In recent years, the gaming industry has become a giant in the entertainment business, and it’s not hard to guess why. Puzzles, challenges, escaping into a fantasy world, joyous moments of accomplishment, or just having fun – there are several reasons why people play games. Some countries, even though they show some progress to speak of, are lagging behind others to a big extent. South Africa, the country I call home, is one of them.
While there are a lot of ‘gamers’ in SA, the numbers can’t really compare to those of European/Asian countries. But why is this? There are mainly two reasons – money, and a stable/adequate/21st century internet connection.
Today, a South African citizen would have had to pay R799.00 for The Witcher III: Wild Hunt on console. The PC release’s price? R549.00. The prices for FIFA 16? R799.00 and R549.00 respectively. Fallout 4? R759.00 and R559.00 respectively. See the pattern? The prices for title releases are skewed in the favour of their desktop versions. And while the desktop option may look like the affordable version, I assure you – it is not. R600.00 is enough money for a month’s food for students at university or college. That doesn’t even cover the cost for a game-ready machine, which, naturally, doesn’t come cheap. So, while the desktop is preferred among South Africans, the amount of gamers are still relatively low. And to make things worse, SA Gamer has recently revealed that there will be further price hikes. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5 and Forza 6 on Xbox One will cost around R1099 from January 2016. Of course, the current state of the economy doesn’t help.
This is before we even get to the internet connection. The horrible connection that opens up a new world for gamers, but then ultimately disappoints. As South African gamers, there is little choice but to connect to far-away servers for an online experience. Only Dota 2 and CS:GO have dedicated servers in this country, with the state or absence of most servers for other titles leaving a sour taste in one’s mouth.
“Gaming has seen phenomenal growth over the past few years as players become ever more engaged. We already have more than four million gamers in South Africa. By professionalising the sport and developing new players, we can look forward to seeing more local talent compete on the same footing as international teams,” – Johann Von Backström from the DGL Management Company.
How bad is the internet, you ask? As per results from a MyBroadband test in April 2014, the lowest ping for a connection from South Africa to an international test server based in London, was 176 ms. This was achieved by a Cybersmart priority ADSL connection, which is a measly 2Mbps connection. Vox ADSL and Afrihost ADSL, both 10Mbps connections, come in 2nd and 3rd, with 182 ms and 188 ms respectively. Personally, playing a game of League of Legends these days with a ping of 180 ms is deemed as brilliant.
While the whole picture looks gloomy, there is at least a ray of hope; eSports might be coming of age in this country, with the announcement of the launch of the DGL Gaming League.
While several commercial and more well known releases sell quite well (relatively) in this country, it is the unknown, niche games that suffer. Indie, creative or just under-the-radar releases have no real exposure, and if one considers the game environment or the lack thereof, it is easy to see why. I guess that one cannot expect more from a developing country, really. Things are improving, and while progress might be slow, it is still apparent. They say the grass is always greener on the other side. In this instance, it really is.