The Great Divide – Sithe Ncube

Sithe Ncube is a community organizer, developer as well as an active member of the African game development scene. She is also the founder of Prosearium (an initiative that aims to shine the spotlight and female developed games). Here is an extended interview offering her insights on The Great Divide.

What are some of the general misconceptions you’ve had to experience from Southern Africa in relation to the rest of the continent

With the exception of South Africa, there was a general misconception that there were absolutely no game developers in other Southern African countries a few years ago. While this may have appeared to be so from the lack of online visibility of other Southern African countries’ game development communities, this is certainly not the case. I think now people are more aware of game development communities in African countries existing but perhaps not having a strong online visibility.

What are the differences you believe between developers in the South, North, and Sub-Saharan region financially, technically and with regards to the size of the community?

Hmm. This is tough question to answer because I would really like to see data on this and not make any judgements based on what I see as an English-speaking African online. North Africa and some other regions in Africa do not have English as a first language so I may be oblivious to the reality of what the game development scene is like in Arabic speaking and French speaking countries on the continent. But I can definitely say that North Africa has a visible game development community from the activity I’ve seen from countries like Egypt and Tunisia.

Do you have any challenges facilitating collaboration with developers across other regions of the continent? If so, why?

A little bit. Africa is a large continent with various cultures and languages. I have often struggled communicating with francophone countries (though I try my best through Google translate and high school French). It’s always helpful to have someone from the region who is bilingual to help facilitate conversations. I have no idea where to start with Arabic though! So that’s been a barrier for me in reaching out to North African countries. But I think with more effort, this can be overcome. Another thing to consider is though many of us on the continent are strong and proud of our African identity, it does not mean we are experiencing the continent the same way. Different countries have a different history with game development and different expectations for what game development can be used for. I think we should talk about that more.

Why do you believe the South Africa game development community is thriving as opposed to the North and other regions of the continent?

Well. First of all, South Africa has the second largest economy in Africa and a digital economy that is competitive on the global stage. I think that goes without saying that it puts the country in a better position to explore the game development industry. But also, South Africans take a lot of pride in both their traditional and digital arts which the country can see the commercial and cultural value of. Speaking from my experience as a Zambian, it has been a struggle over the years to allow people to see game development as a meaningful activity that can benefit individuals and the country. There is support from both public and private educational institutions in South Africa that encourages the study and pursuit of game development. Finally, time is a big factor. South Africa has a history of game development that begins in the 90’s. This is almost 2 decades earlier than what I believe was the genesis of online visibility of Zambian game developers. I could list more reasons but ultimately I believe time will help close the gap.

Are you aware of the existence of any collaborative initiatives between Zambian developers and other gaming hubs from North, East and Western part of the continent? Why do you think it doesn’t exist? Please outline some challenges to this.

Does Enter Africa count? I think that was a nice collaborative initiative facilitated by the Goethe Institut with 15 cities on the continent. I would like to see more of these events.

The best example to date would be Africa Games Week though I believe there can be more work done there. In time, I would like to see Africa Games Week truly reflect the realities of the state of game development across the continent. But it is a great start.

I’m not sure why there aren’t more initiatives and I would like to know.

I suspect travel costs may be a part of this. It is prohibitively expensive to travel between African countries. And if you’re thinking that we could get everything we need done through the internet, yeah that’s expensive too. Sub-Saharan Africans pay the highest data costs around the world and mobile data is how most of the continent accesses internet.

What levels of financial support exist for the development scene? E.g government schemes and financial incentives etc.

Speaking as a Zambian, none. But as an African, initiatives such as Digital Lab Africa are one way to seek out financial support. Otherwise, I know of very few opportunities at the moment.

What factors do you think are needed to unite the continents gaming community?

A shared interest in being able to represent the games we have on the continent. A lot of developers on the continent have some idea of this but I see many developers wanting to stand alone – avoiding sharing their work or showing interest in collaborating with people on the continent. Yet they still want to be recognized as African Game Developers. The habit of sharing and exchanging knowledge is a factor that we can control that can help unite the game development community. Other factors? Support from governments and local investors and organisations in facilitating and celebrating local game developers and gamers.

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