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Gaming rAges on in South Africa (part 1)

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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.

Going green at the Xbox stand at rAge. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck.

Going green at the Xbox stand at rAge. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck.

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.

Cosplay at rAge. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck.

Cosplay at rAge. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck.

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.

Crowds and characters at rAge. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck.

Crowds and characters at rAge. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck.

“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.

Long lines to play the hottest PlayStation 4 games at rAge.

Long lines to play the hottest PlayStation 4 games at rAge.

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

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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