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
AppDate: uKheshe bring banking to the masses
In his apps roundup, SEAN BACHER highlights uKheshe, FNB’s banking app with its will feature, Split Payments, Momentum Safety Alert and Fleetonomy.
uKheshe micro transaction platform
Financial inclusion took another step forward as local start-up, uKheshe, South Africa’s cheapest and most convenient QR cash card and micro transaction platform, won the 2019 Global Fintech Hackcelerator @ Southern Africa competition.
“The issue of financial inclusion is a global one and the more we can do to uplift the unbanked and under banked, the healthier their respective economies will become,” says Clayton Hayward, co-founder, uKheshe.
While 1.2 billion people have opened a financial account since 2011, there is still an estimated 1.7 billion adults worldwide (or 31% of adults) who don’t have a basic transaction account. Globally, two-thirds of adults without an account cite a lack of money as a key reason, which implies that financial services aren’t yet affordable or designed to fit low-income users.
To find out more about uKheshe click here
FNB’s banking app with will feature
First National Bank now lets its customers draw up their own wills via the FNB Online Banking platform at no cost. To date, the bank has seen a significant increase in the number of clients who drafted their own wills online, with over 52 000 clients already accessing the functionality.
Approximately 80% of South Africans don’t have a valid will in place; and many people believe that it’s a need only when they get older, or later in life.
“Whilst the digital process is simple and easy to use, the solution also helps with a dedicated client support centre should clients need further assistance or advice regarding the drafting of their wills,” says Johan Strydom, Growth Head, FNB Wealth and Investments. “The solution aims to simplify the process and allows customers to easily draft a will online anytime and at any place, at no cost. In addition, FNB will keep your original will in safe custody at no extra cost.”
Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free download
Stockists: Available the FNB app which can be be downloaded here.
PayFast has launched Split Payments, a South African-first that instantly splits a portion of an online payment with a third party. The service is designed to facilitate fast, safe payments for platform-based businesses, including online marketplaces.
For those who run a marketplace that brings together multiple sellers or merchants looking for new sales channels, Split Payments addresses payment headaches with a simple API integration.
Consumers are used to engaging with large global transactional platforms such as AirBnB, Uber, and Amazon. The benefits and extended reach of these types of platforms are catching on locally, and organisations like estate agency groups and even community marketplaces are setting up digital trading platforms.
The app allows businesses to instantly split out commission, membership or listing fees, when a payment is made via one of its supported payment methods.
For each online payment received the business can determine what the split is, either a fixed amount, a percentage, or a combination of both. Custom recurring payment integration, such as subscriptions payments, can also be split automatically.
Platform: iOS and Android
Expect to pay: A free download
Stockists: Download Split Payments here
Read more about Momentum’s new Safety Alert app and Fleetonomy.
Why 4G is still a thing
Even with the 5G era already upon us, investment in 4G/LTE networks is still vitally important for operators in sub-Saharan Africa and must remain a core focus of network construction for the immediate future. This is according to David Chen, Vice-President, Huawei Southern Africa.
“Currently, the mobile broadband penetration rate in Africa is only 47%, while 4G penetration rate is merely 10%,” Chen said.
“Insufficient coverage causes LTE users to fall back to the 2G or 3G networks, resulting in significant decline in user experience. It also leads to congestion on the 2G and 3G networks and makes it difficult to release spectrum used by 2G and 3G.”
Chen said that LTE and 5G complement each other and are evolving in parallel. In the next few years, 5G will mainly be used in more industrial communications.
LTE will remain the primary choice for global mobile communications through 2025. It will form the basic layer of national networks, especially when it comes to the mobile broadband access.
“It will take a long time for 5G to provide nationwide continuous coverage. Before that, enhanced LTE networks can guarantee optimal user experience for 5G users, including services such as VR, AR, and cloud gaming,” said Chen.
He said that it is important for operators to invest in 4G to secure future growth, as it is estimated that there will be an additional 80 million LTE users in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
Driven by this growth, LTE traffic in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by a factor of 8.8. By 2025, about 80% of all data traffic in the region will be over an LTE network.
LTE will also be the main source of future revenue for operators.
“According to GSMA Intelligence, 2G and 3G users in sub-Saharan Africa will gradually migrate to 4G,” said Chen. “By 2025, the proportion of 2G users will drop from 46% to 12%.”
Part of the reason for the migration to 4G is because the ecosystem is mature.
“The price of feature phones supporting VoLTE in the sub-Saharan Africa market has been as low as $25,” Chen said.
Since 5G equipment is already available, there is an opportunity for operators to build out their 4G networks while ensuring that they can evolve to 5G in future.
Chen offered the following tips to operators to ensure they are ready for 5G:
- All future equipment installations should be 5G ready, allowing easy upgrades to 5G through software updates.
- Software should support multi-standard spectrum sharing to improve spectrum efficiency, and to allow the smooth migration of 2G and 3G users.
- Networks must support 4G and 5G coordination, in terms of spectrum, operation and maintenance. This will ensure that users have a consistent experience as we enter the 5G era.
- The value of existing ICT infrastructure, such as base station sites, must be maximised to avoid overlapping services and wasted resources. This would mean boosting the capacity and coverage of every station for optimum efficiency.
- Carriers should explore the business case for all possible 5G innovations when building 4G networks, and not just embrace 5G for its own sake. This will mean building business models around IoT, video, live broadcast, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
- It is important that operators build partnerships with providers that can support the ongoing spectrum evolution with fast site upgrades and large-capacity solutions. The idea is to maximise the value of 4G networks, and smoothly evolve to 5G without unnecessary infrastructure investment.