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What does 2021 hold for the African games industry?

Games Industry Africa's Vic Bassey lays out five trends in the continent to keep in eye on this year

A version of this column originally appeared in Games Industry Africa, a site created to chart the development of the African games industry and spotlight its many talented creators.

Objectively speaking, 2020 felt like an interminable grind. A window of time that forced us to examine what it truly meant to be human as we fell head first into a digital reality. A year of Mondays, if you will. Even so, a significant segment of the industry made hay and registered unprecedented success, and the narrative revolved around the launch of the new consoles and the surge in player engagement. By all accounts, it was a banner year for the industry.

A quick run through of the 2020 African games industry trends, highlighted the massive strides achieved by the industry despite some unquestionable challenges. The need to focus efforts on developing a robust educational program saw some exciting enterprises kickstarted. The continent got its first formal iteration of a front facing organisation with the formation of AGDA, which was swiftly followed up with a Pan-African gaming awards (winners to be unveiled in 2021). Initiatives such as Prosearium continued to provide a platform for the growing number of female developers, which in turn has helped lay the foundation for an increase in financial and representational investment into the industry.

Looking ahead, whilst the impact of the pandemic cannot be overstated, the formation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) nudged the continent a step closer to being a free-trade bloc. AfCFTA could become one of the biggest free-trade areas in the world when it comes into full effect in 2030, with an estimated 1.2 billion people.

In addition, research firm Mordor Intelligence has projected the African games industry to register a CAGR of 12% from 2020 through 2025. That growth is likely to be powered by young people since two-thirds of the African population is expected to be under the age of 25 over the same period. In short, the industry seems primed for a period of sustained growth. How that exactly translates into the coming twelve months can be summarized in five points.

Disclaimer: Before we jump right into it, it's worth acknowledging the discrepancy between the varying sub regions in Africa. South Africa and to some extent North Africa are more developed regions with Sub-Saharan Africa lagging behind, but making up ground at breakneck speed.

Mobile Mobilization

Digital adoption will continue to gather pace, further accelerated by the ongoing pandemic. Africa boasts five of the top fastest growing mobile markets and the onset of the free trade agreement will lead to governments identifying ways to enable the easy movement and interaction of businesses across the continent.

Education Nations

This remains a crucial point, but we are likely to see this splinter and become increasingly two-pronged. The first centres on a continuation of some of the excellent enterprises started in 2020. The growing number of youth will lead to more pan-African educational models being rolled out. Formal game dev program continue to emerge and spread. When it comes to supporting the current generation of developers, a lot of work is required to transition their enterprises from bedroom endeavours to full-time work as the industry continues its evolution.

Larger Publisher Landscape

South African Carry1st set a high bar and have gone some way to establishing a solid brand to build the local scene, so one can expect at least one other commercially focused publisher to enter the mobile gaming space. The competitive landscape bodes well for developers who face the very real prospect of having multiple publishers to choose from.

Additionally, the year could see the first locally conceived boutique digital platform, so long as locally devised actors are able to provide a variety of payment tools for both local and international consumers.

Cross-Continental Collaboration

The industry as a whole appears to be a lot more receptive to collaborative endeavours and following Malta's move to bolster collaboration with African game developers in 2020, there is no reason why other countries shouldn't follow suite. Especially if such strategic partnerships result in successes such as those achieved by Warshmallows (A game conceived and developed by a Tunisian team, but strategically based in Malta). One likely scenario is the coming together of budding gaming nations to explore ways of supporting their respective ecosystems.

Financial sourcing pools

Funding for prototyping and game projects has been a constant push and pull for developers around the world, but more so in Africa, where most have also had to overcome the prevailing perceptions that linger about what it means to be a developer from this region. That challenge has led to developers seeking alternative forms of financing such as going the Kickstarter route to varying degrees of success. For every The Wagadu Chronicles and Beautiful Desolution, there are several promising projects that never came close to reaching their funding goals.

Others such as Cameroonian developers Kiro'o Games have fashioned their own fundraising structure that goes beyond a single project and offers investors a chance to well...invest in their entire business. It's a model that has been endorsed by the Cameroonian government.

Ultimately, the success and growth of the industry will be down to the creators. A lot was achieved by the people of the year in 2020, but the start of a new decade brings with it a brand new set of challenges.

Views from the industry

Jake Manion - Head of product (Internet of Elephants) -- "With mobile, [the trend] is continued unification of Android payment options and Apple's footprint increasing -- both benefiting developers' earnings, increasing their budgets, and attracting further investment. I'm expecting one or two solid African IPs to hit the global market with a significant splash and accelerate the ecosystem even more. This is likely to be mobile, but I'd love to see it happening on PC/console. And hopefully, 2021 is the year we see an African esports team ascend to the global stage."

Siphiwe Molotsi - Brand Strategist & Chief Marketing Officer (SpaceSalad Studios) -- "Definitely more serious games and a more seamless incorporation of games into the classroom. Africa and the multifaceted identity of the continent will definitely be explored more and more. Finally, VR is the future."

Allan Cudicio - Founder / Game Designer (Twin Drums) -- "Multiplayer games are going to continue growing across the board."

Sithe Ncube - Founder / Strategic Advisor (Prosearium / Humble Bundle) -- "For Africa, more online tournaments. I think that's a thing. I hope small online multiplayers will get more popular and more innovative because of COVID-19."

Walid Sultan MIDANI - CEO & Founder (YouRun LTD) -- "Using games technologies for non-games purposes: training, education, architecture, industry, animation, cinema, shows, etc."

Julien Herbin - Co-Founder & CEO (Kayfo Games) -- "We've seen major actors starting to take strong positions on the publishing and distribution fronts. I suppose this trend movement will accelerate in 2021, and I foresee more investment coming in on the production side."

Vic Bassey is the editor of Games Industry Africa. He also currently works for Raw Fury and has previously held positions with Might and Delight AB and Paradox Interactive, among others.

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