip them with tools that will help them to develop games that are not only playable but can be taken to market because they are of world class quality. We also want to make sure they remain sustainable by connecting them to decision makers that can take each project further,” says Mawela.
Ntumba Katabua, senior project manager at AFD, adds: “With this initiative, we hope to see African gaming content being exported as opposed to just African gaming talent.”
Atrybute Graphics, a nine-member group of game design, engineering and art graduates, said it was hoping that more young South Africans would shake off the stigma attached to gaming in the country and engage with games as this was a means of improving business opportunities and employment.
A spokesperson for Atrybute explains: “We need to appreciate just how unique the African continent is, in terms of its content. We have so many stories that haven’t been told through gaming. The West is slowly reaching their hands into more African content. They will start telling those stories for us if we don’t start upping our game and telling those stories first. So, I just want to like see more African game developers pushing those stories out.”
Skinnyboy, a studio that describes itself as a future based tech development company focusing on combining game technology, entertainment, cartoons, animation, news and current affairs is “unapologetically African” and has incorporated a lot of African themes into its already advanced game called Banana Republic.
Although the overall aim is to utilise the sophisticated equipment provided by the incubation programme to get their game onto retailers’ shelves, they also have a wider vision.
Skinnyboy founder, Thabile Maganyane, says: “I hope to see a stable gaming ecosystem in South Africa that is flowing with game developers and players. There are good gamers out there that are not getting the recognition they deserve. I hope to see the gaming industry grow into something that brings a lot of success and more to our country.”
Southgate Studio, a female led gaming company co-founded by three young women – Avuzwa Ntshongana, Nkateko Nompumelelo Kubayi and Tenyeko Mosikili – believes that the many young women who have a dream of succeeding in the gaming sector, need a helping hand. They hope to pave the way for others to follow.
“We are hoping to inspire other young women so that if they want to go into the tech space, they can actually go for it. It is not easy, but we need to establish ourselves in the tech space. I hope that, after the gaming programme with Tshimologong, that the next group of gamers includes a lot more ladies that are comfortable in the gaming space,” a group representative added.
Lesley Donna Williams, CEO of the Tshimologong Precinct, concludes: “The gaming sector is a very exciting space globally with the adoption of new users during lockdown. However, South Africa is losing out on this incredible opportunity with talent not being absorbed by the local industry, so they are either leaving the sector or the country. We need to grow larger professional studios, which will help to attract investors and publishers of African content.”