Nigerian software developers mull $23.9bn mobile gaming industry

Industry experts foresee an imminent explosion in the development of mobile and online gaming services as Nigerian techies begin to wake up to the prospects inherent in the $23.9 billion market, BusinessDay investigations reveal.

The global mobile gaming market is expected to grow 27.3 percent annually, doubling in the next two years. The worldwide video games industry, worth more than $63 billion in 2012, is expected to reach nearly $87 billion in 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a recent study.

Industry analysts told BusinessDay that software developers in the country were beginning to see the enormous market potentials there-in, with many of them now channelling their energies and resources towards developing locally-relevant mobile gaming services.

“There are lots of gaming applications in the market but no local content from Nigeria,” said Kelvin Fangkai, who manages Data Hosting Services for Huawei Technologies.

That trend is already changing as two Nigerian start-ups, Maliyo and Kuluya, are already making significant strides in the development of mobile and online gaming services. These technology companies are setting the tone for an imminent boom in mobile gaming. They are currently tapping into the quirks of daily life in Africa to create online and mobile phone video games that are winning fans around the world.

Industry watchers say the game “Mosquito Smasher” has earned huge comparisons to “Angry Birds”, the worldwide mobile application success of recent years. According to them, the graphics are simple, the objectives clear and the reward immediate. Essentially, the game involves squashing as many of the blood-sucking parasites as possible under your thumb.

Another, the highly popular “Okada Ride”, has players guide a motorcycle-taxi driver around roadside street vendors, roadblocks and police in the notorious traffic of Lagos, a sprawling metropolis of nearly 20 million people.

Drawing inspiration from life in Lagos, both firms were launched about 18 months ago. Kuluya – “action” in the Igbo language of southern Nigeria – has already created some 70 games. The technology companies hope to reach one million mobile telephone users by the end of June and garner a huge fan base well beyond the borders of Nigeria.

“In Africa, we have a lot of downloads from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa,” said Lakunle Ogungbamila, who runs Kuluya. But adapting the games to the platforms that Africans use is critical, said Ogungbamila and Maliyo’s founder, Hugo Obi. Sales of games consoles are low in Africa, unlike in other advanced markets like Europe and the United States. On the African continent, there is a preference for playing online. But due to the dearth of fixedline broadband services, access to the cyberspace is increasingly via mobile devices, specifically smartphones and tablets.

“Mobile is massive in this part of the world. It has the highest penetration, especially for Internet users. And we are exporting a lot of our games onto mobiles,” Obi told AFP.

From an office in Yaba, Maliyo now offers 10 free online games to some 20,000 users across Nigeria, but also in Britain and the US.

Fangkai says there is a growing focus on mobile gaming, further adding that application developers in-country need to tap into the potentials available in the segment by developing games that are locally relevant.

Figures clearly reinforce Fangkai’s claim. Nigeria has a massive population of 167 million people and 120 million mobile phone subscriptions. 25 percent of the country’s mobile phone subscription base use smartphones, said global research company, TNS. In 2011, it is estimated that 46 million people used the internet, up from 11 million in 2008. 47 million mobile data users are currently on GSM operators’ network in the country, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

“The business model is interesting – you can have free games that allow people and users to use the game for free; and then after a while they pay to continue to use the game or to purchase something in the game,” said Fangkai in an interview.

In spite of the market potential, the African market has not figured prominently on the radar of game developers. In the US, California-based social gaming company, Zynga Games, has over 350 million monthly active users with revenues of more than $300 million (N52 billion). This figure is, however, equivalent to 50 percent of the market capitalisation of some large cap companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

But some analysts point out that this slowness to move in this direction is the direct result of a poor gaming culture in the country, and the attendant lack of requisite skills and competence in mobile gaming software development. They further add that an awakening in this direction is starting to build up and that one of the fallouts will be the emergence of training facilities particularly focused on mobile gaming.

“So the greatest challenge is human capacity. We invest a lot in time training people…because, as you know, we don’t want to outsource work to the Western world because we want to have a story of using our own expertise to make games that compete globally and also build the industry as well,” said Eyram Tawia, founder of Ghana-based Leti Games.

“The future is really bright because you can see all these giants – Samsung, Microsoft, Google – they are all making the middle-low end Android phones and Windows phones for this part of the world. Why? Because they see the middle class in Africa growing very quickly so everyone possesses a phone now,” said Tawia in a report.

Some mobile gaming companies have also complained that telecoms operators on the continent are not encouraging the African gaming industry. Abiola Olaniran, founder of Gamsole, shares his experience with ITWebAfrica.

“After the first week of this game release, we had a good number of paid downloads from Kenya and Nigeria, only for us to hear that operators are going to take 80 percent of our revenue. Of course, we saw this as a rip-off and decided to pull the game down,” Olaniran said

Culled from Business Day