International technology media would have the world believe that Africa is a continent that struggles to hold its own in terms of innovation, development and production – let alone in the development of video game titles.
However, there are a good number of individuals and companies that have taken the world by the horns and are showing them just what Africa is capable of. While video game development in Africa has been around for many years (even decades), development studios do struggle to make themselves heard among the flurry of international studios producing AAA-titles annually.
ITNewsAfrica took a look at ten of the most well-known or just simply amazing game development studios from around the continent – and discovered a wealth of talent and inspiration.
1. Celestial Games – South Africa
Based in Johannesburg, Celestial Games is mostly known for their Toxic Bunny title. The company was started in 1994, and soon rose to fame with their coffee-guzzling, gun-slinging rabbit, while also working on Arni the Mental Armadillo as a second release title. After the completion of Toxic Bunny, the game went on to sell 150 000 copies internationally, and over 7 000 locally – no mean feat for a South African developer at the time. But due to financial issues, the founders opted to close the doors of Celestial Game in 2001. While the title lay dormant for almost six years, founders Travis Bulford and Nick McKenzie decided to release a High-Definition version of Toxic Bunny and employed a new team of developers. The studio eventually released the HD version in 2012, and as of this year, the team has plans to release the title on Sony’s PS Vita.
2. Kuluya – Nigeria
Proclaiming to want to change the gaming landscape in Africa is a tall order, but that is exactly what Kuluya has set their sights on. With over a hundred titles under the belt, the Lagos-based development studio is comprised of a team with experience in advertising, video animation, software development and marketing. “We create games developed with African players as the key focus. From high-end console games to the casual browser games, nobody really develops for Africa or around African experiences. Our games have themes that pervade the everyday life of the average Nigerian and also Africans at large. We take a commonly known theme, model it into a game, and make it as fun as possible,” the studio states. The online studio was recently awarded another small seed stage investment – increasing the company’s valuation to over $2-million. “We have grown the company to a $2 million valuation in six months. Our goal is to become one of the most successful media companies in Africa, and with today’s news, I see this as being totally achievable,” said Studio Head Kunle Ogungbamila.
3. Thoopid – South Africa
Hailing from Cape Town in the Western Cape, the mobile gaming development studio was founded this year by “avid gamers with award winning experience in design, development, digital marketing and emerging media.” As for the name, the company takes a rather tongue-in-cheek approach: “Well, when you try to say our name you sound stupid, so we’re already one up on you. It’s all about gaming, right?” The studio is known for their extensive work on their Snailboy title, which has been garnering praise in the local gaming scene. “Snailboy is a physics based puzzle game with rich graphics, killer sounds and over 40 levels of intoxicating game play,” the studio states. The title is currently available on Apple’s App Store.
4. Maliyo Games – Nigeria
Based in Lagos, Nigeria, the studio aims to develop online titles with an African theme. “At Maliyo we have a simple philosophy; to share the experiences of everyday Africans with a global audience through games. Our narratives, characters, environments and sounds help us achieve this,” the company states. Co-founder Hugo Obi said that the studio was born out of a passion for creating web and mobile content and after scrutinising the Zynga title, he saw an opportunity in the African market. The studio develops online title similar to Zynga’s Farmville, and with 10 games already completed, Maliyo Games has been featured on CNN and in Forbes magazine. The studio will also be pitching new ideas to potential investors at the annual Demo Africa summit in Nairobi later this month.
5. Leti Games – Kenya
Co-founded by Eyram Tawia and Wesley Kirinya, the Ghana-based studio functions as a double-pronged machine – producing video games as well as comic books based on African characters. Their latest title is called True Ananse, and revolves around the legend of the West African trickster which the company reimagined as a comic and mobile game. Kirinya’s first game was a 700MB Tomb Raider clone with an African theme, but since the pair has worked on several games. The company recently rebranded themselves as Leti Arts (to fully incorporate the graphic novel aspect), and has been featured on BBC and Polygon, and their True Ananse series has been nominated by an international jury of ICT experts to enter the next round of the 2013 World Summit Award. “Leti Arts is bringing Africa’s rich folklore to life through the media of comics and mobile gaming,” the company states.
6. Kola Studios – Uganda
The only Ugandan video games developer on the list, Kola Studios develop mobile games for the Android and iOS operating systems. “We started developing games for smartphones in 2011. We haven’t looked back for a second, and we are the makers of the very popular Matatu game for Android,” the studio says. The studio currently have five games available, but Matatu is a two player card game, based on a popular local version of the same name. They also believe that they have a secret formula for making successful video games: Talented people, freedom to think and a passion for their products. “We work out of an incubator, which is true to our core — we love working in a very relaxed and free environment, participating in the community and interacting with the budding tech community in Kampala.”
7. Gamsole – Nigeria
Founded by Abiola Elijah Olaniran, the Nigeria developer has one simple goal in mind – to make mobile games that are as much fun as possible. “Our goal is to make games that are fun to play; plain and simple. Each game offers a widely imaginative and irresistibly fun gameplay experience that appeals to gamers of all age groups.” And he has been doing something right, as he was recently named by Microsoft Nigeria as the highest paid app developer in the country at the Lagos iDEA launch. With five mobile games available, Olaniran said that they have enjoyed great success. “The uptake has been great, in a time period of three months, five of our games have gotten over 1-million downloads on the Windows Phone store alone.”
8. I-Imagine Interactive – South Africa
With titles such as Chase Hollywood Stunt Driver and Celebrity Genius, the Johannesburg-based independent video game development company is currently the only developer in South Africa licensed to develop for all major console platforms – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo’s DS. The company was founded by Dan Wagner in 1999 through venture capital funding and subsequently became the first licensed independent games developer on the African continent. I-Imagine also develops gaming titles for iOS, Android and J2ME platforms.
9. Ubisoft Casablanca – Morocco
While international games development studio Ubisoft is based in France, the company does have an African connection. Currently employing more than 8,350 in 28 countries, the studio has a production arm in Casablanca, Morocco. “Along with a versatile and pioneering mobile team, the Casablanca studio has worked across a range of platforms on some of Ubisoft’s biggest titles,” they stated. The Moroccan office has been responsible for titles such as the mobile Rayman Fiesta Run, the WiiU version on Rayman Legends and in 2011 worked on Rayman 3D for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld gaming system.
10. Slightly Mad Studios
While Slightly Mad Studios is based in the UK, South Africans still have reason to feel proud about this offering. In September 2009, Slightly Mad Studios released Need for Speed: Shift with Electronic Arts, but the continent’s claim to fame is that of Stephen Viljoen. The Chief Operating Officer has been with the studio for many years and resides in Hermanus, in the Western Cape. Slightly Mad has worked on titles such as Shift 2: Unleashed and Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends, and their next title, Project CARS, is due for release sometime next year.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor