The annual rAge gaming expo was a feast of the latest in global gaming, but the growing presence of local developers was a significant phenomenon, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
On the expo floor, Thor battles Loki, Wonder Woman and Alice in Wonderland swoop to the rescue, and the crowds cheer. And that’s not even on the myriad video screens where gamers battle for survival in dozens of fictional universes.
The annual rAge gaming expo has breathed new life into technology fairs in South Africa, attracting thousands of serious and occasional gamers, along with wannabe superhoes in the form of costumed characters mingling with the crowds.
The headline attention goes to the big new games for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles. The opportunity to play games that still can’t be bought online or in stores is irresistible to the gamer. The history-based hardcore Assassin’s Creed Unity and the gentle spin on third-person shooters given to Splatoon – a compelling paint-shooting game for the Nintendo Wii U – are two sides of the same coin: ever-more spectacular games that appeal to all segments of the gaming market.
There is a downside to the noise and spectacle, though. It drowns out the emergence of a small but healthy local game developer community.
According to a survey by the Make Games Soutb Africa association, 32 game development companies are active in South Africa. While their impact on the economy is invisible – they employ 240 people between them, and generate only R30-million in annual revenue – their potential is immense. Half of the companies are young start-ups, created in the last two years.
“The industry is still tiny, but with the early access release of Broforce by Free Lives and Vicera Clean-up Detail by Rune Storm Games, we’re expecting a 130% increase in the value of the industry for the 2014 financial year,” says Make Games SA chairperson Nick Hall. “We’re hoping that these success stories will give local entrepreneurs the confidence to enter the industry.”
Entrepreneurs like Steven Tu, co-founder of Twoplus Games. He’s just quit an advertising career of eight years to go full-time into game development. At rAge’s Home_Coded stand, his company demoed two games, an “anxiety-inducing” one-key zombie game called Dead Run (play it online at http://www.playdeadrun.com) and the puzzle game Beat Attack (play it online at http://www.twoplusgames.com/beatattack). Dead Run is waiting approval in the Apple App Store, with an Android version on the way.
Of course, these games cannot compete with the multi-million-dollar budgets of what the gamers call the AAA titles – the mega-hits that generate more profits than Hollywood blockbusters. And, as much as rAge focuses on those titles, it also gives the little guys a platform.
Steven Tu of Twoplusgames at rAge, with one of the games his company developed.
PIC: Arthur Goldstuck
“What an opportunity this is for us indie game devs!” enthuses Tu. “Games are all about engagement and interaction, the two-way dance between player and system.
“Playtesting is the most important thing that we can do with our creations. Being able to put our games in front of a great variety of people to watch how they interact with it is invaluable. If they don’t get it, you can figure out why, and you can fix it. If they love it, that is the greatest reward known to a creator.”
Hall agrees: “rAge gives us the opportunity to address these issues by allowing the local consumer market to experience the quality of local games as well as raise general awareness of the industry.”
And now his association want to take it further.
“Make Games, along with key partners like the Department of Trade and Industry and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, is hoping to start an incubator in Johannesburg as well as Cape Town within the next year to assist start-up studios in becoming sustainable. We already have a community-funded bursary that has allowed two students to study Game Design at Wits University, and we’re hoping to expand the programme.”
South African hardware also made a big spash at rAge, with the global launch of the Sci-Ryder, an ergonomically designed seat and framework with fully adjustable arm, foot and head rests, as well as screen-mounting positions.
“Together, these unique features provide users with a comfortable and customisable personal gaming environment that significantly reduces the impact on their muscular frame,” declared its inventor, Gavin Mills.
The device measures 1.5m x 0.6m of floor space, occupying half the space of a normal desk, and sells for a neat R18 000 (visit www.sci-ryder.com). Despite this, it drew crowds of onlookers, and queues of aspirant test-pilots.
One can’t quite picture a businessman in a suit in the Sci-Ryder or at the Home-Coded stand, but the local industry is slowly becoming a serious business.
The local games on display at the Home-Coded stand at rAge:
Agent Unseen, by Clockwork Acorn
Alien Lobotomy, by Soup With Bits
Cadence, by Made With Monster Love
Beat Attack, by Twoplus Games
Dead Run, by Twoplus Games
Gadget goes to Hollywood
Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.
In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.
“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.
“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”
While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.
“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.
“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.
“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”
Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.
“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”
Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.
Take these 5 steps to digital
By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.
Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027.
However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.
The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.
There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.
The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.
Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.
The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.
The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure
The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.
This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.
There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.