Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 22, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 22, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Big in South Africa. Not sure why.
by Greg Bala on 09/23/13 12:48:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Fellow developers,


Has this ever happened to you:

you launch a game, promote it and then it becomes successful in a geography you didn't specifically target and you don't know why...?  If so, please help us figure this out.


A bit of background

We've been running a successful MMORTS game called Realm of Empires on Facebook for a few years. We decided to port our game to Android and iOS and we released both of those versions recently.


Android was first and we saw roughly what we expected to see. Users and revenues mirroring our Facebook user base - mostly US players followed by the rest of the usual suspects of the English speaking world (UK, Canada, Australia etc...) as per the graph below.

South Africa Takes Off!

A few weeks later we released the iOS version and we started to notice something strange. Most of our new players (and most of our revenues) were from South Africa. To be clear, we've never had a significant South African user base. We're not based in South Africa (we're in Toronto, Canada). We've never specifically targeted South Africa in our advertising (beyond being one of the many English-speaking countries we target in our Facebook ads) and as far as I know not a single one of us has ever been to the country.


Initially we thought it was a blip. Something that, unfortunately, would pass. But look at the graph below - the light blue that makes up most of the volume are sales from South Africa. This is one large blip.



We're well into the second month of this pattern and while we're very pleased with what's happening we would love to know HOW it happened.


So why? why big in South Africa?

We've done the usual googling to see if there was an article written about us or a blog post or something but we've come-up empty. We're hovering near the top of the Top Grossing apps in the South African app store (we hit #1 a few times!) so we're assuming that just being there is responsible for the continued sales momentum but we don't know what got us going.


So, dear reader, if you've had experience with a similar situation, if you're in South Africa and you've seen something about our game that could've triggered this level of popularity or if you're just a smart person with a good idea or two, please let us know in the comments.




Related Jobs

Nix Hydra
Nix Hydra — Los Angeles, California, United States

Art Director
Avalanche Studios
Avalanche Studios — New York, New York, United States

UI Programmer
University of Texas at Dallas
University of Texas at Dallas — Richardson, Texas, United States

Assistant/Associate Prof of Game Studies
Avalanche Studios
Avalanche Studios — New York, New York, United States

UI Artist/Designer


Julian Pritchard
profile image
I take it the app analysis is across both iOS and Android, or is it tied to a specific platform?

If it is both platforms which is dominant in terms of players?

Greg Bala
profile image
We're seeing this on iOS only - we have almost no South African players on Android

Danny Day
profile image
Hi, I'm South African. I'm also a game designer ( and this is really interesting. We're actually used to our games not being picked up locally at all, so we tend to ignore the local market. The South African App Store especially is something many people don't bother with: Most local iOS users have US-based accounts because the local App Store is so sparse, for the longest time there wasn't even a games category.

I haven't heard anything about Realm of Empires locally, but I'm not in the university crowd anymore and I suspect that the group with the largest exposure to smartphones and FB. I can only assume that for some reason your game started getting traction on iOS devices here in SA, maybe there was a spike in sales of new phones recently and those people didn't know to set up US accounts (I'll see if I can find any information about local phone sales), then because your game is recognisable on FB as well, people kept playing it and it started getting featured prominently in the lists.

Maybe you hit that perfect time for promotion within a new market? If you have and it's due to enough people getting smartphones and using the local App Store, that's really heartening to us local developers - we can finally start aiming our games at local customers. Congrats and I hope that the sales continue! May I suggest targeting Nigeria next? That market is 20 times bigger than ours ;)

Greg Bala
profile image
Thanks Danny, yes it seems that we somehow got lucky. Must be the new iPhones without US accounts - good timing on our part ;) We will try targeting Nigeria. Thanks for the tip.

Renier Crause
profile image
The reason I believe is that you put the game in "Entertainment" category instead of the Games category. Since people with SA iTunes accounts still can't see the games category because of local legislation, this is one of the few games they can get.

I see it's the top grossing app in the SA Entertainment category.

Greg Bala
profile image
Yes, we noticed that Realm of Empires is in the Entertainment category but it's not something that we did - that's how Apple placed it. When I check the South African iTunes page, I don't actually see a Games category so that might be the reason.

Steven Tu
profile image
Hi! I'm also a member of the MakeGamesSA group, currently a hobbiest and working in advertising in a digital agency. Danny showed us the article and it's really interesting :)

I suspect that most if not all of us (in the local game dev group) follow the same pattern... We'll be on the US market and not local, and not playing Facebook games and haven't heard of the game. But of course we're not selling games to ourselves :)

There are possibilities that I can think of... The game somehow hit some cross-section of:

A) South Africans who play Facebook games (it used to be primarily desktop and desk-bound during the day)
B) who are on the local app store (where quality content is kinda scarce)
C) It's being propagated through company/varsity social structures
D) The ability to transition from desktop -> mobile platform ON the SA app store seems like a likely theory

But yea it's all conjecture. I've no idea. It does indeed sound amazing if our local market is ready for some game action! :D (and we needed a Canadian to tell us about it!)

Greg Bala
profile image
Thanks Steven. Our best theory for why we're still popular is the scarcity of games on the South African app store - it's actually quite surprising that many of the big names are missing. I think that Danny's point about new iPhone owners without US accounts might have been the trigger that got it going. It's all very interesting :) Thanks for your comment.

John Trauger
profile image
Readying Danny Day's comment, one thing he says immediately stuck out for me.

"Most local iOS users have US-based accounts because the local App Store is so sparse, for the longest time there wasn't even a games category."

You didn't know any better so you put your game into an environment where signal-to-noise ratio for would be very different (and favorable to you!) as compared to markets like the US. It'd be similar to the early days of iPhone.

The check on this is android behavior and the android store. Does Android have highly localized app stores the way iOS does? I'd be willing to bet not or that a lot more apps slosh in from the rest of the world. Are you a face in the crowd on android?

If my analysis is in fact correct, under-served markets like the South African iOS app store could be a potential source of exposure and revenue, especially for smaller developers who don't need as much absolute return on their investment to succeed.

At least for as long as they're under-served at least...

Greg Bala
profile image
Thanks John! This was our guess as well, and it is likely at least part of the puzzle. However, we still do not know how a small daily advertising budget could have created enough of a buzz

Adriaan De Lange
profile image
I am from South Africa and just love the game. We don't have a lot to choose from in iStore. There is no clash of clans, age of empire etc.

I like the interaction with other members and how to go about making friends and clans.

There is a few problems with the game. Such as the daily award. The time that is out by two hours, mail system is basic (which forced us to use another communication platform as a clan)

Further more I can't complain and enjoy it very much.

Greg Bala
profile image
Thanks for the feedback Adriaan, there will be lots of improvements and new features coming to the mobile interface, which is still very much in its infancy

Gregory Shaw
profile image
This game could use like an administrative system or program, please need help I lost my password for my one village but both villages are under the same email address and never had a problem until my done rebooted then it was a problem as it only remembered the one village, I know the co-ordinates and the username and the village name and all but I can't log in!

Please can someone help me be able to log into my one account?

Greg Bala
profile image
Sorry for your troubles Gregory, please contact and they'll halp you

Jozsef Trencsenyi
profile image
You are featured (Entertainment > What's Hot) in South Africa.

Greg Bala
profile image
Thanks Jozsef, yes, we have noticed this. Technically this is not a 'feature', but as far as we understand it, a product of already preexisting popularity; ie, you have to first be 'hot' then you make it to this category. Hope my understanding it correct. So, we wonder what made us hot in the first place :)