When you meet Oscar Micheal, the first thing he’ll tell you about the games industry is that it’s different from the gaming industry. The second thing will most likely be that the Nigerian games industry needs funding.
Oscar Michael’s tech beginning
He didn’t start his career trying to build a community of game developers, engineers, etc. He, like many others in the games industry, started as a tech bro.
He stumbled into the industry looking for a job, and since then, he has become hooked, going on to start Africacomicade, a community of game developers, animators and other digital creatives.
“I’ve been in the industry since 2015,” Michael said in an interview with Technext.
He said he started with an internship at Center4Tech in Lagos.
I came in touch with an organisation that was really on the forefront regarding the games industry in Nigeria. And they were training children and youths on how to build mobile games. So I started as a mobile game facilitator, teaching children how to build mobile games.Oscar Michael
In that role, he had to “organise game jams as well, where game developers in Nigeria come together to stay overnight for two to three days to build a game around a theme. And from there, I became the head of operations and started organising hackathon events, co-organising with fellow partners to promote the industry.”
With Africacomicade, a Pan-African community that cuts across 15 African countries, he said he is about supporting and executing projects for members.
“What we do is showcase their work, as well as connect people with opportunities,” he said.
But the industry, not known for pre-seed rounds, at least in Nigeria, hasn’t provided many opportunities for people seeking careers in the space. Michael said this has led to some talented developers leaving the games space for greener pastures in other tech fields.
The games industry is one of the most creative and difficult spaces out there in tech. There aren’t so many opportunities for stakeholders in that sector. So, a lot of the creatives there started moving unto other viable sectors like app development, web development, because there are job opportunities there.Oscar Michael
For the developers that remain and break even in the space, they face the challenge of trying to monetise their projects after time spent developing them.
“It’s tough to build a game that people will love, and then monetising it is a different hurdle on its own,” he said. “The startups that exist are not employing people. There’s no funding. No support. So it is tough.”
He has been on the receiving end of this difficulty, which made him take a hiatus from the industry for a year.
At the time, he took a degree in Software Entrepreneurship at MEST AFRICA. Here, he met several developers and stakeholders which led him to realise that the problems faced are similar across African nations and that there’ll be a better chance of tackling the issue by working together.
“That’s where it all started for me,” Michael said of starting the community.
“I moved down to Ghana. I started connecting to stakeholders and speaking to stakeholders around the continent. So I came to realise that our problems are similar and that if we could really work together there’ll be a better chance of tackling the issue, seeing that there is no data about the industry, there is no structure in the industry, and there’s very little opportunity present,” he said.
Michael decided to start Africacomicade after thinking of how he would tackle an issue happening all over the continent, hoping that like-minded individuals in the space would come together to achieve their mutual goals.
He said with the community he is “trying to connect the stakeholders in Africa together, to learn more, see the work going on, get the data they need to drive decision making, and support the growth of the industry.”
Games industry VS gaming industry
But the confusion between the “games industry” and the “gaming industry” is not helping.
The gaming industry is an ecosystem of people who play and distribute games. In contrast, the games industry (video games Industry) is more about people who develop games, market and monetise them.
But the gaming industry is still far off compared to the games industry, largely because of gaming communities/startups in Africa like Gamr Africa, Kon10dr, etc., which have successfully built the gaming industry to the point where it can attract investors who sponsor tournaments and meets.
For the games industry to grow, Michael says that there must be an influx of funding, thriving communities, and sensitisation. “Many investors will only invest in a sports organisation that has a large following.” This the games industry doesn’t really have.
How the games industry sustains itself
The industry has been sustaining itself on publishers. Publishers are people with a form of bridge between the games industry and the gaming industry. They have a database of people who play games. Then they pay developers to make games, and then they share the games with their network of gamers to play.
“How many times do you go on the app and search for games?” he asks. “You get the idea.”
With publishers, he said that “in a week or two weeks, you can have 100 thousand to 1 million downloads. As opposed to you doing it yourself and you have to come up with lots of strategies.”
Then game companies need to host tournaments for their players and people who beat high scores as incentives to keep people playing. “Hosting wonderful tournaments require a lot of money,” he said.
To solve this, he said that people need to first understand the industry.
People need information, people need to know that it’s a viable industry. And that there are just some key elements that you have to put in place to be successful.Oscar Michael
The importance of community
While outside of Africa the community has experienced faster growth because of the availability of consoles. In Africa, there aren’t as many consoles to sustain video games, Oscar believes. So, developers have been restricted to mostly mobile games.
“The African market is mobile-friendly,” Michael said.
Oscar Michael says the problems can’t be solved without a community.
He said that by building a community he is attempting to build “a form of structure where if you need access to information or anything you can go to that one place where you can get connected to opportunities.”
He said that to succeed in the space, “you really need to try a lot of stuff and you can’t get the information you need alone or on the market. There are a lot of opportunities out there but how you get access is by knowing people.”
Even though Africacomicade has only about 500 members, Oscar said that at Africacomicade they aren’t about the numbers.
“We are not big on numbers. What we are big on is actually having creators that are actually building stuff. There are a lot of communities that have 1000, 2000 members, but how many are active?
“We are 500 strong and growing. One thing I can say is that in our community we have active stakeholders. We have at least more than 20 projects from people within our community. And we normally have a convention where we try to showcase these projects.”
While there is still so much to be done before Michael achieves his goal of making the sector more feasible to investors and the rest of the tech world, he has his eyes set on creating as much awareness as possible about the creatives and educating young people about the opportunities in the sector.
He is also working with researchers in the space to produce studies that he said: “have come up with really exciting projects.” There is for instance “The Legend of Orisha,” a game from members of the community which he is very excited about.
Who needs regulations?
As the tech world and government clash over what regulations will look like, he said that it might be too early for regulations for the games industry.
“I think it’s too early for regulations. The creators in this space are not making money, so what is there to regulate?” What he said is needed for now is nothing but support.
We need support putting together a structure.
How does the community in the meantime navigate copyright laws and other forms of intellectual property infringement?
“Because this is the creative industry,’ he said “if you look at copyright laws there are a lot of laws in place. All you need is a lawyer.”
Besides, he adds that in the games industry cloning is part of the trade. The endless runners, for instance, have been very successful. But the stories the games are built around are different.
“People reverse engineer character. So how can you really say this is my game? That’s what the space is about. It’s about looking out there and being creative. It’s not something you can fully hold on to and say ‘you can’t create my art.’”
For people who want to join the space, he keeps it blunt and honest.
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