Gamsole Blog

Local flavour

Abiola Olaniran, founder and chief executive of Gamsole, agrees that mobile is the present and future of the African gaming market. Gamsole specialises in creating games for the Windows Phone platform, and has seen its games downloaded over 10 million times in the last 18 months. The company is now looking to expand its products to other mobile systems, including feature phones - as basic, low-cost phones are called.

Gamsole likes to make games with AFrican characters and plots. "Gaming is still a nascent industry in Africa," says Mr Abiola. "Due to the high rate of mobile device penetration, mobile can serve as a converging point for both casual and hardcore gamers. Gamsole creates games with an African flavour - based in African cities, telling African stories, with local characters. "African-themed games can be the future of gaming if people can relate with the content on a personal basis, based on their daily life experiences," he says. "This is one way to push adoption of games in Africa." But he also believes African-themed games can become popular across the world.

"At Gamsole, our idea of African games is not games by Africans for Africans. No, it's games by Africans for the globe." University student Feyi Aderibigbe says she enjoys Gamsole's African-themed games as they relate to her everyday life and are "a good way to kill boredom". "Personally I believe African-themed games relate better with our everyday life experiences," she says. "Africa is shifting to a position where we don't only want to learn other people's story, we also want to share our stories, cultures, experiences, and lifestyle with the whole world, and I think that African-themed games are a good medium to achieve this," she says. The illustrations below show two of our games, created with African content for gamers all over the world.

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Local flavour

Sweet Paradise is a match-three game where the player is presented with an adventure of a smart, cute monkey on a quest. This takes him through China, Egypt, and Paris to Obudu cattle ranch in Nigeria. The Player progresses through a series of numbered levels presented in all the five attractive locations of the game.

The Player tries to match similar colourful fruits in sets of three, in a limited number of moves, by swiping left, right, up, or down. Objectives get tougher to beat as the player progresses, forming an increasingly tough barrier which is supposed to make the player purchase in-app upgrades.

Our aim was to create a game with a striking visual appeal to a global audience. The team worked tirelessly, brainstorming on different ideas, character designs/sketches, potential logo and design directions, before careful selection of the final approved choices.

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Mama Put

Mama put is a fast pace fruits cut game. The goal is to slice fruits that burst into juicy fruits. It is level based and users have specified tasks to complete before moving on to the next level. The Characters portray different chef personalities around the world. They each appear in the game at different stages as the player progresses.

FRUITS The creation of the Fruits and the arts in general were influence by geometrical shape, with very interesting and attractive colours.


The overall look of the map IN GAME BACKGROUND

GAME TUTORIAL SYSTEM The tutorial in the game will always appear the first time the player starts the game Players can purchase more fruits and powerups in the game to go further and faster. The purchases can be made with accumulated points or with real cash.

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How Gamsole Started - QnA with the CEO

Abiola Olaniran is Founder and CEO of Gamsole, a mobile gaming company based in Lagos, Nigeria. In this post, we would be sharing his story, and how he developed Gamsole. How did you get into game development? In school, I studied Computer Science and Mathematics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. While I was a student, I participated in a lot of competitions and during my quest for an area of concentration, I discovered that if I was going to go into application development, mobile gaming is the single category of applications that has the most requests from smartphone users. From utility to edutainment, business applications, social networking and all that, we have more people requesting for games than any of them. This makes it a lot easier for an individual developer with no initial resources to build something that can grow organically, without having to do a lot of marketing.
I was fortunate to have these thoughts and ideas at around the same time when the Windows Phone platform was being launched. It all started from winning Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and going on to represent Nigeria at the World Finals. It was at the World Finals Microsoft announced the release of the Windows Phone platform. There were guys showcasing applications at the event and that gave me more opportunity to learn the platform. I gained more focus as a programmer; from developing just about any kind of application, to focusing on mobile gaming.
From the Imagine Cup, I came back to Nigeria. I went into the Samsung Developer Challenge where I won the game and edutainment category. After all that, I became more sure that I was going to do this. So as an individual developer – I was still in school then – I kept on uploading applications to the store. One of my first games then was called “Road Blazer“. Within a few weeks, I already had about 40,000 downloads. Apparently Gamsole as a company began after the 88mph programme.=What did you have to do achieve instant success? I think a lot of our downloads came due to the fact that Gamsole was among the first set of developers on the Windows Phone platform. Imagine at the time, Microsoft was putting a lot of energy and money into pushing Windows Phone devices yet, thousands of new developers around the world were jumping on the iOS and Android bandwagon, because of the success stories they’d heard. For me, it was all about deviating a bit from the crowd mentality. It’s not about the most popular thought or idea among the developer community. It’s first about your users – what they are requesting for – and the niche, which is the opportunity you’ve found. As you’ve explained, you got on the Windows Phone platform primarily due to the perfect timing. However, 3 years down the line, why does Gamsole still develop for only Windows Phone? We are actually currently developing for feature phones, but with strategic partnerships. Our first Android game is also in the works. So we are definitely going cross-platform. However we are taking our time to study the market extensively. We don’t want to upload an application unto the store and have 10,000 to 100,000 downloads, which we consider a failure. If you really want to make money with applications, you definitely need a lot of downloads and requests. Speaking of downloads and requests, what is the Gamsole business model? How do you make money? For now, Gamesole monetizes mainly through advertisements on the Windows Phone platform. We are able to do that because we get a lot of requests and have a lot of games. The model we’ve been working with is inspired by the likes of Miniclip and the earlier days Gameloft, where they would create a lot of games. So it makes sense for us to have a lot of mini-games and monetize them with advertisements. However for the Android and iOS games we are currently working on, they will be monetize solely by in-app purchases. That’s just the model that makes sense for these platforms. Of course for Windows Phone we can as well do in-app purchases. We are definitely working on that. Let’s go a little bit back to your stint at 88mph. Following the completion of the programme, Gamsole was based in Nairobi for a while. Why did you decide to come back to Nigeria? I can say the environment is quite similar. However, for you to build a great company, you need a great team. I just figured then that I had a better chance of getting more skilful people here than I was getting in Nairobi. I can practically say that in this whole country, we have the best set of animators and graphic designers. And that’s because we value team and skill. It’s not about the number of people, it’s about how good they are. I would rather hire one person that can do the job of 5 people, and do it very well, than hire 5 people that will struggle to do the job of one person. So get one person, pay that person shitloads of money to motivate them enough to be able to that job.
Also, like you said, the 88mph accelerator programme had ended at that time. Nairobi definitely has its own advantage for startups. It’s generally more conducive for startups – housing is not much of an issue, you have constant electricity, many hubs coming up here and there. But I think Nigerians are more aggressive. If you are going to win in Africa, I think you should be in Nigeria. Lagos is specifically. Life is way faster here; this is where you really want to be if you’re trying to build something that will be the biggest in Africa. Of course, I’m fortunate to be from Nigeria so what am I not doing here? As far as gaming goes, at least locally, you are now a “big boy”. Do you still code? Of course, coding is my passion. I think everything is going to become boring to me once I stop coding. For me, it’s all about the product. Like they say, a great CEO can either be someone who is extremely good with the product, someone who is very good with keeping the money, or someone who is really good with marketing. If you look at it globally, any great CEO must have at least one of these 3 attributes that he’s very good at. I think my strength and passion lies on the product side. In my opinion a great CEO of any tech company has to know a lot about what the company is actually selling. From the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, those guys are sitting at the heart of the product, not just putting someone there. What are some of the challenges to running a gaming company in Nigeria? You have to really fight hard to create the kind of team you want. It’s a serious battle. It’s even more difficult when you’re in a foreign land that’s similar to your home country, in terms of the kind of problems you are facing. But we’ve been able to crack that to some extent. We obviously still need to do a lot but, with the kind of product we are creating, we hope we will generate more interest in really good people coming to join our team.
What is the state and future of gaming in Nigeria? With the local content on ground, would you say there’s the potential of building something like say Candy Crush? People have to understand that if someone is going to play your game, they don’t really care about African stories, to be honest. You’re going to have to play on the same plain with Candy Crush, Subway Surfers and the like. And truth be told, the fact that you’re including black people in your game won’t necessarily make people download yours over theirs. You need to have that kind of marketing budget that makes sense. You need to know, on the average, how much you’re expecting to get per user. Those are the key things. I notice a lot of Nigerian developers focus on creating games that tell the “African story”.
If concentrate on that, you will definitely flop. Don’t get me wrong; having African feel and appeal is not a disadvantage. I’m just saying it shouldn’t be the stronghold of your gaming project. Pitching “African games” as your primary differentiator doesn’t really help because what people really care about is, “is the game fun”? You can’t just develop games for Nigerians alone. That won’t fly, trust me. You have to design something with a global mindset, something that will appeal to everybody. If I’m going to acquire users for my game, I wouldn’t acquire Nigerians. I would rather acquire people outside Nigeria. The kind of metrics I would be looking into are the buying power; how much they’ve spent on applications before. So for me, developing games for Nigerians is not yet viable. Of course you can always use what is in your environment to create something fun for the rest of the world.
Expect the best game that has ever come out of Africa. Expect to get to see our idea of creating African games coming into reality. Creating “African” games is not about focusing on the evil things happening in Africa. No, it’s more a combination of humour, lifestyle of the people, the literature and creating entertainment out of it such that anybody, including non-Africans, can relate to it and enjoy it. That is what we hope to achieve with Gidi Run – make people see what is happening in the society. We put a bit of humour and, of course, good graphics. We also try as much as possible to make the coding very fluid, up to global standards.
For everything else, as long as your company is making enough money to sustain the business, you won’t have too many issues.

Dream Ville Gamsole has partnered with Diamond Bank for the launch of a gamified service aimed at educating and engaging the youth on financial services.

In partnership with Women’s World Banking, FSD Africa, Microsoft, Commonwealth and the UK government, Diamond Bank called for tenders from Nigerian game production companies in early 2017, for the creation of a new financial service focused on the young population. Gamsole won the contract, and has developed Dreamville, a simplified digital financial platform, enabling users to plan their financial future, save, chat, and update their financial knowledge through playing games. Dreamville helps users to develop healthy savings habits, build a prudent expenditure profile, and understand diverse investment portfolios. Users can also link their accounts with social media channels and chat with friends. “By using a gamified platform, we not only drive engagement with youth, but we help these young clients build their financial capabilities and set them up for long-term success,” says Ryan Newton, manager for strategic advisory at Women’s World Banking. “Users earn points, badges, and rewards for positive financial behaviors such as managing their finances and budgets, setting savings goals, and achieving those goals. They can also participate in championships and tournaments to reinforce these lessons in good banking.” Dreamville, is expected to help the financial institution increase its 15 million customer-base by year-end. In specific, Diamond Bank said with the new app, it is expecting an additional one million customers. Speaking at the launch of app in Lagos, Head of Youth Segment, Diamond Bank, Adaeze Umeh, said the solution was capable of deepening the reach of the bank, especially among the youths. She described the app as the first Nigerian gamification youth portal for banking with learning material, adding that the app aimed to achieve financial literacy in youths with a feature that would allow setting of savings goals. Umeh explained that when people achieved their savings goals, they would earn badges and rankings on the leader board, and earn prizes as well. She stressed that there was no child that would go through the processes of the app, and would not come out better off in preparedness for the workplace and entrepreneurship. “We say there are no jobs, but the truth is people lack skills. We need to equip ourselves with the right skills so we can optimise the little opportunities out there,” she stated. Umeh said aside from the savings goal, the app had features such as comics, videos, games and financial features. She stressed that non-Diamond Bank subscribers could use the app and access all its features except the financial feature. According to Umeh, the financial feature will require a Diamond Bank account, hence its limitation to the bank’s customers only. Speaking at the event, the New Business Lead, Gamsole CEO, Abiola Olaniran, described the app as a first-of-its-kind literacy innovation for youths. He said the app combined education and entertainment to suit different needs, adding: “Dreamville is a financial literacy village that integrates social media platforms to create an amazing experience for the users,” he stated. The financial service known as Dreamville, does not only enable youths to learn and develop healthy savings habit and build prudent expenditure profile, it also helps customers understand diverse investment portfolios, link their respective accounts with social media channels and chat with friends. According to the Bank’s chief spokesperson, Chioma Afe, the Dreamville online community and the development of the multifunctional game-enabled platform are “revolutionary” and tallies with the Bank’s proposition to meet the changing needs and lifestyles of customers. She added that the platform is aimed at motivating customer engagement, provide fun and entertainment with up-to-date financial information that will enable the customer to accomplish his/her future financial goals and needs with excitement. Ryan Newton, Manager for Strategic Advisory at Women’s World Banking stressed that the service will enable youth to build financial capability that will serve as a foundation for banking successfully as adults. “By using a gamified platform, we not only drive engagement with youth, but we help these young clients build their financial capabilities and set them up for long-term success. Users earn points, badges and rewards for positive financial behaviors such as managing their finances and budgets, setting savings goals, and achieving those goals. They can also participate in championships and tournaments to reinforce these lessons in good banking.”

Storytelling in Game Development

It’s a scenario many of us who live in or have visited Africa have experienced: being stopped by a traffic officer and asked for a bribe. Now, imagine playing a game on your mobile phone; instead of cruising through the streets of New York, you find yourself on an African street having to navigate that same familiar scenario to advance to the next level. Africa has many unique stories to tell. With the GSM Association predicting that 80 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa will have access to mobile phones in the next five years, these stories are coming to life in the form of mobile gaming. As a result, the African mobile gaming industry is taking off and is a new, exciting space for investors to get involved. Telling uniquely African stories For any interesting game, the most important element is the storytelling. Through the story you can capture the player’s imagination and engage with them. So it makes sense to find the stories that are unique to the continent and to which African citizens can relate. And this goes further than the storyline itself, to encompass all the “arts” elements of a mobile game. An African game has its own style, from the graphics used, to the sound and music. It’s no surprise that this particular ‘African’ style goes hand in hand with increased uptake of home-grown mobile games across Africa. But what about making the leap across the ocean to reach global gamers? Crossing mobile gaming borders In the same way that Japanese video game company Nintendo has become the world’s largest video game company by revenue, there is no geographical limit to high-quality games. We’ve also seen how Nollywood movies have attracted an audience beyond Nigeria’s borders, despite their uniquely Nigerian storytelling. So, when it comes to creating games for a universal audience, you need to tell stories that are African, but are still relatable to a wider audience. Multiple platforms a useful step across the ocean With that essential foundation, it’s equally important to think about developing games across platforms to increase market and reach. If you confine yourself to one platform, you lose the audience using other platforms. This is a particularly important consideration given that different markets may favour alternative mobile platforms. By making your game available across the board, more people are likely to play it, thus increasing your revenue potential. The good news is that with modern technology, it’s easy to develop a game on one platform and port it across to other platforms. Gaining traction for your games The greater challenge is to develop games that people want to play, and market them effectively. The majority of users enjoy “casual” games like Candy Crush that are simple to play on their mobile phones, while a smaller segment of more serious gamers enjoy more complex games. When it comes to marketing, while digital marketing tools like Facebook and admob advertising are useful, they can be expensive for new developers. An effective alternative is to get your game featured on the mobile platform you’re operating on. Each platform has certain criteria in place to maintain the quality of apps featured, which means that when your game is featured users are likely to take notice. African gaming ripe for the picking With everything from compelling storylines and fun gameplays, to having universal platforms on which to develop and using these platforms to market across borders, the potential of African mobile gaming is enormous. The African mobile gaming market is also huge, and yet it hasn’t reached saturation point; it’s ripe for the investment picking. Simultaneously, the continent has made great leaps when it comes to connectivity through the telecoms. As a result, most African citizens now have some form of currency on their phones, which can be use to monetise mobile games and apps. This means mobile money cracks the monetisation puzzle within the gaming market. Not only does that make African mobile gaming an attractive area for local and international investors, but it is also a model that can be extended to solving payment issues on other forms of apps. Ready to take on the world There is no question that African mobile games can compete with their international counterparts, and by all accounts already are. What is key to maintain and develop this competitive edge is to be dedicated to creating high quality content that is relevant and compelling. By setting up this foundation now, the African gaming community both encourages future generations of local gamers, and contributes to the growth of the industry as a whole.