The rise of casual gaming on social media websites like Facebook is leading to an uptick in the game development business in SA.
Mark van Diggelen, CEO and founder of SA casual and social gaming company SkillPod, says that although game development in SA is not as big as it is internationally, local programmers are taking a keener interest in it as a career path.
“In the past two years, there has been more interest, but it will still take two or three more years before we start seeing a real increase,” he says.
Casual gaming has enjoyed a boom in recent years, spurred by the growth of smart devices. Companies such as Apple and Google have also made it easier for potential developers to distribute their content through application stores.
One of the most popular and addictive casual games is Angry Birds, developed by Finland’s Rovio Mobile. Angry Birds reached a milestone in sales on Monday, with 10m downloads across various platforms. US company Zygna, which makes FarmVille and CityVille, has also cashed in. Zynga was recently valued at US$3bn.
Some social games now incorporate micropayments, which represent a new revenue stream for developers. However, it has been tough for SA developers to use these channels because they’re not all available locally.
However, he says companies like Amazon, which has made contributing content to stores more accessible to people outside the US, are changing the game. “Nokia realised SA developers couldn’t get their content into its store, and now helps developers load their content,” he says.
SA companies have been slow to take advantage of the growing social gaming market, but Van Diggelen says easier distribution and better education has started to increase the profile of games development in SA.
“There are now courses at SA tertiary institutions specifically tailored for game development, though there aren’t enough. When the education system starts to focus on the space, South Africans will start seeing game development as a viable career option,” he says.
Casual gaming in SA remains a relatively untapped market — only 10% of SkillPod’s customer base is local. The bulk is in Europe.
SkillPod has developed a platform for social and casual gaming that is being used by publishers and game specialists. In SA, media companies Media24 and Independent Group use it for their casual game services online.
The company has about 750 games on its platform. They integrate fully with micropayment services and social network platforms. — Candice Jones, TechCentral