Attack of the small screens: Africa eyes mobile gaming boom

Many other African developers are also opting to tailor games for mobile devices instead of traditional consoles like PlayStation or desktop computers, leading to a surge of handheld innovation on the continent. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2018
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Attack of the small screens: Africa eyes mobile gaming boom

  • “There’s enormous potential in Africa because the continent is primarily mobile”
  • Africa’s video game industry, currently worth $310 million, would be worth $642 million by 2021

CAPE TOWN: An army of humans laid waste to an alien colony as South African video game maker Simon Spreckley enthusiastically controlled the action using his phone’s touch screen.
“The penetration of mobile devices in Africa is huge. People often have two or three phones, which is pretty crazy,” said Spreckley, 40, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Brute,” a four-armed muscled alien from the game.
“So that’s one of the big pluses and why we are trying to do this,” he said, promoting “Invasion Day” which will likely launch on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play platform in 2019.
The multi-player tactics game, set in the 1950s, is the brainchild of Spreckley’s eight-strong team at VSUS, a Cape Town-based developer.
Many other African developers are also opting to tailor games for mobile devices instead of traditional consoles like PlayStation or desktop computers, leading to a surge of handheld innovation on the continent.
“There’s enormous potential in Africa because the continent is primarily mobile,” said Sidick Bakayoko, 34, the founder of Paradise Game, an umbrella group for developers in Ivory Coast.
“We’ve done a jump and instead of first going with PC, we’ve gone directly to mobile,” he told AFP at last week’s Africa Games Week convention in Cape Town which brought together African games coders, developers and artists with top executives from Sony and other industry giants.
“With the emergence of a number of low-cost smartphones, it’s now very easy to purchase a mobile phone,” he said while video games enthusiasts tried out the continent’s latest digital offerings on screens nearby.

Bakayoko said that the increasing number of African gaming products for handheld devices mirrored the explosion of mobile banking and financial tools like Kenya’s Mpesa on the continent in recent years.
“So there’s great potential for video games using electronic payments... it can work well with Kenya as a prime example,” he said.
“There’s no reason for Africa not to jump on the bandwagon.”
Another part of mobile gaming’s appeal over other platforms in Africa is that it consumes less data, which can be slow or costly.
“In Nigeria they even get games pre-loaded on the phones because data is so expensive,” said Evan Greenwood, 37, the director of South Africa’s leading computer game studio Free Lives.
“There’s the potential (in Africa) — but data has to get cheaper and the right games have to be made.”
Invasion Day will be free to download, but players must purchase upgrades from within the game.
Spreckley hopes Invasion Day will catch the eye of a major investor, but many African mobile games developers have struggled to turn their creations into cash.

Ivory Coast’s Point Point, based on a traditional children’s game played using paper, and Madagascar’s Gazkar, a racing game featuring the island’s ubiquitous Citroen 2CV, have proved popular with mobile gamers — though not readily profitable.
But Google’s decision in June to allow games developers from African countries including Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania to make money from their creations sold on its Play store could revolutionize the sector.
“Most people use (Google) Android here,” said Sithe Ncube, 24, the founder of Zambia’s Ubongo Game Lab.
“People haven’t had a way to monetise their mobile games. People have actually been developing apps for a while but there hasn’t been a way to use it as a business model,” said Ncube who wore a spiked choker and had a streak of bright purple in her dark hair.
“If Google Play can let us do that, then that’s a good platform for people to start on.”
In 2017, accountants PwC said “revenues for console and PC games will lose market share to social (and) casual gaming” like that offered on handheld devices.
Africa’s video game industry, currently worth $310 million, would be worth $642 million by 2021, the firm added.
Spreckley said that choosing the mobile support for his game would mean “we can get it in more people’s hands quicker.”
“You’re not reliant on people buying big expensive consoles and then products off the shelf.”


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.