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The South African games industry in numbers

Of the many markets found throughout the African continent, South Africa is – as we discussed with the organisers of Africa Games week – one of the most prominent. Hence our week-long editorial special dedicated to its games industry.

While we’ll be exploring the development scene in depth, it’s worth beginning with a look at the games industry in general, including the size of the audience and the revenue it generates, for which we’ve consulted market research firm Newzoo.

We’ve also scoured through a 2021 report by Tshimologong Wits University to get a clearer sense of the developer landscape.

The games market

2023 revenue: $266 million
Average player spend per annum: $25.50

Last year, South Africa accounted for approximately $266 million in video games spending, according to Newzoo. To put this in a global context, this is 0.14% of the $184 billion the data firm estimated was spent on video games worldwide last year.

However, Newzoo emphasised the continued growth of the South African market, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 4.7% since 2020. It is also expected to continue growing to $333 million by 2026, a CAGR of 7.8%.

Mobile represented the vast majority of games spending in South Africa in 2023, accounting for 91% of revenue. PC is slightly more lucrative than consoles at 5% of total spending vs 4%.

The average player spent just over $25 per year on games last year, mostly on in-game microtransactions given the popularity of mobile titles.

Newzoo reported that the most popular console and PC games in 2023, in terms of monthly active users, were as follows:

The Sims 4
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)

The audience

Total number of players: 26.5 million
Proportion of population that plays video games: 44%
Gender split of players: 53% men vs 46% women

Newzoo told us that 26.5 million people in South Africa played video games last year, showing a CAGR of 5.4% since 2020. The company estimated this accounts for 44% of the nation’s population.

85% of these players have played a mobile game within the past six months, while only 15% have played a console title.

The gender split is said to be 53% male, 46% female within the gaming population.

The majority of the audience is aged 14 to 28, accounting for almost half (47.6%) of the gaming population. The next largest demographic is slightly older (29 to 42) at 30.8%. Children of 10-years-old or younger account for 12.1% of the gaming population.

As with other markets, watching livestreamed games content via platforms such as Twitch is increasingly popular, with 64% of the gaming population tuning into this content regularly. This is more popular with men, who account for 57% of the viewership, compared to women at 42%. 61% of South African gamers both play games and watch gaming content online.

Newzoo noted that viewership “heavily favours” those 14 to 28-year-olds, which accounted for 36% of the audience for livestreams, and 10 to 13-year-olds, which accounted for 33%. 29 to 42-year-olds, meanwhile, account for just 20%.

The gaming audience is expected to grow in the coming years, with Newzoo forecasting 30.2 million players by 2026, a CAGR of 4.3% from 2023. This will still represent 44% of the South African population.

The industry

An extensive study by Tshimologong Wits University explored the games development landscape of South Africa in 2021. The institute carried out a census in which 168 people with different roles in the industry participated.

The university said this likely accounts for 38% of the South African games workforce based on participation in a 2018 survey by trade body IESA. Among the respondents were 52 self-identified hobbyists and 18 students, but the vast majority of what follows is based on the professionals’ responses.

The studios

The study estimated there are 60 active games studios in South Africa. The majority of these were described as microenterprises (fewer than five employees), with Tshimologong Wits University noting that most of these companies were comprised solely of their founders with no additional staff.

Of the 60 studios, only six employed more than ten people – based on our exploration of the South African games industry, this would include Free Lives, Nyamakop, Sea Monster and 24 Bit Games, and you’ll be able to read full interviews with these throughout the week.

The six larger studios accounted for the majority of the revenue generated by South African developers. The largest studio Tshimologong Wits University visited employed 36 people at the time.

While the majority of players favour mobile games, the large studios were said to “do little to no work” in that sector, instead focusing on PC and console to generate the majority of their revenue. 55% of all South African studios were developing games for PC, compared to 33% for mobile.

There were some services companies that worked on mobile titles, but no South African games company was built solely around mobile development or generated the majority of their revenues from apps, according to the study.

52% of studios that responded created their own IP, while 12% only offered services to other games companies, and 36% did a mix of both.

Unity was by far the most popular engine among South African game developers, with over 90% of studios using it as their primary tech.

In terms of location, Cape Town and Johannesburg were home to the most studios. The Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, hosted 42.1% of the South African games companies that responded, while the Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town, was home to 37.9%.

The spread of the workforce was fairly similar. 50.5% of games professionals lived in the Western Cape, while 37.4% lived in Gauteng.

Interestingly, 14.1% of all respondents said they worked for a company based outside of South Africa, and most of these lived in Western Cape. The study noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift towards working from home led to a “dramatic increase” in the number of local developers finding employment at international companies.

The workforce

21% of the professionals working in the South Africa industry had done so for over ten years at the time of the survey, with Tshimologong Wits University noting that this was a sign of the industry maturing compared to past data.

25% had been working in games for between five and ten years, while 20% had worked three to five years and another 20% had worked one to three years, illustrating how relatively new the South African games industry is. Just 5% – one in 20 people – were less than six months into their games career.

Two-thirds of respondents were 35 years old or younger. The largest age bracket was 26 to 30-year-olds at 25%, with 21 to 25 and 36 to 40 both at 21%. Only 12% of professionals were 41 or older, with only 1% being over the age of 51.

There is a stark contrast between the diversity of the games workforce compared to the general population. While a 2022 census showed only 7.3% of South Africa’s population was white, 82% of the games professionals featured in Tshimologong Wits University’s study were white.

Black people, who accounted for 81.4% of the population in 2022, only represented 6% of the study’s respondents – a figure the university described as “distressingly low.” 7% of respondents were Asian (compared with 2.7% of the population), while 5% were Coloureds (compared to 8.2%).

The South African industry’s diversity was a recurring topic in our interviews, as you’ll see throughout this week, with Studio Bolland’s managing director Richard Bolland for instance noting: “Our country is really only 30 years old this year, as a democracy, meaning that essentially non-white people that were born in 1994 are turning 30 this year and are really just still young professionals who are entering into the market. And so we still find that those who had access to computers and the internet growing up are still predominantly white, and therefore people who have the most experience, if you look at seniors in the games development industry in South Africa, [are] predominantly male, white people.”

But he emphasised that there has been “an active understanding and desire for change from those in leadership in this South African game scene” with the industry “actively incentivising people of colour to gain experience and leadership positions.” You can read our full interview with Studio Bolland on Wednesday.

Back to the Tshimologong Wits University study, and the results even delved into people’s upbringing, which it described as a “key indicator of accessibility to the workforce,” noting that a “disproportionate amount” grew up in upper-middle-class to upper-class environments.

For example, while the largest segment (38.5%) went to a non-selective, state-run school, 33.3% attended an independent or private school without the need for a bursary or scholarship. Only 3.1% of games professionals went through private education supported by bursaries and scholarships.

Meanwhile, 83% of games professionals in South Africa identified as male, compared to 10% female, and 7% non-binary. The study also asked respondents if their gender was the same as the one assigned to them at birth as a means of determining the number of transgender people in the workforce. 6% of respondents indicated they are transgender.

Tshimologong reported that, compared to historical data, there had been a “slight improvement” in the number of women and non-white people employed in the industry, but the majority of this was attributed to the larger studios. Most of the microenterprises consisted only of white males.

24% of South Africa’s games professionals identified as LGBTQIA2S+, which the study noted was “significantly higher than the national average.”

More than half of the respondents (57%) were employed in development and programming, although it’s worth noting that, because most studios are small, people often fulfil multiple roles in their studios. In fact, ten different disciplines received responses from more than 10% of the sample, and only 36% of those surveyed indicated that they had a single role. Tshimologong Wits University suggested that the need for multiple competencies introduces a barrier to employment.

Outside of programming and development, the most common roles were art (41%), design (40%), business operations (32%), and project management (30%). Sales, marketing and communications accounted for 17% of the workforce, writing and audio for 12% each. Only 9% indicated they had a role in QA, with IT the lowest at 4%.

Also of note is that only half the respondents (49.5%) were full-time permanent employees. 14.1% were full-time but on fixed term contracts, while 10.1% were freelancers. Emphasising the prominence of self-run, single-person developers, 25.3% indicated they were a studio owner or director.

The future talent

All of the above from the Tshimologong Wits University study applies to professionals. When looking at hobbyists, 69% said they would like to work in the games industry on a more permanent basis.

However, they faced several barriers; namely that they could earn more in other industries, there were insufficient jobs or opportunities within games, and they didn’t believe they had the adequate skills.

75% of the hobbyist respondents indicated they worked in software development, with the next most common industry being animation (12.8%).

Throughout this week, we’ll be exploring South Africa’s games industry further in a series of interviews with a range of studios – including Six Peaks, Nyamakop, Sea Monster, Free Lives, Studio Bolland, and Annapurna-owned 24 Bit Games.

These conversations cover a range of topics, including some of the biggest challenges developers face in South Africa, the debate around the support available to games businesses, and what may drive the market’s growth in future years. You will be able to find all of these interviews here as the week progresses.

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