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Mobile gaming in Africa can skyrocket if telcos offer cheap data and fast connection speeds, says gamer Pippa Tshabalala

Digital services are a big deal at this year’s AfricaCom: innovation, new revenue streams, mobile money and digital entertainment feature heavily on the programme. In the spotlight today is the new panel looking specifically at mobile gaming .

To lead the discussion, we’ve invited Pippa Tshabalala, a South African gamer and writer who will quiz a group of experts from gaming specialists as diverse as QCF Design, Make Games South Africa, Fuzzy Logic, Afroes and Google Play. We ask Pippa for her views on the mobile gaming market in Africa.

What is your background and how did you become interested in the gaming market?

I've been active in the more public sphere of the gaming market since 2008 when I began presenting a show called PlayR and then later The Verge, both of them on Vuzu on DStv, but I've been a gamer my entire life and before becoming involved in television I was teaching a Masters level course on video game theory at Wits University. Although I'm not currently presenting (The Verge ended in 2012), I'm still active in the local industry. I write and have written for a number of brands and publications over the years.

What makes South Africa’s gaming industry exciting and how does it compare with other regions? South Africa and indeed Africa in general is quite unique because we have a very vibrant indie game industry with a big focus on mobile gaming. I think due to the proliferation of mobile devices in Africa, there is a real need for good quality mobile games that speak to an African audience although that is certainly not the only area in which we excel. There are a number of local developers who are producing award winning games that are being picked up for distribution on platforms like PS4 and Xbox One as well as PC and mobile. In terms of comparison to other regions, we have no large AAA studios producing games, but I don't see this as a bad thing - it gives us a real opportunity to innovate and develop unique content.

Which gaming companies should we watch in the coming years?
Definitely Free Lives, the creators of Bro Force. The Brotherhood is also producing incredibly interesting work in the form of Stasis. Thoopid is also one to watch, especially in the mobile development arena - they're responsible for the hugely successful Snailboy on iPhone. New companies are appearing all the time as game development becomes an increasingly viable career option - I think we should always be on the lookout for good content.

What role can telecom operators play in the development of a successful gaming industry in Africa?

I think the real issue for many people is data. While the prices certainly have come down in recent years, being able to connect to the internet to play against friends when you're not on a WiFi network can get quite expensive. More and more games incorporate multiplayer, and ideally cheap or free data would be a real boon to the gaming sector. Telecom operators need to offer increasingly competitive packages to accommodate this. Gaming for many people is still a luxury because to download a large game is simply not possible unless you're on WiFi.

What do you think will be this year’s most game-changing development in Africa’s digital entertainment sector?

I'd like to link this to my above point and say that I hope to see a decrease in cost and an increase in connection speeds - we still lag behind a large portion of the world significantly when it comes to these two points. If both of these things happen then I think you'll really see the use of mobile phones in the entertainment sector skyrocket. Already with the current connection speeds and data charges, consumer spending on mobile gaming is expected to grow to R1.5 billion by the time we reach 2018 - imagine if we had access to cheap data and fast connection speeds?

What are your expectations of the mobile gaming debate at AfricaCom this year?

I certainly think it's going to be interesting! Everyone has very different opinions not only about what is needed in the gaming sector, but they also come from very different backgrounds within it. Everyone bases their arguments on their experiences within the industry, and understandably those have all been unique. I think we'll all go away with some thought provoking insights that hopefully we can use to further the industry in Africa.

The mobile gaming panel will take place during the Digital Entertainment stream on Tuesday 17th November at AfricaCom. To view the whole programme click here.

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