Africa’s gaming sector is on course for a huge expansion, which could provide millions of new jobs across the continent, according to participants at the second FEJA gaming event that’s just been held in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.
At $140 billion, the global video games industry is already a cool $100 billion larger than the film industry, and African games companies are hoping to become major players.
According to Serge Thiam, digital strategy director at Stay Connect, in 2014, Africa had 23 million video games players, and that reached 500 million in 2018, largely due to the rapid penetration of smartphones.
The games market itself has grown from $105 million to $570million in the same four-year period. Combine that with hardware sales and gaming is already a billion-dollar business in Africa.
African games developers face a range of issues. Internet connections are slow, unreliable and, at up to $150 a month for broadband, prohibitively expensive.
Hardware lags behind what is available in other regions and programming talent is scarce. Further issues hamper game development and monetization on the continent, such as a lack of both an integrated payments system for enabling in-game purchases and advertising exchanges that could serve in-game ads that allow developers to offer games for free. But the sector is growing at over eight percent annually, and overall economic development is easing some of the industry’s ills.
In terms of kick-starting the industry on the continent, a lack of awareness around its potential has also been a major setback.
“We didn’t ever have a [school] class where someone said ‘make a video game’,” said Wilfried Ouonouan, game designer at Abidjan-based Work’d gaming studio. “We’ve learned game developing thanks to YouTube and the Internet. We started a company thanks to YouTube,” but, he said, the company is struggling to grow as it cannot find enough skilled staff.
FEJA, which took place in Abidjan from 23-25 November, is the largest, most representative video game event in Africa, in terms of the number of countries represented and the almost 40 pro gamers flying in from across the continent.
The eSports tournaments are crowd-pullers with 13 million francs CFA in prize money ($22,500) for tournaments for FIFA, Street Fighter, Fortnite and Candy Crush, but despite the prize fund, the second FEJA has a purely business aim: job creation for the video games industry.
As games become bigger and more complex, they require expanding teams of project managers, marketers, sound designers and testers. “We can easily see one million people hired in the games industry in West Africa by 2025 – or more. Throughout Africa as a whole that could reach five million,” Sidick Bakayoko, founder and CEO of Paradise Game, told FRANCE 24.
FEJA’s organizers, Abidjan-based Paradise Game, see the three-day event as both an international showcase for Africa’s gaming industry, and an opportunity to raise awareness at home of the potential of the games sector.
“If we want game developers to start joining us, we need to make sure that they see there are examples of African companies that develop games,” said Bakayoko. “We really want to help push [the developers] so they can grow, and that will impact the entire market.