Meloni/ Kochmola/ Robbin-Coker/ Sehgal chat

Gamers in North America seem to focus on the same handful of concerns. For example, they constantly ask publishers if certain upcoming games will launch on a specific console. Or they talk about whether or not a game should include in-game purchases. But according to one panel at the GamesBeat Summit Next event today, the hot button topics in North America are rarely shared around the globe.

For the presentation, M2 Insights’ Wanda Meloni sat down with The Games Fund’s Maria Kochmola, Carry1st’s Cordel Robbin-Coker, and Lumikai’s Salone Seghal who all explained how tastes are different around the world. And those diverging tastes have affect how studios make games.

That is true of studios in India, Eastern Europe, and Africa. And it reflects a bustling global market for games and the creation of game products.

Eastern Europe is a small part of the global demographic, revealed Kochmola. Representing about 1% of the global games market, Eastern Europe is an interesting example of a divide between developers and players.

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Due to the small size of the gaming market developers in Eastern Europe tend to focus their efforts on globally appealing products. They aim to produce ideas that appeal globally instead of locally.

An example of this type of globally appealing game is Escape from Tarkov from the St. Petersburg based Battlestate Games. While still not officially released, Escape from Tarkov regularly draws hundreds of thousands of players and viewers on a monthly basis.

Another great example is The Witcher series of games. This series is based on a fantasy novel series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. It was adapted to video game format by CD Projekt Red, and has sold more than 50 million copies to date.

Both of these examples are retail PC and console games. The player base of Eastern Europe, however, prefers mobile gaming. Beyond that, they prefer free to play games over anything else.

The best example of this kind of global taste catering is the mobile game Homescapes. Homescapes was developed by Playrix, a company founded by Russian brothers Igor and Dmitry Bukhman. It launched in 2017 and to date regularly tops the charts for in-app revenue in Russia.

Africa has around 250 million gamers across the continent, explained Robbin-Coker. Similarly to Eastern Europe they prefer mobile gaming as well. The mobile gaming market makes up 95 percent of all gaming on the continent. The mobile gaming market is growing at a rapid pace, boasting a projected 7 times increase between 2015 and 2024.

A large factor in this is more than likely age. Africa has a population of around 1.3 billion people, but 1.1 billion of those are younger than 40. In 2013 the number of African mobile users reached 650 million, a number widely attributed to youth adoption. Mobile devices aren’t just a luxury item in Africa. They are a cultural necessity. A large portion of people who have and regularly use a mobile device have rarely, if ever, used a computer or a console.

India currently has around 450 million gamers, said Sehgal. It is expected to grow to about 700 million by 2025. From January 2021 to December 2021 Indian gamers will have downloaded and played roughly 10 billion gaming apps. India alone represented around 17 percent of global mobile game downloads in 2020.

Like Africa, the demographics of the gaming population skew to the younger side.

“Out of the 450 million gamers 67 percent of Indian gamers are Millennials,” explained Sehgal. “There has been a demographic expansion but largely focused on a much younger audience base.”

The gaming market in India is projected to grow by 30 percent over the next three years, climbing from a value of 2.5 billion dollars to 7 billion dollars.

Developers and developing talent

If you drew a timeline to plot out the lifespan of a gaming industry you could easily slot Africa, India, and Eastern Europe at the beginning, middle, and end of it.

For Africa, the development side of gaming is still very much in its infancy. Robbin-Coker estimates only 20 to 25 studios are producing work of professional, international standards. Those same studios are all small and poorly funded.

To counter this, Carry1st partnered with CrazyLabs to launch a series of developer hubs. The aim of these is to teach courses over a 4 month period which will teach developers how to produce commercially viable, casual games.

“It’s still early days,” says Robbin-Coker. “It’s gonna take some efforts to catalyze it and also some examples of success stories to really help inspire other developers to dedicate their lives to making games.”

India would be next on the timeline, currently sitting in a position that Africa could hopefully reach in just a few short years.

“Three years back,  I would have told you that I can count the number of independent developers, or just game developers, on one hand,” said Sehgal. The last few years have been transformational for India, she explained. Thanks to over 1.5 billion dollars invested into the Indian gaming ecosystem, talent who had been working within a handful of companies have been willing to step out and start their own companies.

Where Africa is looking forward to some success stories to kickstart their industry, India is on the other side of those success stories. Where before India was predominantly a hub for outsourcing work, thanks to the newly available capital the country is seeing an explosion of talent striking out on their own.

“Now because there’s capital available they’re now stepping out of their comfort zones and are now willing to launch companies,” said Sehgal. “We’ve spoken to over 500 game development studios in the last ten months alone.”

Eastern Europe is even further down the timeline.

“We calculated the number of companies who are involved in video games development and at the beginning of the year it was 5000 companies,” explained Kochmola. Eastern Europe, like India, acted as an outsourcing hub. Developers from there then branched out and started their own companies. At the same time, the younger generation of developers model themselves after the successful companies, leading to a rich, multi-talented industry of games developers.

The future isn’t just games, but payments

All three regions have a heavy emphasis on digital methods of payments. As mobile heavy regions, in-app purchases are part and parcel of how gamers engage with mobile games. For Africa specifically digital payments aren’t just the way of the future, but almost a necessity.

“The biggest challenges … one is ‘fragmentation,’” Robbin-Coker explained. “Africa’s not a country, it’s multiple countries. It has different languages, different payment systems, and different telecommunications players.”

It’s a daunting problem, but not unsolvable. The second issue is bigger, and requires creative solutions.

“Fewer than 10 percent of willing payers have an internationally accepted credit card,” said Robbin-Coker. “In order to genuinely monetize someone in Africa you have to have alternative payments. Things like ‘mobile money,’ ‘mobile bank transfer,’ ‘QR codes,’ and ‘crypto.’”

The one-two punch of fragmentation is serious, but India is an example of what things can look like once they’re solved problems.

“Monetization, previously, was always a challenge,” said Sehgal. “What has changed is that India has now been on an accelerated path towards digital payments. By 2020 digital and electronic payments accounted for 38 to 40 percent of the national transaction volume.

India now leads the world with about 25 billion annual real-time payment transactions.”

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