Image Credit: Masseka Game Studio
The game developer-focused conference Devcom debuted at last year’s Gamescom (one of the largest gaming shows in the world) in Cologne, Germany. It’s back again this month from August 19 to Auguest 23, running presentations on topics like game design and publishing, as well as a show floor. This year it will have more diverse games on display thanks to Paradise game. The Ivory Coast-based company is bringing five developers from all over Africa to demo their work. CEO Sidick Bakayoko started Paradise Game a year-and-a-half ago with the idea of creating “the biggest gaming community in Africa.” It’s approaching this from a couple of different angles, one of which is to support developers from all over the continent. “If we can build that community, then we’ll need to support that community with various types of things. They’ll want games,” said Bakayoko in a phone call with GamesBeat. “You need to be able to provide them, whether it’s international games or local games. That’s what sent us in the direction of, you know what, African game developers, we’re going to try to help you get to an international level. If you improve the kinds of games you do, it’ll be easier for our game community to play those games. They’ll be the kinds of games people like.” In addition to its initiatives to help African developers, it also launched the games festival FEJA ( Festival de l’Electronique et du Jeu video d’Abidjan ), which drew 50,000 attendees and viewers on its livestream in its first year. It will be back again this fall from November 23 to 25. Bakayoko says that Paradise is also trying to provide some education around games. He started the TV program Paradise Game Show, which is about 26 minutes long and airs on a national channel in Ivory Coast every Saturday. It features basic lessons around topics like virtual reality and esports, but it also provides interviews with developers. One of the challenges that African developers face is that the local community doesn’t necessarily see the potential for a career in games. Bakayoko says that you’ll often run into the sentiment that it’s “something for kids,” which makes it hard to get funding and support. “If you build a game, of course you can be a great developer, sit in your house and develop your game, but if you need to do it over a year of time, you need to eat,” said Bakayoko. “You need to either get money from an investor or your game needs to generate revenue so you can live off that and continue, especially if you have to recruit people and so on. So one of the main hurdles is the fact that people don’t understand games, and don’t really want to help or push them. They don’t see the potential.” Another hurdle is the price of consoles and home PCs, which can be expensive. Folks also don’t always have access to electricity and internet, which limits their capability to play games. To that end, Paradise Game is launching its first gaming and e-learning center in Ivory Coast in September. It will be about 1,000 square meters and have around 50 different PCs and consoles for people to use, as well as a large screen for remote learning videos. Bakayoko envisions it as a place where people can learn about games and developers can network or participate in events like Global Game Jam. He’s tapped around 25 local studios to give talks about what projects they’re working on. “When people think about gaming centers, they only think about people coming to sit down and play. Whereas I see it bigger,” said Bakayoko. “I see it more as an area where we take kids that would not have anything to do on the streets, who could be there [instead of] just spending their time doing bad things—you take them and bring them in the center where they can have fun and learn. There’s going to be sessions and all kinds of activities. Getting families, parents and kids, together and trying to learn what game development is about. The important thing is going to be the experience.” Above: Mog Media Design’s Totem is based on African mythology. For Devcom, Bakayoko originally wanted to bring 20 studios but they ended up having to pare back to five. He says that the visa process has fortunately been fairly smooth, which he attributes to their track record of hosting events. The trickier part has been finding the developers to bring with him, because it’s hard to grasp what’s happening in all the different countries on the continent without the help of, for example, a larger organization that oversees everything. “We had to go individually, each country, every time we were going for the festival, every time we were talking to somebody,” said Bakayoko. “Who are the developers? Who’s doing what? Looking online for articles. It’s very difficult, because a lot of them are doing small things in their home towns and they don’t have funds to promote. If you’re not there, you don’t know about it. It took us a long time, about a year. It was an ongoing process to find some of these developers. In our minds, we really needed to make sure we understand and know everyone that’s in the ecosystem if we’re going to make an impact on the entire business.” The developers who will be showcasing at Devcom include Masseka Game Studio from Central African Republic with its digital board game Kissoro Tribal Game; Madagascar’s Studio Lomay, which created the racing game Gazkar; Nigerian studio Mog Media Design with its action platformer Totem; Kenya’s Weza Interactive, which developed the platformer Mzito; and Algerian studio Frontfire, which is developing the narrative beat-’em-up game Onizumu. African cultures infuse many of the games that Paradise are bringing to Devcom, and Bakayoko thinks that’s crucial to success for developers from the continent. “Regardless of whether your games come from Africa or China or anywhere else, the main aspects of gaming, one, is the story compelling? Two, does it get people engaged? And three, are you able to provide the kind of graphics and technical solutions that are in line with the highest standards?” said Bakayoko. “Games coming from Africa can have the same things, but they’ll have something additional because they come from a different culture, something people don’t know about. That’s why, from our perspective, we’re trying to get developers to understand that, you know what, we think that promoting African culture is key.” Paradise Game’s Africa Corner isn’t the first time African countries have made it to Germany. South Africa’s trade association Interactive Entertainment South Africa (IESA) has brought a few of its developers to Gamescom in years past. However, the Ivory Coast doesn’t have an organization like IESA to help boost its local studios or to support Paradise’s mission. Bakayoko secured a partnership that helped him launch the festival and build the gaming centers, but aside from that, everything Paradise does is self-funded. In the next 12 months, Bakayoko is thinking of raising funds. But he also has a lot of other big plans. The first gaming center will open in September. And he wants to build out FEJA even more, bringing international developers, publishers, and other industry folks to Abidjan. “Last year we had people coming in from France. We’re going to try to get people from Japan who are big players, people who are active in the industry, try to get people from the U.S., try to attract people who you normally wouldn’t see in Africa, playing or doing things around gaming,” said Bakayoko. “We think that if we bring them here, they’ll see the potential and help us get the ecosystem to another level.” Paradise Game’s efforts are creating events and spaces in Ivory Coast that will provide local devs with a place to show off their talent as well as grow their knowledge base. As it expands, hopefully it will also convince skeptics as well.