As news of Silver Rains deal with Electronic Arts hit the interwebs, I caught up with the studios co-founder Abubakar Salim as he reflected on the significance of the deal and the beauty of realising a life long dream with his feet firmly planted on the lands of his family and forefathers.
Currently in Cape Town filming the second season of the Ridley Scott sci-fi epic Raised with Wolves, this is the largely unfiltered chat as he touches on his progression from a side character to leading man as well as coming full circle.
Vic – I wanted to touch on the reaction and kind of questions you may have initially received when you said “I want to start my own studio and make games that could resonate with people that look and have similar experiences to me”. What was that like?
Abubakar – The one thing that I think that people may have shouted at me about was basically like, you’re crazy, don’t do it. You know what I mean. What Assassins Creed did was paint a picture as to what it means to actually be a part of the development of a game and that sort of inspired me to talk to people about this crazy idea of me starting my own studio and they gave me lots of tips on how to do it. It was this weird balance.
There were 101 different ways of going about it and reading between the lines of what everyone told me to do, I came to the conclusion that I should just get started and figure out how I want to approach things from there. The beauty of the games industry is how supportive all the developers are towards each another as opposed to the films industry where, it is already so established that it feels kind of like a competition. In the games industry it also feels like we’re all trying to build towards the next thing and constantly evolve together. So yeah, it was this weird thing of being told that I’m crazy don’t do it you have no idea what it means to make a game, to run a studio. The thing is to constantly ask questions and constantly reach out to all sorts of different developers to learn from it because that’s what you do right? You learn from talking. You learn from sharing information and from being open and honest.
Vic – You’ve founded the studio but you’re still at a very weird impasse where you’re kind of wedged between two different roles and careers. I’ll give you an example, in the press release announcing the agreement with EA, it reads “new studio founded by actor Abubakar Salim”. Acting for now is your bread and butter, but when do you think you will come to a point where the industry or the pressers will reflect your ascent into a fully fledged member of the games industry?
Abubakar – You know what man, we’ll just have to see. I think when they realize the crazy stuff that cooks in my head *laughing*. I want to get the industry so annoyed that they won’t know what to call me. Is he an actor? Is he a musician? Is he a writer? Like what the hell is he? Like we’ll just call him Abu. I am an actor, a producer and a game developer even though we haven’t launched a game yet.
I think once the title comes out and is there for people to play whether they enjoy it or not, I will know for a fact that I’m a game developer. I can then actually happily kind of accept that title because I would have developed something with a great team for people to experience and to play.
My way into this industry was through acting and I still love losing myself in characters as well as adore the idea of exploring the psyche of someone I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I also enjoy the idea of exploring the what ifs within any content that I want to create in the future.
Vic – How do you and the rest of the team manage the weight of interest in the studio that comes with you being attached to it?
Abubakar – I’m a big believer that fear drives or that feeling of like nervousness really actually drives you to remain humble. I feel like it drives you to push forward and to evolve like “yeah okay I will make mistakes, I will try something, and it might not work out, but that’s exciting because I will learn from that and then the next time I do it, it will be something stronger and better. At the end of the day, let’s say for example 101 people hate my game but then there is that 1 person who played it, loved it and was inspired by it. In fact, even if that 1 person hated it and said “you know what? I’m going to make a better game!” at least I inspired a person which means that I accomplished what I set out to do. And to me, that is art. It is about expression. You expressing something and them reacting to it because if people don’t react, then what’s the point? You know? Then there is no magic there then, there’s no juice.
I’m always a big believer of whatever that feeling of fear or that feeling or nervousness or those eyes that are watching you, you’ve got to always just push through and use that energy to fuel you forward because at the end of the day you are in control of what you bring and I think… use whatever energy you can to just push that forward because I think that will also evolve into the next level rather than hiding yourself from it.
Vic – You also have this part of who you are that comes from, lives and experiences life from two different cultures and it’s intriguing to explore how that ties into that creation process. How you kind of want to still be you and all the complexities that comes with that, but also showcase a love and appreciation for where you came from and where your family comes from. How do you balance the two while still being able to maintain a more open and welcoming perspective to people who may not necessarily understand that point of view?
Abubakar – I think what has always been important is… and I think there is a humbling nature that my parents brought to me. I was born and raised in the UK, but most of my family resides in Kenya and we all speak Swahili, so I still feel very much connected to my roots. A thing that my parents did brilliantly was that they didn’t force any culture on me, even though we live in England they weren’t like “NO! You are Kenyan first and foremost!”. They simply presented to me where I came from and where they came from and then they allowed me the freedom to explore and ask questions which let me enjoy certain aspects of my culture, but also let me question and challenge other aspects of it.
I think it is because of that openness in nature it almost made me find a unique space between it all that kind of makes me feel like I am a human of the world in a way rather than a person from Africa or a person from England. BUT I cannot negate the fact that whenever I step foot back home in Kenya, it is like I get this energy of natural inspiration, I cannot quite explain it… I say this to friends like, the first time I was in Cape Town was in the middle of 2019 and I fell in love. The views, the people, the culture, I just loved it. And it’s not necessarily Kenyan, but it feels familiar at the same time. And what has been beautiful about this experience of working on this incredible Raised by Wolves project is that it’s given me the inspiration to really believe and drive myself forward. They gave me the lead role in this project which I am really excited about, and I’m leading it with Amanda (Mother) so there was this inspiring thing that came from home in the sense of like from here in Africa but then also, it started in the UK through the acting and all that sort of stuff so it’s this weird synergy that’s playing about. And honestly, my wanting to create something that felt like me with the studio came from South Africa. Just being on this continent fuels me and I cannot negate that fact, that there is something magical about this space.
Vic – There is! I mean that as someone who was born in the UK to Nigerian parents and sometimes having to feel that you have to be more than you are but then when you go home (to Nigeria), the weight of expectation but also inspiration, I am a part of this, I understand this, and no one is looking for me to be more than I already am. You can just Be. Express yourself, challenge yourself and still have people give you learnings!
Abubakar – It’s like there are different rules! It feels like a completely different game out here and I think that’s the thing. Because you are in a different space, it inspires you to see things, approach things and do things differently. I just feel like it’s like this magic circle this kind of come back at it. There was this idea that kind of sprouted from this place. I go back home to the UK for a while; I build on something then I go back here to South Africa and see the fruits of my labor. But there is something. It’s funny, It’s almost like I’m embracing the duality of everything. And I think that by embracing that I am British, you can hear it in my accent. Even my family when I speak Swahili can hear my accent but at the same time, I feel like I’m home. And it’s funny now coming into this space and being a lot more comfortable here, I feel like more opportunities have arisen.
EA were the right people that heard us at the time and they really believed in what we were trying to achieve and by god have they been supportive. It really doesn’t take much to get the ball rolling, and once it does there is not a lot that can stop it.
Vic – Yeah so speaking of people listening to you, and there are a lot. You know there is a growing band of developers from around the continent, from Kenya as well, which is one of the blossoming ecosystems on the continent who are dying to be heard, to be seen, to be listened to. What would it take for you, both in the short, mid and long term take for you to work in the ecosystem in Kenya which is obviously tied to the continent as well and what would you view as a successful dive into the local scene?
Abubakar – I believe that Africa will become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry, and I would love to be a part of that. But I don’t think that I am in a place to be teaching anyone right now as I believe that I have a lot to learn from the people who have already established themselves in the industry here. But I am really excited about what is to come fro the region.
Vic – If you could impart any words on wisdom that you’ve learned from forming the studio and securing this deal especially to developers who have the dream of breaking into the industry in Kenya and the rest of Africa, what would you say?
Abubakar – I would just say; keep doing what you’re doing, keep talking to people and build stronger connections between one another, don’t view the industry as a competition of who can be the biggest or who can accomplish this and that first. Forget all that. See it as a collaboration to try and strengthen everyone as a whole and move forward that way.
It is about being the best in yourself but also working alongside others to achieve even greater heights. With my team I consciously surround myself with people who are vastly more knowledgeable than I am in certain fields because I know that with our combined knowledge, we can build something great together. Be as humble and open to learning as possible. If you have a vision, don’t be afraid to gamble on yourself and don’t question the creativity within you.
Vic – I know you can’t reveal anything about the game you’re working on however, what games are you playing to get some insight and inspiration onto the project you’re working on?
Abubakar – Everything and nothing my friend, are you kidding me? *laughing* like that’s going to get me. *laughing* But yeah everything and nothing, that’s my answer.
Vic – *Laughing* Fair enough. Okay, thank you so much, this was great. Enjoy all the success, enjoy being back home, I am so jealous you’re in Cape Town, just enjoy it all. I mean the one thing we’ve learned about this world is that, we don’t know how much time we’ve got to be around it and the ones we love so enjoy it. Share it with the people you love, cherish them and just be good to yourself.
Abubakar – Thank you man, Thank you so much, for real.