Forty years ago, if someone started a video game development company in Africa, investors would laugh him out of court. Today, America, Europe and Asia have turned the video gaming industry into a sub-culture worth billions of dollars, with millions of players worldwide.
In 2008, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reported a growth of $11.7 billion from video game software sales in the United States. In South Africa, the Xbox 360 Console sold an average of 3,000 units per month as of October 2006. According to Core Gaming, a South African Nintendo distribution company, the Wii console sold around 4,850 units per month by October 2007. The South African gaming industry grew to the R1.7 billion ($198 million) mark in 2011, according to the GfK Group.
There has been a lot of controversy about who created the first video game. In 1948, Thomas T. Goldsmith Junior and Estle R. Mann patented the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device. It required players to overlay pictures of targets, such as airplanes, in front of the screen, making the term video game redundant.
By the 1950s, video game development became more popular. In 1952, Alexander S. Douglas, a computer science professor, created a version of Tic-Tac-Toe, which is rumored to be the first graphical computer game because unlike Goldsmith and Estle’s device, images were displayed onscreen.
In 1958, William Higinbotham, an American physicist, created Tennis for Two. Four years later, Steve Russell, a MIT scholar, spearheaded the team that created Space War.
Jonathan Musa, an avid gamer, remembers playing Pac-Man in the late 1980s. He owned an Atari console, which was operated by a control pad with a protruding joy-stick and one button.
“You could only play it for 30 minutes before the adaptor overheated,” says Musa.
His admiration for games was passed on to his younger brothers, Paul and Anthony, who were born shortly after the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) outpaced the Atari in the early 1990s. The games were sold in the form of cartridges. The boys were introduced to the Sega Mega Drive games, which hit Kenyan shelves in the mid-1990s. Japan released the console in 1988 and the Sega Genesis, took the American market by storm the following year.
Musa was still enjoying the Sega Mega Drive when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES) was released soon thereafter. Imagine Game Network (IGN) reports that the console has sold more than 49.1 million units worldwide since its conception.
In 1994, the Japanese company released the Nintendo 64 (N64), named after its 64-bit Central Processing Unit, which rivaled all other consoles. The N64 sold 32.93 million units worldwide and was named the 9th greatest video game console by IGN in 2009. Sony released the Play Station on December 31,1995 in Japan; it came to Kenya the following year.
Due to the high cost of Play Station games, piracy became rampant. A popular trend known as hot-swapping gave the market its hardest blow. The process entailed loading an original Play Station game and then quickly swapping the disk for a pirated one once the Play Station logo appeared on the television screen. In Kenya, gamers who wanted to save money would buy one original game and several pirated ones. Video gaming is a lifestyle for some. The Xbox 360 and the Play Station 3 (PS3) have an internal cooling system so that gamers can play for hours on end. On weekends Anthony plays Battlefield, a first-person shooter (FPS) in 1080 pixels on a High-definition flat screen; 64-bits seems like joke now that the PS3 is compatible with Blu-ray. The current generation of videogames has left veterans awestruck in its wake.
Sony and Microsoft have established social networks on their online platforms. Players are represented by glowing dots on a world map; South Africa is the brightest country on the continent.
The video gaming industry has shifted to a mass market model. According to Video Game Charts, Nintendo’s Wii console sold 95.85 million units worldwide as of March; while Sony’s PS3 sold 63.9 million units; Microsoft’s Xbox 360 sold 67.2 million units in April.
The real-time data from first-person shooters is mindboggling: millions of people play Call of Duty at any given time.According to Activision, one of the world’s leading producers of video games, 1.2 trillion virtual bullets have been fired since the game hit shelves. On August 3, 2011, the company confirmed that the game had sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling game in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.
For the gaming industry in Sub-Saharan Africa, the proof is in the pudding. Stores like GameStop and Toy World have found the gaming industry to be very lucrative. The moment a popular game hits shelves, leaflets are distributed to shopping complexes. According to Toy World, Call of Duty is one of Kenya’s best-selling first-person shooters.
Today, your 12-year-old son is giving tactical commands in your living room. His friends are part of an elite squadron of soldiers, fighting a war on the Caspian border. Your neighbors are managing your favorite football teams. And your daughter is playing lawn tennis in the living room. Thanks to companies like Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, millions of people around the world can do this from the comfort of their homes. Africa has yet to capitalize on the video