Meet SA’s game changers
Killing it: indie developers have found an audience — and success — abroad, while still retaining their SA base
When dark forces come knocking, don’t despair: Broforce — an underfunded, over-powered paramilitary organisation that metes out excessive force is not far away. And the bros are here to save the day.
If the hyper-violent mercenary scene created in the adventure platform game doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps the "save the world" mission will. No?
No matter, Broforce has found its audience. Developed by a Cape Town gaming studio called Free Lives, the game has sold over a million copies.
Free Lives has made over US$3m to date from three of its major titles that have put them on the map: Gorn (sold for $20), Broforce ($15), and Genital Jousting ($5).
"We have been selling on Steam for PC, the PlayStation store, and are considering Xbox, which has already approached us," says Evan Greenwood, CEO, programmer, and a director of some of Free Lives’ titles.
The gaming studio was founded in 2012 and operates from a property that is part studio, part house.
Greenwood says its games don’t sell well in Africa. Its audience is predominantly in the US, but also in Europe, South America and even China.
However, being in SA doesn’t hold them back. Free Lives has showcased its products at international shows such as Gamescom in Cologne; PAX, held in different US cities; and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a video games expo in Los Angeles.
"We were a part of the Sony press conference at E3 where they had a bunch of game demonstrations and one of them was Broforce," says Greenwood. Broforce and Genital Jousting have won show awards such as the "most-liked game" or "best in show", and have appeared on various lists of top independent games.
Free Lives isn’t the only independent SA game developer to find success.
Danny Day of QCF Design is regarded as the "father" of the local indie game development movement. After working for clients such as Nokia, World Bank Institute and Colgate, Day chose to focus on producing his firm’s own intellectual property.
"We worked on a game called Desktop Dungeons in 2011 that won an excellence in design award at the Independent Games Festival in San Francisco before it was complete."
Earlier this year, it released a localised version of Desktop Dungeons in China, a market Day says is notoriously difficult to break into.
Desktop Dungeons sells for $10, and is distributed digitally through Steam for PC where it has sold more than 130,000 copies — bringing in over $1m.
A further 30,000 copies were sold through other channels. It is also available on iPad and Android tablets for the same price.
Day says QCF Design has grossed over R15m from the sales of its games. "We have about 67 different prototypes that we are working on. They range from board games to virtual reality games, to PC and mobile games."
Internationally, the gaming industry is worth over $100bn, and serves 2bn active gamers. This makes it larger than the film and music industries, according to the Serious About Games report, penned by Nicholas Hall, CEO of Interactive Entertainment SA.
He says the revenue generated by local game developers increased from R29.7m in 2014 to R100m in 2016. The reason for the spike is partly due to the release of locally developed, internationally acclaimed titles such as Stasis (August 2015) and Broforce (October 2015), says Hall.
Stasis is a sci-fi horror game developed by The Brotherhood Games, based in Cape Town.
Gaming festivals such as AMaze, now in its sixth year and held in Johannesburg, have helped boost the presence of local independent game developers, while also showcasing their talents.
AMaze program manager Ben Myres says the festival runs for four days in Braamfontein and covers workshops, talks, exhibitions, and evening events.
It lets African and SA indie game developers exhibit their work, talk about making games for a living, and most importantly, celebrate the games being made.
"It’s a digital field that is no longer isolated by geography; most developers don’t [aim only at] a local audience, they distribute it digitally and can sell to people all over the world, but still be based in SA," Myres says.
Apart from his involvement in the festival, Myres is also the co-creator and marketing director for independent game studio Nyamakop, which he started with collaborator Cukia Kimani two years ago. "We are working on our debut title Semblance due in the second quarter of April 2018, which has already been shown at Gamescom, PAX and E3."
The title will be released for PC and Nintendo Switch and, upon launch, Nyamakop will be the first African developer on the Switch platform. Myres says Semblance will be Nyamakop’s first commercial title, though it has made other games that have gone through festival circuits and been downloaded thousands of times.
Semblance has a team of five working on the game, which is financially backed by an investor. Myres is excited about the growing industry, and says games like Broforce have injected cash into the scene.
And the outlook for the industry is positive. He feels software has democratised in the past five to 10 years. "Now anyone can make a game," he says.