Ugandan gamers out to push right buttons

A cross-section of gamers enjoy games at the Games and Politics exhibition at the Design Hub in Kampala recently. PHOTOS / COURTESY /  IZYCAPTION

What you need to know:

  • Industry players say one of the most common refrains in the gaming industry in Uganda is that the cost of international games is prohibitive.

Stakeholders in the computer games industry have identified lack of capital and collaborations, piracy, high Internet costs and international analog games, and male domination as some of the major hindrances of the growth of the sector in Uganda. 
A video game is an electronic game that can be played on a computing device such as a personal computer, gaming console or mobile phone.

“We lack capital to engage the game developers,” Nicholas ‘Nemesis’ Keya, the founder of Telalila studio in Kampala, says, adding: “The game developers need the financial initiative to produce games and flourish.”

Phillip Mukasa—a game developer and operations director at the Kampala-based Klan Of The Kings Limited Studio— says although “capital is very important” one “can instead substitute it by having partnerships in order to access finance.”
He adds: “You need coders, animators and concept artists, among others, to develop games. It is easier to work in collaboration with persons with different skills and resources.”

Laurean Ntaate, the founder of Tribe Uganda studio and organiser of the annual Digiart Fest in Kampala, says different age groups interested in gaming always turn up for his festival. 
“Games are not only entertaining but educational as well. We have been approached by different entities in order to assist them reach out to game developers to produce their stories,” he says, adding that cross collaboration between game development studios “will help us grow.”

Keya, Mukasa and Ntaate were part of the panel discussion during the fireplace session held on March 19, 2022 at the Design Hub Kampala that focused on with Uganda’s gaming community highlighting the local perspective towards gaming as an economic activity, its social effects and its impact of collaboration. 

The fireplace session was part of the activities that opened the “Games and Politics: Interactive Exhibition” in Uganda. The exhibition was held from March 18 to May 21, 2022 at the Design Hub. 

Games and Politics represents a touring exhibition by Goethe Institut that has been travelling around the globe. The last stop was Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and the next stop will be Antananarivo in Madagascar later this year. 

The exhibition in Kampala was hosted by Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/Uganda German Cultural Society (GZK/UGCS) in cooperation with Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung and Design Hub Kampala. The exhibition delves into the political influence of games in our society. Visitors can dive into the interactive exhibition experience by playing actual available computer games.

It is based on the exhibition Global Games by the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medien) in Karlsruhe, Germany, and focuses explicitly on political games created since 2004. The exhibition highlights computer games in its (re-) presentation of social conditions and conflicts, at the same time simulating the processes and rules that give rise to these conflicts.

All the games in Games and Politics share this political approach, which is intended by the games’ designers to set them clearly apart from both the conventional market as well as from computer games as an entertainment medium. They explore a wide range of topics, such as democracy, questions of gender balance, refugees, the power of media, among others. 

With Games and Politics exhibition in Uganda, the organisers wanted to showcase the pros and cons of gaming when it comes to political international conversations. What choices are people allowed to make? What conscious decisions do you have to make in games like the Perfect Woman which discusses gender roles? This War of Mine, which has you locked in a detention camp, and you try to escape being killed or where you are attacking people who are watching people with drones and having to strike them out making tough decisions.

De-sexualising gaming
Games in Kampala available at the Design Hub included Madrid, The Westport Independent, The Cat and the Coup Coming, Out Simutor, and Touch Tone, among others. 
One of the hot button issues afflicting the gaming industry is the sexualisation and fetishisation of women and girls in computer games. This has in part contributed to women and girls keeping the gaming industry at arm’s length.

“We must bring them on board in our stories to attract more girls,” Raymond Malinga, the chief executive officer of Creatures Animation studio in Kampala, says, adding: “In that way we, will get a fresh perspective.”
Mukasa acknowledges that most games are “male-oriented.” He, however, believes the tide is changing, and points to the inclusion of a female character “in our studio’s forthcoming inaugural game.” 

The game, called Sunjata: Trumpet of Last Day, follows the story of Kaar Menelik—an outcast tasked with saving humanity from the wrath of the gods. 
“Our game is heavily influenced by ancient African mythology and culture and seeks, in part, to educate the players on African culture, customs and origins. We intend to release it initially on Xbox and PlayStation platforms in the middle of July and then shortly after on mobile and PC.”

Mukasa describes the video games industry in Uganda as “highly informal, with individuals setting up gaming parlours where people pay an hourly fee to play games.” 
He, however, notes that the “high mobile phone penetration in Uganda has created a unique opportunity for content creators.”

Keya reveals that Uganda has developed game bars or parlours where people can play games. “We have Game Nights where gamers take a central role with overwhelming attendance, attracting the general public in the bar and surrounding to participate,” he said. “Due to Covid-19, these events were greatly affected and are only starting to pick up now that the ban on public gatherings has been lifted.”

DIY gamers
Mukasa says Uganda has the wherewithal to see this sector flourish. Since “the majority of skilling tools is available on the Internet for free”, Mukasa reckons, “there is always the possibility of being self-taught.”
“There is a large community for content creators willing to share their skills and knowledge on platforms like YouTube,” he says, adding: “Our creative director, Ronald Kayima, is self-taught and is one of the best creatives in the country.”

One of the most common refrains in the gaming industry in Uganda is that the cost of international games is prohibitive. 
Keya admits, revealing that “the average Ugandan can afford multiple local analog games, but cannot afford most international analog games.”
He adds: “This is a reality of a struggling economy, and for that, we are creating custom solutions to push more inclusivity through the Enter Africa Network.”

Pandemic impact
Asked whether the numbers of gamers and purchases increased during the Covid-19 lockdowns in Uganda, Keya says: “The activity of gaming definitely increased due to the pandemic, especially regarding indoor games using both analog and digital platforms. 

“The younger generations, of which the average Ugandan is 17 years old, have quickly taken up gaming in the way of e-Sports.”
The high cost of the Internet, however, remains a stumbling block. Keya, nevertheless, believes “the advent of co-production platforms such as the Enter Africa Network, help to bring down the cost of production for gaming by employing economies of scale and collaborating with international markets such as Gamescom festival, Telalila, Spielfabrique, Ubisoft and telecoms such as Orange, which facilitates the cost of production for gaming activities.” 

Piracy issues
On how piracy is threatening the games sector in Uganda, Mukasa says: “Due to lack of adequate monitoring infrastructure and enforceable laws, piracy is creating a serious problem for content creators. One creates their content and puts it on the market and the next moment, thousands of copies are being distributed without their consent simply because of poor rights management and cheaper options.”

He adds that “digitalisation, decentralisation and digital distribution platforms like Google Play have helped put a finger on “how content is being monitored, monetised and distributed.” 

A paucity of official statistics and data from the gaming sector in Uganda has hardly been helpful. Mukasa, nevertheless, is adamant that “the future is very bright.” He notes that a decentralised video game industry has empowered people “to create games from anywhere in the world and distribute them globally.”

Mukasa says the stakeholders in the industry are planning to create an association that will cater for the interests of this sector in Uganda. 

State of games economy in the world, Sub-Sahara Africa

According to a paper titled “The digital creative economy and trade: Strategic options for developing countries” by Keith Nurse, one of the highest-earning and fastest-growing sectors in the digital creative economy is the video game industry. Nurse says the industry surpasses the combined revenue of the film and music sectors. 

Members of the panel discusses the state of the Ugandan gaming industry at the Games and Politics exhibition at the Design Hub Kampala. 

The gaming sector, he adds, had a market value of $134.9 billion in 2018, a 10.9 percent increase over 2017. Approximately 47 percent of revenue, or $63.2 billion, came from mobile, an increase of 12.8 percent in 2018.

Smartphones accounted for $50 billion of mobile video gaming (up 14.2 percent in 2018), while tablets accounted for $11.4 billion (up 7.8 percent).” 

“The other key elements of the gaming market were consoles (not including the hardware by companies like Xbox, Nintendo, PS4, etc.), with 28 percent of the market share, and PCs with 25 percent,” Nurse adds. 

In January, Games Industry Africa (GIA) published the “State of the African Games Industry 2022” report that focused on five major countries in sub-Sahara: South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

The report reveals that South Africa has the highest saturation of gamers, with 24 million people playing within a population of 59 million (40 percent), while 27 per cent of people in Ghana play games, as well as 23 percent in Nigeria, 22 percent in Kenya, and 13 percent in Ethiopia.

South Africa led the way in total annual gaming revenue in 2021 ($290 million), followed by Nigeria ($185 million), and then Ghana ($42 million), Kenya ($38 million), and Ethiopia ($35m).
Through traditional channels, a higher proportion of South African gamers pay for games (43 percent) than Ghanaians and Ethiopians (33 percent) or Nigerians and Kenyans (32 percent).