Thursday, April 29, 2010

‘Game gbees’ coming through!

Gary has witnessed what may possibly be the birth of a million-dollar booming video games industry in Ghana.



Scratching your head at the headline? ‘Game gbee’ is the local slang for someone who is a video games freak (gbee is pronounced ‘bay’. Or something like that).

My younger brother, Stanley, was one of the 350,888 candidates students nationwide who blissfully thought the world was theirs for the taking after writing their last BECE (Junior High School) papers last Friday. The whole weekend for him was spent feeling good and video gaming.

For him, playing his much loved game consoles is a great way to release all the pent up energy exerted during the examinations. But the grandmothers and grandfathers at home are dogged in their beliefs that gaming is for vagabonds and gamblers.

This is a familiar story in many households in this country, yet it need not be so.

Last December, a very young man in South Africa saw his life change right under his eyes. Teenager Matthew Bosch won thousands of dollars in cash prizes in the FIFA 10 road show in Johannesburg. It was sponsored by Telkom, in partnership with Electronic Arts (EA Sports).

For the uninitiated, FIFA 10 is one of the bestselling video games in the world as we speak. It is also creating limitless opportunities for young people worldwide.

Untapped resource
EA Sports is a video game maker and one of the largest in the world, too. They, among other things, specialize in signing on sports figures for their very popular video game franchises. And obviously, they pay well too. On top of his club salary, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney earned more than £200,000 from EA Sports last year.

Speaking from a Ghanaian perspective, I can tell you that this nascent industry may just have been reborn in this country.

Already in Africa, some countries are established and reaping the benefits that come with this very underestimated industry. It is estimated that $11.7 billion worth of video games were sold in 2008 worldwide. That’s almost the entire amount Ghana’s economy earned in that same year. So you wonder, why do the youth of Ghana play so many video games and yet we haven’t made any money at all from it?

All you see are young boys and girls at home, in street corner game centers and shacks playing their favorite game consoles like Xbox, PS3, Nintendo and so on. But last Saturday, a group of young entrepreneurs were part of what might just be the light at the beginning of Ghana’s video games revolution tunnel.

Alisxta Innovation put together the first ever National Qualifiers for video gaming in Ghana and the winner will play in the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) in May at the Disney-Land in Paris, France.

According to Qwecy Amissah of Alisxta, the aim of the tournament series is to “use technology to bridge the gap between the Youth and National Development by cultivating their talents and competitive spirit. Our desire is to develop a professional eSports environment which will cater for the future and well being of our players.”

eSports and the other jargon
Chances are that if you are thirty years or below and reading this article, you have a pretty good idea what video games are. Or maybe not. Whatever the case may be, eSports is electronic sport. People also like to describe eSports as a general term to describe the play of video games competitively. Others call it competitive gaming, cybersports or even V-Sports.

At the Spintex Road in Accra where the first gaming tournament took place, over a hundred enthusiastic young men and a few enterprising ladies thronged for the first Ghana qualifier. Subsequent ones have taken place at the University of Ghana and at Busy Internet last Saturday.

These young people, whose ages ranged from 16 onwards, (that’s the age limit set by the organizers) argued that gaming is not a waste of time as many think. Granted, some games have received a lot of flak for their violent nature and at times, explicit content.

But it does not take away the fact that there are thousands of kids in other parts of the continent and around the world who have chosen gaming as money-earning jobs. They combine this fun (and educational) pastime with school, so it’s a win-win situation. Doing that would be a challenge in Ghana, where video gaming is traditionally seen as a pastime and even as a ‘ruffian’s thing’. This is just a perception and nothing could be further from the truth.

Kwecy Hayford, also of Alisxta Innovations says ‘organizing the gaming conferences has been a wonderful experience. Moving from one venue to the other and seeing that each tournament was unique. I believe we are setting the stage. Awareness is being created for gamers in Ghana.”

As we speak, several high profile (pseudo-)governmental agencies have embraced the concept, acknowledging its potential as an alternative way of leisure and learning. Dorothy Gordon is the Director General of the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence – Accra Institute of Technology and Innovation (KACE-AITI) and she is fully behind this concept. I am told she knows a lot about eSports for someone well past the middle age mark. Considering the KACE-AITI is under the Ministry of Communications, this would be a serious coup if the gamers can enlist her outfit’s support.

The Ministry of Youth and Sport has also agreed in principle to put its weight behind the scheme and several reputable companies like Busy Internet, Vibe FM, GoCreate, Lantouch, Solution Oasis, Metro TV and TV3 have also helped spread the word.

All this means that when the concept of commercial gaming catches on and takes off, there’ll be a massive change in orientation that can change people’s lives. This, certainly, cannot be bad.

Diversifying the future
The gaming industry will grow to frightening levels in Ghana. That is, if a few things are put in place. The infrastructural foundation needs a little tweaking. There are really not organized unions and groups like Alisxta who have specialized in putting gaming tournaments together. There is the temptation to think that any event company can do this. Wrong. It is for those who understand, love and above all, respect the principle of gaming. That is why it seems to be a sector that appeals to the youth, because most of our elders simply don’t get it.

But maybe when the much anticipated GamePlay magazine is launched, everyone will get the message. According to the publishers, GamePlay is the complete guide to everything gaming and eSports. Every GamePlay edition features the most current information on gaming, eSports, entertainment, gadgets, and tournament selections in Ghana. It would also have easy-to-use listings of game shops by category and dozens of fabulous coupon savings and prizes of Portable gadgets (iPods, PsP, phones and so on)

It will also cover various areas related to video games including industry sales/revenue figures, number of video game players, console penetration numbers, gamer demographic data, and other trends and data related to the video game industry in Ghana.

The magazine is yet to be launched, but like many other ventures, it needs support. It is universally accepted that once some major money-backers and stakeholders are garnered to inject more resources, commercial gaming in Ghana is a ‘go’. There’ll be raffles, promotions and all sorts of marketing programmes to push the interest, and money, back into the pockets of investors.

Am I selling the idea to you? You bet I am. If you are venture capitalist or business adventurer and reading this, do not wait for me to say ‘I told you so’ in a few years. Ghana will be the next technological hub in terms of eSports, so say the guys from Alisxta. And to borrow a slogan from EA Sports: Challenge Everything!

Just like in the old days when your parents would never have allowed you to play professional football, video gaming would soon reach that zenith in Ghana. When this happens, the grandmothers and fathers at home will start pushing for my brother to spend time behind the console because at that time, it will be very financially rewarding.

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