Tips for making it as a South African game developer

The South African gaming industry has had a tough time reaching the scale of its international counterparts.

This is due to a number of factors, including our distance from major international hubs and a lack of investment from major international companies.

Local game developers often struggle to break onto the world stage, with very few successful games launching out of South Africa compared to smaller European countries.

The facilities offered for game development have increased in recent years, however, with many universities offering game design courses and a number of locally-based independent developers succeeding.

If you plan on becoming a game developer in South Africa, though, an arduous and rarely-traversed road lies ahead.

To find out what it takes to succeed, MyBroadband spoke to Nyamakop cofounders Ben Myres and Cukia “Sugar” Kimani about their trade.

Nyamakop’s upcoming platformer Semblance is set to launch on Steam and the Nintendo Switch on 24 July 2018, and is the first African-developed IP to launch on the Nintendo platform.

Stand out

The duo said that being an active developer and constantly working to improve your craft is key to building successful games.

“Just start. Where? Anywhere. Be it just concept art to a small prototype,” said Kimani. “Be active on Twitter, share your work, get feedback, and ask for help.”

Building a title with unique features and replayability can also help you stand out from the crowd of indie titles.

“With making financially-successful games, you want to try make something aggressively fresh and new – you need to stand out from the swathe of other works coming out,” said Myres.

“Ideally, you should try make a game that has replayability, can support a community, and has an innate virality to it.”

“You want people to evangelise and share your game.”

Myres also stressed the importance of marketing a title while it is still under development.

“You should think about marketing way before you release – people need to know well in advance that you’re making this thing,” he said.

Signing with a publisher can help developers to boost their marketing and plan their development more easily.

“If you can, at least for your first game, I would try sign with a publisher like we have with Good Shepherd Entertainment.”

“They can augment your marketing, PR, development, and so many other aspects.”

He added that developers should ensure they sign a good deal, and augment the work their publishers do.

Nyamakop Myers and Kimani

Join communities

Myres said the difficulty in building successful games in South Africa includes a lack of funding, physical distance from necessary contacts, and a small community.

“I won’t lie – it’s a bit of a cliff face to get over initially,” he said. “You struggle to find funding, meet press, and have contacts at publishers and platform holders.”

“Moreover, the community is small so you lack game design, business, and marketing advice.”

To overcome these obstacles, local developers need to travel to meet international contacts, and join local communities like Make Games South Africa – who can help with feedback and contacts.

Myres noted that once these obstacles are conquered, making games in South Africa is relatively cheap compared to international titles.

“That cheapness is boon when talking to overseas funders and publishers when looking at comparable games,” said Myres.

“If they’re choosing between two games and the South African game is significantly cheaper, they’ll likely go with you rather than someone in the West.”

South Africa lacks a large pool of game developers and talented game design graduates, though, so Nyamakop is actively scouring top universities to acquire talented developers.

“We’re looking to university courses like the Game Design programme at the University of the Witwatersrand – which we both graduated from – to net skilled graduates,” said Myres.

“However, we’re also looking at skilled people in other industries: animation, film, IT, and so on.”

“If we can transition those people into games, it would be easier than always integrating and training new talent,” he said.

Now read: Warframe is coming to Nintendo Switch

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Tips for making it as a South African game developer