African gaming growing in popularity, not discoverability – Maliyo

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The popularity of African gaming is on the rise, but potential users are still struggling to find locally produced games in app stores, according to Hugo Obi, co-founder of Nigerian startup Maliyo Games.

Maliyo, founded in 2012, has released 10 web-based and five mobile games on the Android platform. Since the end of last year it has been publishing content in partnership with leading Nigerian brands, with these enterprise relationships providing the self-funded company with the bulk of its revenues and sustaining its team.

Obi told Disrupt Africa gaming – still a relatively new industry – was growing in popularity on the continent, but discoverability of Africa-developed games was low

“People are generally excited when they discover a localised game. The challenge is that they don’t necessarily discover them on the app store, it’s through websites, blogs or mentions,” he said.

That said, Obi does not think African games are suffering from being in competition with international alternatives, but rather complementing these options.

“There are two types of audiences we cater to, those who are very familiar with smartphones and what it can do as well as those people who are new to smartphones and are yet to discover it’s true power and potential,” he said.

“For those who already are familiar, we offer them a local alternative to the global titles, and for those who are new, we can provide them with a gateway to the immense possibilities of this amazing app world.”

Obi was keen to stress that gaming in Africa is still very new, a point made by Zubair Abubakar, co-founder of another Nigerian gaming startup, ChopUp, in an interview with Disrupt Africa last month.

“There are a few studios pushing out content. No one has really done anything super remarkable at the moment, but that will change in time as more people discover the content that has already been created and new people enter the space,” Obi said.

“The content developers and the content consumers are very much disconnected. Google Play and the Apple App Store don’t care much for localised games for Africa, they have a global view. Microsoft has a strong local agenda, but they don’t have the type of mass communities that Android has.”

He said his belief was this relative lack of activity made gaming less attractive to investors than it possibly could be.

“Investors focus primarily on return on investment when making investments and I don’t believe African gaming is going to offer them the best returns just yet,” he said. “But the reality is things can change very fast and you you’d want to be there before it happens not after it’s happened.”

This change could already be underway, with Disrupt Africa reporting in December ChopUp had raised US$100,000 in funding from five investors, which it is using to develop more games and market them more extensively. In Cameroon, meanwhile, video game studio Kiro’o Games has sold more than half of its shares offered for sale only 10 months after the studio launched and without having launched a product to market, raising US$142,000.

Obi said Maliyo is still primarily focused on Nigeria given the size of the local market, with smartphone penetration standing at 20 million and growing at an annual rate of 20 per cent.

“If each of our games is able to achieve 10 per cent downloads from our primary market, that would be really good. At the moment, it’s difficult for us to look beyond our primary market as it’s really large and we’ve not maximised at all,” he said.

“We want to localise gaming content in the same way that music and movies are localised in Nigeria.”

He said the startup has faced some issues getting off the ground in Nigeria, including the high cost of doing business.

“The biggest challenge for us now is how to get the millions of people with smartphones to discover our products. It’s really expensive to acquire users, so we’ve been working on a tool that aids discovery of local games and apps,” he said.

“We recently launched www.gidiapps.com and we hope this will start to help us solve the problem of distribution and downloads.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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