Video games, computer games, console games, tablet games, phone games…it is undeniable that this form of entertainment has become part of the fabric of modern society. As technology becomes cheaper over time, the influence of such entertainment grows and becomes more accessible, a trend just as true here in Zimbabwe as anywhere.
Where does Zimbabwe stand in this behemoth of an industry? Firstly, how do we get games? Most people these days will download their games from the internet onto their devices. The demise of hard media worldwide will continue to facilitate this. We can see from the reports of the next generation of home consoles and current phones and tablets that this is fast becoming the de facto form of access to games. Zimbabwe is still way behind the curve technologically compared to the developed world – this can be seen by our average internet speeds, as well as smart phone penetration per capita. There will still be a place for vendors of physical copies of games here for some time to come. As the internet lifeblood reaches further and further and becomes cheaper – most people will soon be able to gain access to any games they desire.
Payment for online media is still a big issue in Zimbabwe and this problem will be the single most important determining factor in our ability to access games in the future. Most of Zimbabwe is still unbanked but I can certainly see methods such as Ecocash enabling these people to be able to purchase games. Those who do have access to banks are not without issues, including not being able pay on certain internet sites or online stores with their Zimbabwean bank card. There are many inroads being made in this area currently and I believe that in the next two or three years we will have a greater ability to purchase games online. I greatly hope to see the market grow enough and the economy stabilise enough to enable bigger sellers to play a part in making content available here.
Regulation is the second big issue. Import duties on the hardware we use to run our games are extremely high, pushing the prices of hardware and hard media out of the reach of most people. Without cheaper access to hardware, gaming will continue to be stifled. The tax men and regulators of the technology sector need to see the hay from the grass on this issue as it will continue to stunt the growth of, not just technology and gaming, but every other industry as a consequence.
With Liquid and Powertel fibre optic lines powering Harare, the obvious hub of technology and gaming, we are starting to finally have the infrastructure to support potential growth of gaming. The MNOs (Cell Phone Network Providers) 3G and 4G will also play a large role in this empowerment and we have seen over the last few years how much of an impact this is already having. I am able to play Fifa from my couch in Harare with my good friend in London currently and, even with the latency of the wimax and distance of the routing to London, we are able to have a mostly playable experience. We are ready for the next steps, but with broadband (albeit expensive) there is already enough bandwidth and low enough latency to allow you to play your game on a US/South African or European server as well as download and patch your games in the first place.
Games are fun, social and interesting; from a simple game of snake on a Nokia 3310 to the complex Last of Us on Playstation 3 there is a wealth of entertainment out there for all of us. I sincerely hope that we get to a place that allows us to access more of this amazing genre of entertainment.
Dave Boaler is a technology consultant.