Becoming a game developer in South Africa

Many gamers and tech-savvy users find the idea of creating games for a living an enticing one.

The opportunities are available, as the gaming industry continues to grow internationally and new titles take off every month.

Steam saw an increase of 23 million active users in 2018 when compared to the previous year, or example, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Epic Games, creators of battle royale game Fortnite, are the poster child for this growth – with their shooter wracking up million of players every week.

Game development in South Africa

Many South Africans believe that becoming a game developer is impossible, though, as getting into development outside of the US and Europe comes with little chance of success.

However, there are numerous examples of South Africans developing successful video games.

Nicolas Bischoff of The Brotherhood Games said those who aim to be involved in a AAA studio will need to attain a bachelor’s degree in the relevant field.

“Just like the entertainment industry, game development has many varied avenues that you could undertake – from sound to programming to support and business management,” said Bischoff.

Ben Myres of Nyamakop studied game design at Wits University, which is where he met an ex-Naughty Dog developer who helped him and Nyamakop co-founder Cukia Kimani start the studio.

You don’t necessarily need a degree to become a game developer, added Myres, but it provides significant benefits.

“It can help you get an overseas visa, and good broad undergraduate degrees expose you to a range of stuff like literature, film, and art history that indirectly helps you make great games,” Myres explained.

Bischoff added that prospective AAA game developers should also build a portfolio to convince studios to give them a job.

“You will need to be highly proficient to compete on the world stage, which means that you should attempt to master your chosen craft.”

Unfortunately, if South Africans want to work on AAA games they will need to go overseas to achieve this.

Going solo

For those who wish to run their own, smaller projects, they can attempt to become an “indie” developer here at home.

To do this, Bischoff said you will need to be a jack-of-all-trades: “from art to programming to marketing and payroll”.

“To succeed as an independent game developer you really have to meet a lot of international folks,” added Myres, citing the low number of seasoned creators in South Africa as the reason for this.

Myres said that while being an indie developer may sound appealing, it is incredibly difficult to stand out in this market.

“Worldwide there is an extremely high level of competition – almost 8,000 games were released on Steam in 2018. So being an indie developer straight out the gate is probably not the safest idea any more.”

Internet and funding

“The great thing about the world is that the Internet has democratised learning about and creating games,” added Bischoff.

“Anybody can have access to tools like Unreal and Unity and actually make games.”

However, this does not address one of the biggest barriers to entry in South Africa: funding.

While Myres agrees that funding can be a problem, he said that once you get past this obstacle, the relative cheapness and quality of life in South Africa makes it one of the best places to make games in the world.

“While the industry may be smallish right now, it already earns more than domestically-created films, and it’s growing very quickly,” said Myres.

Myres also recommends that prospective South African game developers interact with online communities and attend meetups – asking people for advice whenever possible.

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Becoming a game developer in South Africa