The recent rAge festival again proved that gaming is booming in South Africa – and there’s no sign of it letting up, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the first of a two-part series.
A green hue illuminates the faces of men, women, boys and girls as they are transfixed on the machines in front of them. They could have stepped right out of a zombie game, but are fully functional human beings. They just happen to be playing games at the green-lit Xbox stand at the rAge festival.
Held once a year at the Ticketpro Dome north of Johannesburg, the computer games event is a regular reminder that gaming has a massive following in South Africa. A record 33 000 people attended the 2015 event. Globally, gaming has long been far bigger than the music industry and is even ahead of global box office takings at the movies.
One reason for the robust health of the sector is that there are many powerful sub-niches within the gaming niche. Xbox fans match the PlayStation 4 fans for both passion and skill, and help drive sales of both consoles and new games. The traditional PC game, however, is about to overtake consoles, projected to achieve $29-billion global revenue in 2016, versus $28-billion for consoles.
The PC game also remains the biggest drawcard at rAge, with is own sub-sub-categories, ranging from multiplayer gaming and international contests to networked tournaments called LAN – Local Area Network – gaming.
A typical LAN tournament runs over several days and contestants don’t leave the battlefield until it’s all over. At rAge, more than 2500 players arrived with sleeping bags, energy drinks and fast food budgets to keep them going for the 53 hours the NAG LAN tournament lasted.
Here, too, one could mistake them for participants in a zombie ritual – except that the machines they lug into the tournament area are as high-tech as PCs get. They are all more powerful and more expensive than any computer one would encounter in a corporate executive’s office. And around 8 000 of these PCs are sold in South Africa a year.
“Our mainstream gaming machines cost from R11 999 to R24 999 – you’ve got to be a fairly serious gamer to buy these,” says Jeff Kuo, South African country manager at ASUS, one of the biggest makers of high-end gaming computers.
He says ASUS sells about 5 000 units a year, making for around 60% market share.
“Our goal next year is to sell 6 000 machines, which is a big jump, because gaming is a niche market. But we want to expand the gaming market from premium model to mainstream machines, to reach occasional users.”
The most expensive gaming machine available from ASUS right now runs to an eye-watering R30 000. And next year, it will bring in a premium water-cooled monster for well over that amount.
At a slightly lower level of the wallet range, ASUS used rAge to showcase the new ZenBook, punted as “the world’s slimmest Ultrabook” at 12.3mm thick and weighing 1.2kg, along with the ZenPad, which brings PC standards to tablet audio and screen quality.
Kuo insists the new devices are not merely window-dressing: “Innovation must deliver new experiences and this is the overall benchmark for new ASUS devices coming into the market. For instance, ASUS is considering ways in which gamers can be more involved in the reality of their gaming experience. We’re looking forward to shaking things up in the gaming space with more interactive gaming options.”
ASUS was not the only big name taking the rAge gamers seriously. Leading technology distributors Rectron showcased high-end gaming equipment from brands revered by players, like Corsair, Gigabyte, and Cooler Master. It also sponsored a team tournament around the popular new Heroes of the Storm multiplayer action strategy game, which publisher Blizzard describes as a “hero brawler” game.
HP and Intel joined forces to set up the networking equipment and servers that powered the LAN. Internet Solutions provided a 6.5Gbps connection to the Internet – and even this mammoth capacity was pushed to the limit, with 143 terabytes (TB) downloaded and 46TB uploaded. PlayStation, Xbox, Megarom, LEGO, Disney, BT Games, Dark Carnival and Rectron all added to the feeling of an international tech event.
The key to the success of the event, however, is in the games themselves.
“If there are ten massive games, we’ll have ten massive gaming events at the show,” says Michael James, senior project manager at rAge. “The gaming component is very dependent on what games are coming out, so you’re at the mercy of the industry but I’ve only ever seen rAge grow as an exhibition.”
The industry was especially kind this year: Game-maker Activision for the first time allowed one of its new flagship games to be previewed at the event. The long-awaited Call of Duty: Black Ops III, due to be released a month after rAge, saw aspirant players stand in long lines to get their turn.
“We’ve never had Call of Duty on the show floor before. It means Activision is taking the show very seriously, so that is healthy and exciting,” says James.
The big trends in gaming, he says, include gaming continuing to push the boundaries of technology, the growth of virtual reality gaming, and telecommunications companies like Telkom giving mobile data a big push. The real surprise, however, is the rise of “geekery”.
“It’s quite an old concept but, ever since Big Bang Theory arrived on TV, it has been pushed it into limelight. Geeks are cool this year.”
Next week in part 2: the rise of Made in SA games
Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist
Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.
Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.
The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela. It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.
“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time. We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”
The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba. It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.
Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.
“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”
This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.
Sports streaming takes off
Live streaming of sports is coming of age as a mainstream method of viewing big games, as the latest FIFA World Cup figures from the UK show. Africa isn’t yet at the same level when it comes to the adoption of sports streaming, but usage is clearly moving in the right direction.
England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden was watched by just under 20 million viewers in the UK via BBC One. While this traditional broadcast audience was huge, it was streaming that broke records: the game was the BBC’s most popular online-viewed live programme ever, with 3.8 million views. In Africa, the absolute numbers are lower but the trend towards streaming major sports events on the continent is also well under way.
According to DStv, live streaming of sports dominates the usage figures for its live and recorded TV streaming app, DStv Now. The number of people using the app in June was five times higher than a year ago, with concurrent views peaking during major football and rugby games.
Since the start of the World Cup, average weekday usage of DStv Now is up 60%. The absolute peak in concurrent usage for one event was reached on 26 June, during the Nigeria vs Argentina game. The app’s biggest ever test was on 16 June with both Springbok Rugby and World Cup Football under way at the same time, resulting in concurrent in-app views seven times higher than the peaks seen in June last year.
The World Cup has also been a major reason for new users to download and try out the app. First-time app user volumes have tripled on Android and doubled on iOS since the start of the tournament.
“While we expected live sports streaming to take off, it’s also been pleasing to see that the app is really popular for watching shows on Catch Up,” says MultiChoice South Africa Chief Operating Officer Mark Rayner. “Interestingly, some of the most popular Catch Up shows are local, with Isibaya, Binnelanders, The Queen and The River all getting a significant number of views.”
With respect to app usage, the web and Android apps are the most popular way to watch DStv Now, with Android outpacing iOS by a factor of 2:1.
“We’re continuing to develop DStv Now, with 4k streaming in testing and smart TV and Apple TV apps on their way shortly,” says Rayner. “The other key priority for us is working with the telcos to deliver mobile data propositions that make watching online painless and worry-free for our customers.”
The DStv Now app is free to all 10 million DStv customers in Africa. The app streams DStv live channels as well as supplying an extended Catch Up library. Two separate streams can be watched on different devices simultaneously, and content can also be downloaded to smartphones and tablets. The content available on the app varies according to the DStv package subscribed to.