Last week MyGaming contacted me with a couple of questions about the South African games industry, the resulting article has just gone live: SA gaming industry growing despite “isolation”. I think it can be quite interesting seeing how an article gets produced from the raw questions that you get asked, so I’ve posted the email the article was based on below. (Big thanks to Jeremy from MyGaming for being cool with posting the questions he asked, as well as responding to my incessant poking to get Make Games SA linked in the article)
MyGaming: What challenges have you faced as a South African developer?
I’m not really sure what to compare the stuff I’ve found difficult against – I’ve only ever been a “South African developer”. I guess the largest issues are isolation-based. Culturally, lots of people in SA don’t understand games as a medium, so that can make it difficult to find clients (and when you do, they tend to have unreasonable expectations) and it’s difficult to get non-tech-savvy media to actually cover your work instead of using your game as a segue into talking about “OMG, look how much money Minecraft made”. Isolation also tends to lead to really, really bad advice – way too many young game developers and designers get told they need to learn C++ and write an engine because they’re listening to people who have absolutely no relevant experience. The internet tends to make things better though: You don’t have to be isolated if you don’t want to be and now that PayPal works for SA you can sell your stuff online almost as easily as you could from the US. The biggest hurdle we face these days is getting overseas to trade shows and conferences, which are worth their weight in gold (and travel time).
Want to not be isolated? www.MakeGamesSA.com
MyGaming: What are your views on the SA gaming market?
Um. I don’t really have views when it comes to what the SA gaming market should do (outside of get rid of the MSSA and focus on growing audiences for competitive gaming instead of trying to fleece players for membership dues) because it’s still a growing thing. The distributors are doing okay, retail stores are growing locally, our internet access is getting better. These are all good things.
That doesn’t change the fact that the local gaming market is tiny though. Sure, I wish it were bigger, but from a business perspective there’s no reason to target the local market in the hope that being from SA is a good thing in their eyes. Hopeful young game developers always think they’ll get super-rich if they make GTA-JHB or the perfect Morabaraba implementation, but they never take into account that they’re competing with all the AAA games Megarom and co bring in every month for a very limited pool of game-buying cash in local pockets. It’s much better to find something you’re really good at doing and compete on that scale globally, and like I said: The internet makes that pretty easy these days.
MyGaming: There is a notion that triple-A titles are now competing with indie games in the SA market – what’s your view on this?
Better internet access means players now have options when it comes to what they want to play. Indie games are simply easier to find these days, all you have to is start up Steam and take a look around. I don’t think the majority of local players are browsing Indiegames.com or seriously following the IGF, but indie games are closer to the surface of every platform: The app store, XBLA, Playstation Store, Humble Bundle, Steam and the like are all offering at least some stuff by really skilled indie developers. Maybe people are more open to indie games because they feel like AAA games are a little bit samey and there’s only so much emotion you can wring out of more shiny polygons per second, or maybe they’re just playing stuff that’s fun and don’t really care who made it or why, who knows? You don’t tend to find many indie games in shops though.
MyGaming: Some other local developers (Runestorm, Thoopid) have expressed challenges in getting exposure for their games, as well as creating the right framework to make it marketable – do you have any advice on this?
I see this as a question of quality and risk. Yes, it’s risky trying to build a game, that’s always going to be the case – what if people don’t like it? But you can drastically minimise that risk by getting as much feedback on your game concepts as early as possible – have people play your prototypes and see if they’re just humoring you or if they’re really loving something. All the local games that are doing well in both sales and visibility internationally are games that began their life in public forums or game jams, not behind closed doors for fear of the ideas behind them being stolen. That’s a particularly irrational fear that seems to control a lot of local hopeful developers…
It makes no sense to compound the risk of building a game on top of also racking up a long development bill. That time people spend obsessing over secretly developing games that nobody else has played blinds them to potential problems while at the same time starving them of the ideas that fresh eyes might bring and the solutions that those ideas will create. I’m not saying that people who are having a hard time getting traction with their games only make bad games, heck no. I’m just point out that you want to know how much fun something is as early as possible, added extra double bonus if the people that enjoy playtesting it for you start telling their friends about it too. That’s the biggest thing you want to grow as an indie game marketer: Positive word of mouth, and it’s never too early to start.
At the same time, better, more frequent criticism leads to better games being built. So the best way to ensure you have a potential market also happens to be the best way to ensure game quality. There’s that isolation thing rearing its head again: People assume that their game will do well if they make it in secret and announce it with a trailer or two, then get upset when nobody notices. You have to constantly work at shouting about your game as much as possible to anyone that will listen. And this is where I tell you that Desktop Dungeons is the most wonderful, emergent and challenging dungeon crawling puzzler that will kick your ass in handy 10 minute segments that you’ll ever see.