The local Game Industry Renaissance



It’s been quite the year for South African games, hasn’t it? Don’t know what I’m talking about? Grab a seat by the digital fireplace and let me elaborate.

The Association
The South African game development industry has been struggling for quite a while to get going properly – since 1994 in fact. Its been through many iterations of community, with pockets of successful games and studios popping up only periodically. Finally, with its most recent rebirth, Make Games South Africa (MGSA), the local community seems to have settled for good.

MGSA is so significant because it’s registered as a non-profit organisation, which means it has the power to… you know… become the recognised voice for game development in South Africa and in turn send a trade mission of local developers to the Game Developers Conference next year. Being able to send twenty people a year to the most heavily attended game development conference in the world is just one reason why having MGSA around is beneficial.

MGSA was the body that helped get local games to rAge this year too!
MGSA was the body that helped get local games to rAge this year too!

The Kickstart
It’s enormously expensive to make a game , so much so that it’s almost impossible for small studios to fund development themselves. The contemporary response has been to turn to crowd funding, and most famously, Kickstarter. The response locally has been no different. Many of you will have heard of STASIS’ massive Kickstarter success of $140 000. But there was another successful South African Kickstarter this year, with Pleasant Company Games funding their board game, Ancient Terrible Things, to the tune of $27 000! These funding strategies could free local developers of the binds that the size of the local industry currently has over them.


The Greenlight
Part of growing an industry is consistently released products that make some sort of monetary gain in order to fund subsequent games. Frankly, these days as a small independent, if you’re not selling your game through Steam (which controls 75% of digital game sales), then things will be pretty difficult. Thus it’s enormously significant that five local games have been greenlit for Steam, and three have already been released onto the platform. While a presence on the Steam store doesn’t equate to success, it’s certainly a contributing factor in ensuring ongoing stability of these games’ developers.

The Quantity vs. The Quality of games
This year has seen an explosion in the number of games being made in SA. There were 20 locally made games released this year and a further 13 are currently in open beta/development. There were also 190+ game prototypes posted to the Make Games South Africa forums in the past year. This is an excitingly high number because in independent game development, more failed prototypes equal more chances to find a game worth pursuing. Vlambeer made 300 prototypes in a year and extracted just Super Crate Box from the entire process.

The aforementioned quantity is certainly impressive, but what about the quality of games? Well, long term, quantity indicates a potential for future quality (as indicated by the Vlambeer example). But what about the quality now? Well there’s already Broforce, Viscera Cleanup Detail, Desktop Dungeonsand Pixel Boythose are pretty high quality, right? And then there’s Snailboy, StasisBladeslinger, and Death Smashers. Quality, it seems, is in plentiful supply locally.

Death Smashers

The Festivals
An important part of developing a local games industry is having events that focus attention on local games and developers. This results in attracting the attention of more members, journalists, funders etc.. This past year managed to apparate two festivals that focused heavily on locally produced content.

The first of these, A MAZE, is originally German, but since last year has started a Johannesburg counterpart. The A MAZE festival’s goal “is to create an annual evolving platform for African and European media artists and game developers”. The festival really hit its stride this year, acting as an informal hub for the nation’s game devs to get together; it also attracted some influential international indies such as Rami Ismail of Vlambeer and Sos Sosowski of McPixel/Doom Piano, who both gave talks and advice.

More hipsters than you could shake an iPhone compatible stick at, but still pretty cool.
More hipsters than you could shake an iPhone compatible stick at, but still pretty cool.

Of course there is also the monolith of rAge. In the past, rAge often focused on bringing overseas games to South Africa rather than shedding light on locally developed content. This year, however, thanks to the generosity of NAG, Learn 3D, and Wits University, in addition to there being a central body to collaborate with (MGSA), there was a stand at rAge where 15 locally produced games were displayed for the crowd to enjoy. The stand was really popular, with NAG’s own Miklós Szecsei dubbing this year his “indie rAge”. [This is true. I spent about 90% of the weekend playing local indies. – Ed]

The Local Coverage
Probably the most beneficial thing about this year’s rAge was getting local game developers and journalists to talk to each other. Many local games suffered from an utterly unknown existences to local game journalists. Following the expo, however, both parties seem to have realised how beneficial a relationship could be: everyone just wants to play awesome, locally made games, so why not help each other out?

The Renaissance has only just begun
So, do you agree with me that it was quite the year? It’s only going to get better, I believe. We’ve got more developers making more games than ever before. We’ve got talk of incubator programmes starting; experimental game parties happening; game industry documentary screenings; game jams; and so much more.

It’s an exciting scene to be in, so if you’re interested in keeping up with the local scene or want to start developing games, make sure to head over to Make Games SA or just keep reading NAG Online for the closest and quickest news you’ll get on the local industry.