Inside the gaming world

Video game controller, gaming concept with TV screen in background. [iStockphoto]

Creatives and innovators are waiting with bated breath as President William Ruto and his vast entourage jet back to the country following his State visit to the US. During the same, he conducted the much-publicised tours of various ventures, including the Tyler Perry studios in Atlanta Georgia.

With him were Kenyan creatives and innovators. Andrew Muriuki was one of them - he moved from Kenya to Atlanta in 2000 and has been working to ensure that gaming in Kenya is at par with the rest of the world.

Having founded Barbah Games, Andrew admits that esports is a word he has to explain to most people.

“Esports is an organised online gaming that includes games and tournaments just like a traditional sports league. The league is virtual and can be played at home but with the structure and coaching at an off-site lab. Gaming in Africa should be taken as a vehicle for social change and economic growth,” he says.

In his quest to make this journey a reality, he teamed up with fraternal twins George Odongo and James Ochong through their company Weza Interactive Entertainment to make some of their projects a success.

Through Weza Interactive Entertainment, where George and James sit at the helm, they are set to launch one of Africa’s first multiplayer rhythm games dubbed Riziki.

Since video games started way back, the symbiotic relationship between the multibillion-shilling industry and its glittering music counterpart has been on a steady rise.

Imagine navigating a dark forest without the unsettling creaks and groans that heighten the tension. Or picture a triumphant victory sequence without the celebratory fanfare that makes you erupt in cheers.

Music breathes life into video games, transforming pixels into a world you can feel. It's the silent partner on your virtual journey, guiding your emotions and leaving a lasting impact long after the credits roll.

“Riziki for example is a rhythm game hence the need to incorporate arts and music. We have recorded one song with an artiste and a producer that already shows that the game can provide a platform for musicians and producers to create music for games. When talking about licensing, it is the same logic where we partner with artistes to license us to use their music at a certain fee," says James.

He adds, "This is the most expensive part of the development of our game so we have a licensing partner. These are organisations which handle talent and they possess a catalogue of these talents where they can negotiate the best deal for the licensed music.”

He says that their strategy is to start with upcoming artistes as they are easier to secure their attention and then build up to the middle tier and then to the established acts. In this tier system, the bigger the act the more clout they have.

“These are also symbiotic because they can access various bigger markets and generate downloads based on having them on the game. It is not just artistes but also music producers. We also have fashion designers who can help us showcase different kinds of fashion tastes within African context that we can incorporate in our game because the game itself is an expression of African identity and has dancers,” says James.

“We recorded a dancer whom we paid for choreography and animated it into our 3D models this is something we are working to make it bigger. The digital aspect of mobile games gives access to different markets which again makes this a win-win for everybody.” 

A while back Norway-based group Matata penned a deal which saw their music Not Today featured on EA Sports FC 24. This also features 84 songs from over 100 different artistes from around the world, representing a wide variety of genres, including Indie Pop, Hip Hop, Grime, Deep House, Electronica, Rap, and Rock.

As they entered the gaming market, the twins’ first game - Mzito generated 120,000 downloads, making them the 2019 Kalasha Award Winners in the Gaming and ion category. They also had a chance to represent the country in the African Game Co-production Market fund by SpielFabrique-a platform for collaborative development between Africa and Europe.

“Winning the Kalasha Award was a big thing for us. It showed there is an appreciation of the gaming and animation spaces and their ability to tell stories in an audio-visual form. Being the first winners showed that our games checked all the spaces and were authentically African. It built the confidence in us and at the same time we were able to get downloads for Mzito, rubber-stamping our professionalism and legitimacy in the entertainment space,” says James.

James says this is key as most of the games played around the world have been adopted into films like Assassins Creed and Sonic.

“We are all figuring out how to make African games and it will become a little more concrete in a few years. All the gaming companies have a theory they are exploring and eventually, we will have a distinct way of making African games,” says James.

Andrew says that there is a monetisation challenge in African Esports. He says the gaming scene in East Africa has seen millions of gameplay that went unchecked.

To create a different culture, Barbah Games is strategically focusing on creating structured Esports leagues, specifically with an emphasis on Fortnite, which is a game that combines strategic gameplay with broad appeal.

“Through the development of these leagues, our objective is to eliminate the oversight of East African talent in major global tournaments, consequently enhancing participation and success rates in international Esports events,” says Andrew.

Five weeks after starting the Esports league, 90 gamers have shared an interest in taking part in it, with 38 of them looking to compete at a competitive level.

According to the Global Games Markets Report by Newzoo, Africa is emerging as a notable player in the global gaming landscape, with Kenya ranking sixth in gaming expenditure.

The report indicates that Sh5.2 billion was spent in 2023 on mobile games. Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia are the countries that dwarfed Kenyans’ spending on gaming activities.

In 2020, Nigerian star Burna Boy penned a deal with Rockstars Games to provide a soundtrack to the popular Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game. In the deal, he composed and produced the song Gettin' Money, the official theme song of The Cayo Perico Heist update for Grand Theft Auto Online.

The previous year, he had a similar arrangement for The Diamond Casino Heist, in which he featured fellow artiste Zlatan in the song Killin Dem.

In the same year, Ghanaian producer Gafacci was also included in the GTA V updated playlist in the Cayo Perico Heist. Gafacci’s song Azaa, which saw him collaborate with Portuguese artiste Branko was the first act from his country to achieve such a feat.  

According to projections from a report by Newzoo and Carry1st, Sub-Saharan Africa’s gamers are poised to spend $1 billion on mobile games for the first time in 2024. The report also shows there has been a rise in gamers in Sub-Saharan Africa from 77 million in 2015 to 186 million in 2021.

With 24 million gamers, South Africa tops the continent having 40 per cent of its population playing with Ghana and Nigeria following in second and third respectively. Kenya and Ethiopia finish fourth and fifth in the continent, with 22 per cent of Kenyans identifying themselves as gamers. 


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