Sithe Ncube is a community organizer, developer and loves being an active member of the African game dev scene. She currently runs Ubongo Game Lab through which she hosts her favorite event, an annual all girls game development bootcamp called Games Plus Girls. She shares some of her insights as a developer to GIA.
GIA: What was your introduction to the gaming scene?
SN: As far as familiarity with games, I’ve always been there. For as long as I can remember we were playing games on the computer at home or at my dad’s office to keep us busy. I played whatever I could at the computers at school while we were waiting to be picked up. My brothers and I have been always been interested in gaming. But as far as being introduced to the game development scene, that introduction happened in 2013/2014. In 2013 I learned that we have a developer in Zambia, Ifunga Ndana, who made his own JRPG in Java based on his own comic about a mystical postapocalyptic Africa. I was really excited to meet him and interview. Just knowing about him blew my mind at the time: “Whoa. We can actually make our own games?”. Even though it looked difficult, I got hung up on the idea of whether there were more game developers in Zambia and if it’s something anyone can learn. After that, we learned about Global Game Jam and decided to sign up to host a jam site in Lusaka for 2014. From there, I became more aware of the global game development and gaming scene and since then I have really wanted to contribute to that space.
GIA: Could you briefly give an overview of the games industry scene in Zambia?
SN: In one word, I would say ‘young’. We have a few independent developers working on their own games and have self-published works or are still working on things. In addition to all the games that have been made in game jams over the years, there are about 6 Zambian games that I know are available to play online. Here’s an article I wrote in 2016 about that. That doesn’t include two recent developers that I think are making great stuff. Harry Banda made Spin Blaster here, and Mwaaba Mugala is working on Project Lumpa which is a game I’m excited to follow because it incorporates real Zambian history and lore into a horror game. Mwaaba’s game was a finalist in Digital Lab Africa 2018 and since then he’s been growing his team to involve other Zambian creatives. He also recently graduated university! I can’t say for sure where we are and where we’re headed, but we’re definitely a young industry with a lot of eager people that want to learn and grow.
GIA: When and how did the idea for UGL come about?
SN: It happened in 2013 while I was working at Bongohive, a technology and business incubator in Lusaka, Zambia which has a special place in my heart for all the cool things and great people that I got in touch with there. The founders encouraged me to pursue my interests while I worked there. We would host developer, business and tech meetups occasionally and I was given some opportunities to come up with ideas for events. Once day while a few of my friends were at Bongohive and talking about E3 2013, we thought it would be a cool idea to host a game development centred event and watch the E3 videos together over a weekend. We decided to host a Game Dev Weekend at Bongohive. A lot of people showed up! Besides watching the E3 videos, we had a little panel, presented an introduction to coding by making little games in Python, and Ifunda Ndana showed us how to do some things in jMonkeyEngine. The event made me realise that there were a lot of people interested in game development and seeing people make games in Zambia. After that, Ubongo Game Lab was formed and we went on to host a few game jams and my personal favorite Games Plus Girls workshop.
GIA: Are there any other gaming hubs with a female focus across the continent that you work closely with in raising the representation of female developers?
SN: Not at the moment unfortunately. I do however know many female developers in South Africa, though not many in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. But the next project I’m working on aims to fill that gap in representation. In December I’m starting an initiative to document 1000 female game developers in Africa whether they’re new to the scene, experienced developers, made just one game at a jam, or want to learn how to make a game right now! Keep an eye out for prosearium.net. The website isn’t up yet but maybe it will be once this article is up!! For anyone reading this, if there are any other women making games in Africa that I don’t know about, please help me connect with them. I really love learning about new people in the scene.
GIA: Who are the female developers across the continent you would love to shine a spotlight on?
SN: All of them! New, experienced, part-time, full-time, made a game one time at a game jam. I would like to hear all their stories.
GIA: Any words of advice for anyone looking to be part of the games industry today?
SN: Yes. Go for it. There are many lovely people that have encouraged me all these years and I’m grateful for that. In Zambia, in South Africa, on Twitter, a big chunk of the whole world is interested in hearing new perspectives from game developers and everyone no matter where they’re from can offer something new. The best thing you can do for the industry is be you and do what you want. That is my very optimistic answer and how I generally feel. I am aware, however, of the challenges that are faced especially in our region for game developers. Some extra and more critical advice I would give: Don’t give more of yourself than you are able to. Don’t be pressured to rush things for no reason. You’re allowed to take time. Progress is progress. Tiny games are still games. Document your stuff in any way you can, even just screenshots and pictures. Reach out to peeps online. Don’t let borders get in the way. The internet is your friend. Be vocal about your challenges. Don’t define your success on other people’s terms. Put some stuff on itch.io. You never have to do things alone, but you can if you want to.
Playtopia MGA will take place at the Castle in Cape Town between December 5 to December 7. For further details as well as how to get your ticket, visit the Playtopia website.