Africa's nascent games sector has been growing slowly but this year in a sign of increased interest, game engine and platform Unity will be attending one of Africa's games events WAGE 16. Russell Southwood interviewed Unity's Akouvi Ahoomey about its 50+ million African games community and the prospects for games developers in Africa.
How did you come to work at Unity?
I've always work in technology companies from France to Brighton where I live now. I started working as a sales engineer junior selling anti-virus, bandwith optimisation systems, and all sort of products to protect and enhance companies' Internet use. Then when I moved to UK in 2007 I started working for a motion capture company for 4 years and they were developing a plugin to see an animated character live in Unity instead of in Motion Builder. This was my first encounter with the engine. I was looking for another opportunity when a job opportunity arose at Unity, which I was lucky to get.
What do you do at Unity?
I've been at Unity 5 years now. I work as Business Development Manager for Western Europe and Africa. I foresee the business development and development strategy across the region. My job is to be the bridge between our community and our teams to make sure their voices are heard in this region. Part of my work is also studios visits and attending events.
What does the Unity platform do for games developers?
Unity is a fantastic tool with an ecosystem that allows our 5.5M registered users to create games, sell their assets on our Asset Store and with our MadewithUnity find a platform to publicise their games. Unity is a tool that allows solving hard problems in game development. We help game developers be more productive when creating their games. We build an engine that covers multiple platforms. We help them by giving them tools to create better-looking games.
Our ecosystem also allows them to understand their business with in-app purchases through analytics or advertising. We created this ecosystem to help them achieve success and stay alive. Another fantastic way we help our developers is through our community, which is one of the reasons of our success.
Developers around the world can engage with us and amongst themselves to share knowledge and ideas (yes!). Earlier this year at Unite Europe we launched our Certification program to allow developers to get certified and being recognized for their skills. This is also completed with courseware for schools and individuals. We believe that being a Unity certified developer is a great asset for our community and we strongly believe that they will benefit from it all around the world.
How many developers are using it globally? Anyone in Africa using it yet?
We have 5.5 Million Users globally. 770M people are playing Unity-made games globally. 1.7Billion mobile devices are running Unity made games. And yes we do have a growing developers base in Africa. Algeria, Morocco are strongly driving the community of Unity users here. South Africa and Nigeria also growing fast. For example they were 19.5 million installations of Unity made apps in Algeria, 19 million in Morocco and 10.8 million in South Africa. We count studios from Tunisia, to South Africa using Unity, for example Malyio Games, Renderheads, FuzzyLogic, SeaMonster, Free Lives and many others. We are also very proud that things are moving fast on the education front too, as we also have few schools in Uganda, Cameroon, Botswana, Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa already teaching with our engine!
How does the platform connect developers with audiences?
We introduced MadeWithUnity at Unite Boston last year for this. We want to keep the community informed, engaged and dedicated to Unity through active cross promotion efforts while assisting with the solving the problem of discovery. The MadewithUnity team also acts as an extra promotional arm/outlet for games being Made with Unity and the developers making them. With MadewithUnity we help games and developers find some exposure and aid in discovery. This is also achieved through events where we'll be hosting Made With Unity showcases at each of our Unite events in the year.
Which of the more well known games have been developed on the platform?
A: So many to choose from! Crossy Roads, City Skylines, HearthStone, Temple Run 2, The Room 1 and 2, Deus Ex Go, Bad Piggies, Angry Birds 2, Space Pirate Trainer (VR), Lara Croft Go, Assassin's Creed Identity, Firewatch, Hitman Go, Endless Space, Pillars of Eternity, The Gold Club Max, The Curse of Brotherhood, Republique, Pollen, and the recent worldwide success Pokemo Go, the first AR game made in Unity.
You're going to be attending the African game exhibition and conference WAGE 16. Why did you decide to go and what's your contribution?
I had a great pleasure to meet some of our community in South Africa at Amaze Johannesburg last year and see how many are already using Unity and the passion driving African game developers. We want to "show them some love too" and attending WAGE 2016 to meet them is the essence of our trip. We have 2 talks about Education and Certification and another one about games optimisation. We are very excited to meet the growing digital makers of the region.
What do you think the prospects are for Africa's gamers (and game developers) in general and Nigeria's in particular?
These past years have seen an increase in establishment of indies across the continent, especially in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco and South Africa. I think African games developers are as excited as the western ones to develop games. Their issues are different with PC/mobile devices performances, monetization and infrastructures challenges, to name a few but the creativity and passion are equal. I think they can benefit from major game publishers investment to grow the industry faster.
That growth will also have impact on governments help and maybe one day offer funding or tax reliefs. In Nigeria and South Africa there is an embryo of this but the conditions are limiting. I also think the perception that game isn't a serious avenue to pursue will change as more schools and developers found jobs. A way for the developers to help in this movement is to make games or apps for the local audience, develop games with characters and stories closer to home for them where they can relate.
Gameloft recently open an office in Nigeria and technology giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft also have offices in Africa. Nigeria is thriving with developers and the potential growth there is big. Nigeria is potentially after South Africa our biggest market and the potential growth there is big
What advice would you give a young African games developer?
Go for it! Try to see if there are any clubs, hubs, courses where you can learn, attend game jams. Find an engine you are confortable to start with and then switch to Unity! (laughs) But more seriously try to understand what people around you will love to play and try to find a team. Work on finding funding, a publisher or a company that can back you up.
For more details about games event WAGE 16 which takes place on 9 November 2016 in Lagos, go to: http://www.africgames.com/