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The South African Game Development Scene: Past, Present, and Future
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The South African Game Development Scene: Past, Present, and Future

August 3, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

2008 was also the year, however, that saw a talented and experienced programmer by the name of Damien Classen leave South Africa to take up a job opportunity overseas, marking yet another casualty of South Africa's fledgling game development scene. Compared to a majority of the prominent local developers, Classen took a different route in order to enter the world of game development:

"Getting a solid education was the first step," explains Classen. "I started off by getting my Bachelors degree -- one of my majors was Computer Science. After graduating I went on to the post-graduate level, and I acquired an Honors degree in Computer Science. I figured I was on a roll, so I decided to continue with my studies, and I pursued my Masters degree."

"This entailed spending two years working on various 3D tech demos and a small game," Classen continues, "and writing my thesis on the various programming techniques used in the game-dev and simulations industry. Those 2 years were where I really started to learn what I needed to know. The demos I put together during that time were vital to getting into the industry."

After using his spare time to work on personal programming projects, while working at an online casino and poker game developer called Derivco, as well as a mining and military simulation developer by the name of ThoroughTec, Classen received the opportunity to work at Digital Extremes in Canada, co-creators of the Unreal franchise and, most recently Dark Sector. Classen's reasons for leaving South Africa were very similar to those of Judd Simantov before him, in terms of opening up a wide range of job opportunity options, but those reasons were also tinted with the need for a better quality of life:

"Being able to work in the games industry was very appealing to me," says Classen. "There were definitely opportunities for me to use my skills in SA (ThoroughTec being a prime example), but perhaps to a lesser extent than over here [in Canada]."

"Any creative industry in SA, be it film, music or games," continues Classen, "seems to suffer from the country's geographic isolation from the rest of the world, which is why I think people in these industries often feel the need to migrate in order to achieve the kind of success they want."

"The problems currently plaguing South Africa," explains Classen, "also contributed to my decision to seek employment abroad... Living in the first world is definitely pleasant -- fast internet, clean cities, things are efficient etc. The cold takes some getting used to, but we're enjoying the snow."

So while the problem of talented South African game developers leaking to studios overseas is still a problem, what about the future of the local game development scene?

The Present Becomes the Future

Here in 2009, there seems to be more of a stable base for aspiring South African game developers to work on, with several opportunities to cut their teeth in the industry in their own country presenting themselves in the form of Luma Arcade, a small mobile games company named SmallFry Mobile and possibly I-Imagine in the future, as well as partnerships with developers that are making inroads on their own, such as Danny Day, Jacques Krige and Travis Bulford, while taking advantage of the growing (but disparate) online communities in SAGameDev and Game.Dev.

What needs to happen in South Africa in order to continue to grow and nurture the local, embryonic game development scene and ensure it has a future? There seems to be a measure of consensus on this topic, as Danny Day succinctly sums up all of the opinions shared:

"I think the largest problems are threefold," offers Day. "Our internet infrastructure is terrible. Telkom [South Africa's primary telecommunications provider] has done incalculable damage to the online business sector in South Africa. That seems to be slowly changing now, but the support for online-only companies isn't what it should be -- financial institutions don't understand internet-driven business models and we have very little online payment support. Not good news for indies."

"We're sorely lacking talent," continues Day. "This is something that will come with time as we raise awareness of game development as an industry. While programming is the traditional route to games, games aren't built by coders alone. We need a lot more artists and resource generators as well as business-related people."

"This goes hand in hand with a lack of understanding of the games industry in local business and support circles," says Day. "The local retail games market isn't huge, but its recent growth has gotten people more interested in games from a profit perspective. Attracting international attention is also difficult given our lack of size, but all we have to do about that is release a few amazing games and it'll come."

Luma Arcade's Marble Blast Mobile iPhone port (2009)

Luke Lamothe also offers a final word on the subject, saying: "Until the local industry can have the cash injection required to make it a stable and growing environment, and until there is enough talent being produced via self-teaching or the university system to fill the voids that will come hand in hand with growth, the South African game development industry will more than likely remain in its current state."

"In order for true growth to happen," says Lamothe, "there needs to be massive job creation and long term stability offered so that more people will look at game development in South Africa as a realistic career choice."

South Africa is a proud nation, almost to the point of stubbornness, so it seems appropriate for a few of the more experienced developers to offer their advice to South African wannabe developers, so they will be able to add value and talent to their local scene, and continue to grow and nurture the fragile industry, without blindly blazing ahead, making the same mistakes of the past.

Judd Simantov from Naughty Dog provides some inspirational advice, saying, "Passion, passion, passion. Then throw in some hard work and the ability to listen and learn and you're well on your way." Luke Lamothe at Luma Arcade offers some practical advice: "Participate in the local game development communities like SAGameDev and Game.Dev. Think big but start small." And finally, Travis Bulford offers his advice: "Don't be discouraged, but don't be too stubborn that you don't learn either."

While the South African game development scene is relatively young, there exists a mass of passionate personalities, far beyond the few mentioned here, that will continue to seek out potential talent and grow the local scene into a viable local industry, by providing the frameworks and nurturing environments necessary, either in the form of online communities or a physical office building, to work in this exciting, creative field and explore the career of their dreams.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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