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Pokemon Go fever seizes Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Pokemon Go South Africa

Pokémon Go has only been out for a month, but its popularity has led to global game-play including in many African countries.

The world has caught Pokémon fever and Africa has not been immune. Even though there is no official launch date for Pokémon Go anywhere in the continent, it is easily available to download from the app stores for those savvy and desperate enough to play ahead of its release. In the month since its launch it reportedly has more than 75 million players worldwide, overtaking Twitter for global users.

Pokémon Go is a 2016 release from Niantic, in collaboration with Nintendo who released the original game 20 years ago. Unlike the archetype which was played in a world contained inside a handheld Gameboy, Pokémon Go is set in an augmented reality universe. Players roam their real world which is overlaid with computer-generated imagery, attempting to catch creatures and battle them in simulated fight scenes. This is the first release of the game and it is predicted to launch versions where players can battle other players instead of AI characters.

Pokémon Go captures attention throughout the African continent

The game has been particularly popular in South Africa, with regular ‘meet-ups’ throughout the country, including in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Recent meet-ups in Port Elizabeth have even been coupled with aid drives for animal charities, capitalizing on the success of the app and need for players to gather in prime locations.

Similarly in Nigeria, there has been a veritable craze for Pokémon catching all over the country. Not long ago, an online craze would have been unthinkable in a city like Lagos, famous for its patchy mobile coverage. Recent improvements have changed matters however, with providers promising 3G coverage for 90% of the country and fiber-optic rollouts imminent.

Ghana and Kenya paint a similar picture with players roaming the streets looking for creatures and convening in “hotspots” in all major towns. Unlike in the western world, where Pokémon Go is widespread, in Africa it’s only the affluent and developed areas that seem to be picking up on the craze. This is due to the higher than average ownership of smartphones, coupled with access to mobile data services, along with generally higher socioeconomic circumstances.

Pokemon Go gathering in Cape Town

Pokemon Go gathering in Cape Town

Pokémon Go’s success drives sales for other businesses

While Nintendo has seen a rise in $7.5 billion to its market value, Pokémon Go has also been profitable for local businesses, utilizing their location or certain elements of the game to attract customers and drive sales. Many bars and restaurants, such as Beerhouse and Steers Fast Food in South Africa are offering unique promotions connected to the game, and using social media to promote Pokémon locations near their business. Some venues have even been placing Pokémon “lures” to promote their happy hours and organizing walks and Pokémon Go-themed events. Many South African “meet-ups” have also combined Pokémon catching with charitable drives, such as for local animal charities in the area.

With increased real world interaction and a new global interface, the drawbacks are obviously related to player security. According to insurance group Dialdirect, users in South Africa need to be cautious when playing, as they could become easy targets for crime. Many areas in Africa are dangerous for solo pedestrians to be walking around at night, or with their smart phones clearly on display. Crime that has been seen in other countries could be amplified in some of Africa’s more unsafe regions, particularly if users enter into those areas unknowingly and without weighing up necessary risk factors. “We usually recommend that consumers conceal their smart phones and that they don’t unnecessarily brandish them about” said Dialdirect spokesperson, Bianca de Beer.

Playing can be a real life danger to users

Users risk their online security as well as their real-life security by irresponsibly playing the game. While Pokémon Go is not officially available in Africa, illegitimate users risk their phone’s security by accessing the app via third party channels, leaving their device open to hackers. According to a statement by IT security company Sophos‚ there is already one “malware” mirror version of the Pokémon Go app out there and being downloaded. Users are urged to play with caution and not put themselves into risky situations, in real life or otherwise.

As the technology wave surges across Africa, connecting ever more people to internet and data services, Pokémon Go and its successors are likely to usher in a new generation of avid gaming enthusiasts. With such popularity in Africa even before its official release, Pokémon Go seems to be here to stay.

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Kori-Odan: Making Africa’s mark on the video game industry

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Olivier Madiba

A Cameroon developer is one of the first to focus a game on the mythology of the continent.

With the release of one of the first African-themed computer video games produced on the continent, Cameroon’s Olivier Madiba, 30, hopes to shake up a global industry dominated by white game developers who create white heroes.

Madiba’s company, Kiro’o Games, launched the PC-based “Aurion: Legacy of Kori-Odan,” in April on the United States platform Steam to positive reviews.

To Madiba, it represents more than a video game, Madiba said.

“Our dream is bigger than that. We want to build a bridge between the gaming industry and Africa,” Madiba, the co-founder chief executive officer of Kiro’o Games said.

Game based on African myth

Based on African mythology, the game features Enzo Kori-Odan and his wife, Erine Evou, as they try to take back his throne in a land called Zama after his brother-in-law stages a coup and ousts them.

The game was a long time in the making. He first started talking to friends about making a game about Kori-Odan in 2003 while he was studying software development at the University of Yaoundé.

His father worked at a sugar factory and ran a video store in Douala when Madiba was growing up and video games became his obsession. However, since Cameroon has no video game industry, he could not find a career path in his own country.

After graduating from the university with a degree in computer science in 2009, Madiba taught himself how to create games on the internet and decided to start his own company, based on the Cameroon capital, Yaoundé.

Screenshot from Aurion

Screenshot from Aurion

Investors, Kickstarter campaign fund effort

Madiba launched the studio Kiro’o Games, in 2011, and his team began working on the game in earnest.

The studio, which has a staff of 20 artists and developers, raised $270,000 from investors and more than $55,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign, which enabled them to complete the project.

When he was young, he had noticed few games had African heroes and the continent was often shown through the lens of war and crisis. Most games feature white heroes because most game developers are white, he said.

Game takes place in the future

Madiba wanted to change that with the story of “Aurion: Legacy of Kori-Odan,” an epic 2D adventure in which the usurped king and queen fight to regain their thrones from the evil brother-in-law.

While the story comes from African myth and tradition, the name adds an element of science fiction: The game takes place in a world that exists 10,000 years in the future on another planet far away from Earth.

Using African characters rather than the typical warriors and magicians of role-playing games, Madiba said he wanted to create a world where “Africa was on top.”

Other Africa studios are developing video games. In Nigeria, Maliyo develops smart phone games with African stories. In Kenya, Leti Arts creates puzzle games with local narratives.

Game captures international attention

But Aurion has captured much wider attention, enough that the U.S. State Department invited Madiba to participate in the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship Program, which is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative launched by President Obama.

In addition to being a Kickstarter Staff Pick and being featured in The Wall Street Journal, the game is receiving very good reviews, complimenting both the design and the storytelling.

It is available only for PC but Madiba hopes to develop it and other games with animation for mobile platforms as well. With low labor costs in Cameroon, he believes he can create a profitable business creating games that also tell the African story.

He hopes the game will help foster more diversity in games and create a better understanding of Africa. “Being African isn’t based on your color … It’s how you see the world and what you want to share.”

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Iran’s video-gaming industry poised for action

Comments (1) Business, Featured, Middle East


With international sanctions lifted, a burgeoning industry looks beyond its domestic market of 20 million gamers.

Iran, known mostly in the West for its grim political and religious restrictions, has a   burgeoning video game industry that is poised for growth as international sanctions are lifted in the wake of the international nuclear deal with Iran.

Iran has about 20 million video gamers, which represents about a quarter of the total population, according to the Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation. It’s notable that 60 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million is under 30 years of age.

With more than 38 million Internet users, more than half of them gamers, Iran “is the largest growing video games market in the Middle East,” the foundation said.

Games feature missile strikes

Iran’s video game industry is best known in the West for propaganda-driven warfare games such as Missile Strike, a 2015 release in which the Iranians break through Israel’s air defense system and launch missile strikes on Israeli targets, and Attack on Tel-Aviv, a 2011 release that simulates an Iranian military mission to the Israeli capital.

Iranian developers have said they created these games in response to a Battlefield 3, a game that simulates an invasion by United States forces in Tehran to search for the leader of a terrorist group and to look for nuclear weapons. Battlefield 3 was developed in Sweden and published in California.

“The reason we explicitly depict an attack on Israel is that they too are explicitly depicting attacks (on Tehran) in Battlefield,’’ Missile Strike developer Mehdi Atash Jaam said.

Popular games draw on Iranian mythology

Such militaristic games attract funding from conservative elements in the country. However, by many accounts, the most popular video games in Iran draw on the country’s rich history and culture rather than its contemporary international posturing.

For example, the popular Garshasp: The Monster Slayer, is drawn from Persian mythology. In Garshasp, released in 2010, the mythical hero with a hand blade fights in a series of epic battles against the evil Deevs who are trying to create an empire.

The game, created at a cost of $400,000 has sold more than 300,000 copies domestically.

A highly acclaimed 2014 release, Parvaneh: Legacy of the Light’s Guardians, features indigenous Iranian culture and promotes an Islamic lifestyle. It sold 85,000 copies in its initial release.

Most gamers are under 24

Iran video gamesClearly, there is an appetite for video games in Iran, especially among young people who make up such a large share of the total population. A survey by Techcrunch found that 67 percent of video gamers on mobile devices were under 24 and 80 percent were unmarried. Two-thirds play mobile games several times a day with the highest interest in action and strategy games followed by sports, racing and puzzles.

Since video game production began in Iran almost a decade ago, nearly 100 game studios have been established.

However, international sanctions have hurt Iran’s fledgling video gaming industry.

Developers have been unable to license their work and have limited ability to market it internationally.

Pirated games undermine domestic developers

While their games are relatively inexpensive, less than $10, the Iranian developers are often undercut by pirated versions of Western-produced games that have better production values yet cost only a few dollars.

When the prices are similar for one product developed by dozens of people at a cost of millions of dollars while another is developed at much lower cost by a small Iranian studio, “this makes for unfair competition,” said Mehrdad Ashtiani, production deputy at Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation.

Foundation provides funding and support

The foundation was established in 2007 with a gold of fostering the video game industry by providing funds and helping developers navigate government censorship restrictions.

Games such as Garshasp might not have been made but for foundation assistance.

The foundation also established a system for rating content and age appropriateness of digital content, including video games.

In January, the Iranian video game industry got some good news. United States and European officials lifted some of the harsher economic sanctions, which should open Iran to more investment from technology companies and video game publishers.

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