Digital warriors battle to get African games on phones

Safari the warrior crouches in the bush – a digitized heroine from the new mobile phone game “Afro Fighters” that its Nigerian creator hopes will soon rival the likes of Clash of Clans or Angry Birds on the world’s handsets.

To achieve this, Olakunle Ogungbamila is preparing to take on a lineup of challenges as daunting as any of the muscular opponents on his new app, even the game’s arch foe the Dark Lord of Oti.

Industry analysts have long hailed the explosive growth of mobile telecoms in sub-Saharan Africa – 635 million subscribers by the end of 2014 climbing to 930 million by the end of 2019 according to a report by Ericsson.

But size isn’t everything. It is the quality of those mobile phone connections, subscriptions and surrounding infrastructure that is holding up Africa’s nascent games development industry, not the quantity of handsets.

The number of expensive smartphones that can run sophisticated games and applications is low. They will account for only 14 percent of African mobile connections by the end of 2014, about half the global average and less than a quarter of the penetration in north America, says research group Ovum.

“That is the number one obstacle. It is changing rapidly though,”

– says Ogungbamila, sitting in the office of his Kuluya Games – two long rows of desks squeezed into a glassed-off partition on part of a floor of a Lagos office block.

He would like more deals with telecoms companies to let him process payments, more skilled developers, better, cheaper mobile broadband and, one day, more funding to make full-blown console games for the Xbox and PlayStation.

He would also like more of his customers to have bank cards and accounts, to make it easier for them to send in small payments for charge-ups and extra characters in games.

“Collecting money is still an issue,” he says.

Around 80 percent of Kuluya’s revenue currently comes from making branded mini games and apps for other companies, rather than adverts and purchases in its own titles, says Ogungbamila.

On the other side of the continent, in the cramped office of Nairobi’s Planet Rackus, Mwaura Kirore splits his time between designing games and running an advertising company.

Those well-paying advertising clients get the bulk of his time at the moment, he concedes.

“I don’t think anyone in Kenya can make a living out of gaming yet … We’re just at our infant stage in terms of what we’re doing. But we are in for the long haul.”


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