In Africa, and indeed around the world, games have, in one way or another, defined the fabric of our societies for millennia. Many in West Africa are familiar with the retorts: “Last Card!”, “Pick Two” and “General Market”. They colour many of our childhood memories playing the Whot! card game.
Whot! is very popular in the West Africa region, especially in Nigeria. In fact, it is now considered to be the national card game of the country. A favourite across generations and people groups, it inspired Maliyo Games’ adaptation, Whot King, released in October 2020. True to our mission as an African games studio, we wanted to share with the world a piece of Africa’s vibrant culture through the game. Today, Whot King has over 250,000 downloads. Try it yourself: You can download it now on Android & iOS.
Creating a game that is not only visually appealing but captivating across audiences is a labour of love. Producing a game with such mass appeal truly takes a village of creative developers and professionals. The common man hardly understands what is happening under the hood. This is partly why I love the work we’re doing at Maliyo Games and describes the passion I had for the industry when the company was founded.
Almost a decade into our existence as Maliyo Games we realised that, in order to scale and reach our mission to be one of the continent’s most successful games studios, we needed a more hands on deck approach to training and development of talent. In fact, it’s been a problem we’ve been solving for the last couple of years.
One thing we discovered was that there was a major skills gap in the market. Many graduates didn’t have the out of the box skills needed to work at the games industry, leaving a heavy burden of training these recruits on the industry itself. For many of these young developers, the drive and motivation was clear but the structure to decide on what to learn and how to adequately apply lessons learned was illusive.
So, we decided to bridge that gap. Adapting our in-house training program for new recruits, we began building a talent pipeline for Africa’s growing game industry. We partnered with Google and developed a 5-month bootcamp known as GameUp Africa. Here; aspiring game developers from across the continent have access to learning materials, peer groups and mentors from across the world to sharpen their skills. The capstone project at the end of the bootcamp, usually completed in teams to mimic real-life work environments, is a final training ground for candidates to put their skills to the test.
Team and Time Boxed Development Sprint
After successfully recruiting nine developers into Maliyo following the 2021 GameUp Africa bootcamp, we unlocked the Rapid Prototyping (RP) Model. This is one of Maliyo Games’ proprietary game production mechanisms and allows in-house developers, working in teams of two, to work on a game concept. This time-boxed training environment provides our young developers an opportunity to independently learn, prioritise and iterate over a project timeline of 4 weeks.
It’s been a hit with our team and adds an additional layer of practical training for individual developers. Don’t take my word for it! Here’s what one of our developers, Ysbel, had to say: “The Rapid Prototyping has helped me learn more about Unity and C# programming. Also, it has helped me improve my communication and presentation skills. Working with deadlines and pressure has refined my time management skills.”
We create all our games on Unity, which is also the game engine we use for GameUp Africa. While at work, all our teams have access to additional resources to bolster their skills. At the end of every RP cycle, the management team at Maliyo Games carefully reviews the games, returning some to development, discarding some and publishing those that are ready for the market.
To date, we have successfully produced multiple games using this model including Chicken Pickin’, Farmtastic, Keke Rush, and Banished. We anticipate expanding this stable in the coming year.
The Next Chapter
Looking forward, our plan is to scale the number of teams working simultaneously on RP games, fine-tune the process with feedback from the teams and improve the quality of games produced during the RP.
My name is Hugo Obi and I am the founder of Maliyo Games. I will be speaking about our Rapid Prototyping Model during Africa Games Week happening in Cape Town from the 1st to 3rd December 2022. If you’d like to learn more or have me speak at your event about how we are creating games for Africa, connect with me on LinkedIn.