A year after successful pitch submissions, GIA had a chat with the recipients of the inaugural Africa Game Developer Prototype Fund (AGDP Fund) to find out how they were fairing. We also asked them questions on how the funds affected their view on business sustainability. The following are some of their reflections on their past year, but before we dive in let’s reacquaint ourselves.
“Our company/indie studio is called Tiny Baby Crown, It is based in South Africa and it focuses on making unique cute games for the whole family.
We are currently working on our baby-themed Dungeon Crawler called Dungeon Crawler, we want to grow as a company/studio and be in a position to give opportunities to other developers trying to break into the industry.” Estelle.
Captain Jeoy and Abiola Jide established Zerocape Studios Ltd in 2016. Since then, they have worked on many projects most of which they say turned out to be unsuccessful.
Upon reflection, Captain Jeoy says, “In retrospect, I would say those projects were a learning process for us. I remember one major one we worked on called, Hover World, which we poured the most dev time into. The project was tending to an AA – AAA kind of scale and given our lack of experience at that time, resources, and money, we eventually had to scrap it.
We took the lessons learnt from all those experiences into understanding and built a game development workflow and process that worked best with our capacity and our game design philosophy.
Our game design philosophy is to build games that give players a glimpse of what they could become.
Escape from Dimension-3 (Previously known as Project Flushy), our current game project in development is the first child of this new dispensation for our company. This is how we plan to stand out in the video game industry.”
Robert Mensah started Mallanga with the sole purpose of building top-quality video games that the entire world could play. Video games that would provide the same high standards and gameplay quality upheld by most AAA-rated games.
The self-taught founder added, “As a one-man studio and a self-taught developer, based in Lagos – Nigeria, with very limited access to funding and resources, I refuse to be deterred by the everyday struggles and challenges every African developer goes through.
Our aim is to build and create video games that are played by gamers in the furthest parts of the world, and that connect with players in countries I may never be able to pronounce, or visit is the ultimate dream for me.
My greatest gift is my power of creativity. This allows me to build games from different genres. I don’t limit myself to building only African-themed games simply because I’m African, I avoid boxes and stereotypes.
People just want to play great games and really don’t concern themselves with the type of content we developers provide. As long as it’s fun and engaging, players will always pay a premium for access. This is one of the first lessons I learnt and is the foundation upon which my company is built.”
Abdelrahman is a self-taught multidisciplinary solo developer from Egypt. His company Geeky Mouse received funding for its project Everlasting Guilt.
When asked about his hopes and aspirations within the industry he said, “What I hope to achieve is to create very good solid games that are fun to play and to be more independent like Edmund McMillen, Toby Fox, and others.”
“Tincity games was created to develop high-quality games from Africa and to find a way to
create jobs for the youth via esports (To me this is a better alternative to gambling which is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa.) or other means the industry can provide. My game studio is currently a solo developer game studio but I’m hoping to expand as I deliver more game titles,” says Akawo Omojo the CEO of the studio.
“I am one of the founders of Weza Interactive Entertainment based in Kenya. We began our journey end of 2016 and were officially founded in 2017. We are a group of people that believe in the potential of Africa, and it is our goal to activate that potential by creating authentic African experiences that empower, educate and entertain.
At the core of all our games is the Mzito Universe which centres around heroes guided by Ancient African spirits and at the core of our company is the Mzito Culture which is the teachings and values of these Ancient African spirits,” says George Odongo Ahere.
The 2021 AGDP fund recipients were a nice blend of studios from the North, South, East and West sides of Africa. It is therefore great that they all had similar sentiments on the issue of the sustainability of video game studios across the continent.
Thoughts on Sustainability
All the way from the west side Captain Jeoy said, “ A fund like AGDP that is tailored for Africans and with the mentorship that comes with it, brings a lot of exposure to how things go on in the international video game industry. This exposure will over time allow our local studios to learn the right things for growth and sustainability.”
Representing the west side as well Robert Mensah added, “The AGDP Fund has provided a platform for developers to receive not only financial assistance but practical training and first-hand industry knowledge from veterans. This provides the very important factors for sustaining the industry: Immediate access to funding, business training and development skills.
I know now for a fact, even though they may be few, there are organizations genuinely interested in helping to develop and sustain the game development ecosystem in Africa, I just have to reach out and say “Hello…over here! I’ve got something I think you should really see!”
Northward Abdelrahman had the following to say, “You can now get funds or support wherever you are. As you know a lot of people have a lot of potential in them but the world around them doesn’t help them in creating a healthy environment to make what they want. So it’s good to see this kind of support for marginalized people.”
Akawo Omojo adds, “I have been following video games/game development for a while now and to be honest funding is the biggest stopper, and secondly the lack of skillset to execute.
The AGDP fund is a signal that a lot of change is coming in the direction of the African game
Developers. I say this considering the fact that I got the fund for my first public game which I actually built for me and my friends to play together.”
George represented the East side by saying, “We usually heavily relied on international sources for funding but AGDP Fund and Africa Games Co-production Fund changed this. Knowing that there are dedicated funding sources for African games proved how much the industry has grown. We now have a more balanced approach to seeking funding and are more focused on building a great company that makes great games.
To wrap it all up Estelle represented the South side by saying, “If we had more initiatives like AGDP also available to more developers in the continent, it could give more developers a chance to break into the industry and start their own companies/studios.”
Funding Options in Existence
When asked about local funding options in existence that they were aware of they had the following to say.
It was Captain Jeoy’s first time receiving funding for his company and to him, there are a lot of funds in existence for other sectors in his country, but practically none for the very young video game development sector.
Also receiving funds for the first time Robert Mensah said, “I would say NONE! A better answer would be “I don’t know of any”. video game development is not common in my country and hasn’t gained enough traction for the type of attention.”
The AGDP Fund paved a way for Abdelrahman who later received the Epic MegaGrant from Epic Games. He had the following to say about funding options in Egypt, “Relating to Game Dev? I’ve never heard about this kind of funds here in Egypt, maybe very small funds to startups especially if they are related to mobile apps, websites…etc., but I have never seen or heard about any dedicated to game development.”
Akawo added, “This is the first-time getting funding, but not only that. This is the first time my work is ever recognised so it feels special to me. So far, I do not think any proper funding option exists for game developers in Nigeria.”
George and his team had received funds for their company in the past one of them being the French Tech ticket which they received in 2017. He had the following to say about the Kenyan funding scene, “Kenya has a great startup scene with several funds if you are solving problems.
This becomes a bit tricky if you are in the creative industry. This has changed over time as Heva and the British Council have partnered to create Ignite Culture, a yearly fund targeted towards the creative and cultural industries. I hope more funds like this appear all over the continent.”
Estelle wrapped up this conversation by highlighting the following, “There are a few organizations that do have grants available that game studios can apply. I am not aware of any funding initiatives or publishers that fund the full development of games.”
Before and After AGDP Fund
Captain Jeoy said that the key thing that changed after receiving the funds for his company was that the speed of their workflow increased, as they were able to outsource some tasks to freelancers.
“My level of confidence as a self-taught indie game developer was low. I struggled for a very long time with imposter syndrome. I wasn’t confident in myself and my projects, I always felt something was missing or it wasn’t good enough.
Being accepted into the program and receiving the funds was all the validation I needed that I was finally doing something right. Participating in the master classes, sharing my ideas with international video game industry veterans, producers, developers and publishers, receiving expert feedback and unlearning some things I thought I understood have made me a better game creator and developer.” declared Robert.
Abdelrahman on the other hand added, “Now, I’m able to work in the game more freely like I hired a concept artist, made a new intro for my game with new art and voiceovers, it helped me with my personal fees and I was able to buy a few things from Unreal Engine Marketplace.”
Akawo prepared a whole list of things that changed for him as follows:
- I was able to complete the prototype I got the grant with(Whotfire – Android).
- I was able to pay for some ads on google play store, apple store, Meta(Facebook)
- I was able to purchase licensed music used in the game (Whotfire)
- I bought a 25 key midi controller for music creation for my new game(worlde orca mini 25).
- I bought a used MSI GE66 Raider with Nvidia 3070 which is enabling me to move away from mobile games and target a much wider audience since my Macbook could only handle mobile game development due to overheating etc.
- I also learnt the processes involved in receiving grants outside my home country.
- I have been maintaining firebase fees for multiplayer (though negligible amounts).
- The new laptop is the most important as I can now work on bigger and better projects,
not saying mobile are not great but for business, it is important to follow the plan which is to go big to be sustainable and to also create a blue ocean.
- I wouldn’t have been able to buy/do all of the above in such a short time without the help of the grant.
For George, before getting funding, the main question he asks himself is “Can we do this?” or “Is it possible?”. These questions quickly switch to “ How do we do this right? ”, and “How do we make it count?”. Their thoughts switched from “ability” to “execution” which is where he personally loves to be.
Estelle was able to have another developer working on the game and it also gave them some time to experiment with some of their game mechanics.
A Summary of Learnings
Estelle adds, “Our Main learning relates to scoping the game, we had to cut some of our favourite ambitious features and mechanics and prioritise the team’s mental health. We also refined and worked on improving our communication since the team is 100% remote.”
“One major thing we learnt is how important feedback is – with the fact that it is very necessary to get one’s game project in front of external eyes as soon as possible.
Another lesson I would add is to avoid rigidity with ideas, as the game idea you begin with will go through series of evolution and revolution during the development process. This is inevitable. So, we have learnt how to be flexible with our ideas and let the game tell us what it wants to be.” said Captain Jeoy.
In line with flexibility, Robert had the following to add, “The first thing I have learnt is to trust and believe in myself. I know this sounds like a huge cliché, but imposter syndrome is a real thing. The second would be not to overthink the project. Have fun with it, and when you’re ready, you’ll always find someone or in this case – a platform that will trust you enough to help you get where you need to be.”
For Abdelrahman, the most important thing he learned was how to pitch his game. Akawo on the other hand found out that releasing his first game to the public was actually different from making games for himself and his friends alone.
He added, “With the help of the AGDP grant, I was able to push through to polish my game and I gained more respect for polished games as I first-hand learnt how long the polishing of a game takes.
I learnt the benefit of localisation of games, I never thought about that prior to the grant and completing my first public game. I also learnt to have tough skin, some players just give ratings without feedback or just give mismatched ratings. I used to get angry but I feel I have outgrown it and just focus on the clear complaints. I learnt a lot, can’t write everything here.”
George and his team at Weza Interactive had the following to share about their learnings, “Our project Riziki is all about giving players an enjoyable and authentic experience of African music. We wanted to know if our gameplay and visuals evoked that feeling in our players. We learnt that there was still a lot we had to work on from the dance animations, audio-visual feedback, and optimization for several mobile devices.
We also must polish our hook mechanic “Riziki Zone” which allows players to interact with the art like a music video you can influence. We are really excited to share the new build in a few weeks’ time so keep an eye on our socials.”
Are you a game developer looking to fund your game, then check out if you are eligible for a Microfund today.