Exploring South Africa’s Quietly Booming Gaming Scene

When it comes to the global games market, people often think of the creatives in Japan, the massive market of the US, the avid mobile gamers in China, and the obsessive players in The Korea Republic. Seldom does an African nation spring into the conversation, and yet, in many countries, gaming is picking up steam, particularly in South Africa.

It’s generally accepted that Egypt is the biggest gaming market on the continent, but there’s a huge difference between the northern nations and those of Sub-Sahara Africa, with the likes of Egypt often being bundled in with the Middle East instead. Still, overall, South Africa stands second in-game revenues, even ahead of Morocco by a significant margin.

It’s powered by over 11 million gamers, freemium-model mobile titles, more opportunities for the born-free generation, and a near-instant acceptance of eSports.

The titles driving South Africans into gaming

There are several new game releases just about every day when you encompass PC, console, mobile, and browser-based gaming platforms, and yet, some stand the test of time to dominate for years. South African gamers have muscled into the gaming scene and have nearly instantly shown an affinity for many of the biggest games in the world.

Smartphone gaming is the most widespread right now, with casual, social, and competitive games earning significant revenue streams from the Rainbow Nation. It’s said that around six in ten people in the country have played Candy Crush, but two games rank above it in the top-grossing chart. The competitive shooter PUBG Mobile and competitive strategy game Clash of Clans are the major draws among mobile apps, with others like Call of Duty: Mobile and Gardenscapes also ranking highly.

This all draws from the internet connectivity enabled by moderate data costs and smartphones, with even lighter game platforms also gaining traction as a result. Standalone app games tend to be quite demanding, but the online casino platforms in South Africa host hundreds of games. Knowing the draw of mobile gaming, developers have adapted classics and build new games in HTML5 to make them fully compatible with mobile browsers. As a result, South Africans are able to play table games, live games, progressive jackpots, and the world’s most popular slots, such as Starburst, Gonzo’s Quest, Mega Moolah, and Dead or Alive.

It’s not just on smartphones that South Africans are getting in on the action, though. FIFA is a mainstay among console gamers, as is Mortal Kombat, but it’s the PC gaming scene that sees more interest. Right now, the flagship game via computers is CS:GO, Valve’s much-loved and regularly updated first-person shooter. Shortly behind CS:GO are other free-to-play, competitive big-hitters, such as DOTA 2 and League of Legends, as well as World of WarCraft.

Putting South Africa on the gaming map

In spite of the years of unsupportive government regulations that failed to protect and otherwise plagued game development in the country, a bustling industry is finally showing signs of taking root. Predominantly taking the form of development-cross-animation studios, there are over 50 gaming companies in South Africa, with the focus being on PC games due to the open release platforms like Steam. Development teams here stand out from ones in other African nations for their detail-oriented approach, sometimes to a fault.

Still, many well-known games have emerged from the Rainbow Nation over the years. Broforce, Desktop Dungeons, and Toxic Bunny stand among the most far-reaching to date, but there are plenty of others that are entertaining the masses. The likes of Boet Fighter, Semblance, Gorn, and Stasis each have ‘Mostly’ or ‘Very Positive’ review aggregates on Steam, with Gorn being the most-praised from over 6,000 user reviews.

Coming out of studios Califourways, Free Lives, The Brotherhood, QCF Design, and Celestial Games, it’s clear that talented game developers are being put to work. However, it could be said that industry recognition or even the next step in the games industry is lacking. Of those five studios, only Free Lives (Broforce and Gorn) didn’t self-publish, with American publisher Devolver Digital putting out the indie games. This shows a disconnect and that South Africa needs to establish its own body to overlook, promote, and publish new games.

The eSports bug has well and truly hit South Africa

Not only is the eSports industry offering a goal to the world’s best competitive gamers, but it’s also offering a new form of sporting entertainment that South Africans are fully immersing themselves in, particularly via Twitch. Here, avid viewers tune-in to popular streamers like GrantHinds and JowyBear to watch them play games, as well as watch the major eSports tournaments, such as those staged by Telcom VS Gaming. That said, the channel SuperSport has also been able to bring eSports to TVs, in partnership with GINX eSports.

In terms of earnings, teams, and players, there’s one very dominant force in South African eSports: CS:GO. Three years ago, the nation’s star players hit the headlines for earning R 2.6 million from CS:GO and FIFA – not that FIFA constitutes an eSport, rather a competitive game. There are plenty in DOTA 2 and Overwatch, too, but CS:GO is where the nation is finding the most success. As it stands, the top-five highest earners from the country have reached the spot by playing CS:GO, with Sonic, JT, Detrony, Elusive, and Fadey making up this top-class squad.

Gaming is becoming big business in South Africa, from revenues to development to eSports. As connectivity is enhanced and more people take to gaming, the scene will only continue to grow.

the author

He’s a cat. He likes to play video games. He often has a hard time with this since he’s a gamer cat living in a gamer human world, but he gets by.