The problem with gaming in Uganda

Sunday April 10 2022
Gamers in Uganda.

Gamers enjoy a session at the Games and Politics exhibition in the Design Hub, Kampala. PHOTO | IZYCAPTION | POOL


Gaming is big business outside Africa, and while it thrives in some countries on the continent in small gaming communities, those invested in the business in Uganda cite lack of money and collaborations, and prohibitive internet cost as some of the challenges holding an explosion of the same.

Phillip Mukasa, the operations director of the Kampala-based Klan of the Kings studio, said “You need coders, animators and concept artists to develop games. It is easier to work in collaboration with people with different skills and resources.”

Nicholas ‘Nemesis’ Keya, the founder of Telalila studio in Kampala concurs and says “studio owners in Uganda lack capital to engage game developers,” and that one needs to have an idea or point of origin in order to create productions.

Gaming is small but thriving in Uganda and Laurean Ntaate, the founder of Tribe Uganda studio and organiser of the annual Digiart Fest in Kampala, says gamers from across all age groups turn up for his festival. “Games are not only entertaining but educative as well. We have been approached by different entities in order to assist them reach out to game developers to produce their stories.”

Ntaate says consistency will create awareness and draw interest from more people.

Keya, Mukasa and Ntaate were part of the panel discussion during a fireplace session held recently at the Design Hub Kampala.


Interactive experience

The session focused on Uganda’s gaming community, highlighting the local perspective of gaming as an economic activity, its social effects and impact of collaboration. It was part of Games and Politics: Interactive Exhibition held at the Design Hub, as a world touring exhibition by Goethe Institute.

It delves into the political influence of games on society an offered interactive experience where player engage each other by playing on available computer games.

All the games in Games and Politics share this political approach, which is intended by the games’ designers to set them clearly apart from both the conventional market as well as from computer games as an entertainment medium. They explore a wide range of topics, such as democracy, gender, refugees and media.

Perfect Woman

Games and Politics exhibition in Uganda showcased the pros and cons of gaming in political conversations. What choices are people allowed to make? What conscious decisions do you have to make in games like the Perfect Woman which discusses gender roles? What's this War of Mine, which has you locked in a detention camp, and you try to escape being killed or where you are attacking people with drones?

The panellists stressed the point of a need to localise games by including local stars and settings.

“We must bring girls on board in our stories to draw them in and get a fresh perspective,” said, Raymond Mallinga, Creatures Animation studio CEO in Kampala.

“Games have mainly been male-oriented, but in our studio’s forthcoming inaugural game (Sunjata: Trumpet of Last Day) we have a female character,” Mukasa said.

“We intend to release it initially on Xbox and PlayStation platforms in mid-July and then shortly after, on mobile and PC,” Mukasa adds.

Mukasa said the gaming industry in Uganda is highly informal, with individual-owned gaming parlours charging per hour of game time. However, the opportunity is huge. High mobile phone penetration in Uganda has created a unique opportunity for content creators because their content reaches diverse audiences.

"He believes even with piracy, the future of gaming is bright because “people have the ability to create games from anywhere in the world and distribute it globally. This works in our favour since we are operating in the fastest growing region.”

Keya says the advent of co-production platforms such Enter Africa Network will help to bring down the cost of production by employing economies of scale and collaborating with international markets such as Gamescom festival, Telalila, Spielfabrique, Ubisoft and telecoms such as Orange.”

In January, Games Industry Africa published the State of the African Games Industry 2022 report focusing on five major countries in sub-Sahara: South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia. It says that South Africa has 24 million people playing in a population of 59 million (40 per cent), while 27 per cent of people in Ghana play games, 23 per cent in Nigeria, 22 per cent in Kenya, and 13 per cent in Ethiopia.

South Africa leads the way in total annual gaming revenue in 2021 ($290 million), followed by Nigeria ($185 million), and then Ghana ($42 million), Kenya ($38 million), and Ethiopia ($35m).

Through traditional channels, a higher proportion of South African gamers pay for games (43 per cent) than Ghanaians and Ethiopians (33 per cent) or Nigerians and Kenyans (32 per cent).