Like with any other industry, in the gaming world, there are a handful of big companies that dominate the market. Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, Konami and Nintendo. In 2015 the industry generated $74 billion and ranked the third-largest sector in America’s entertainment market, right behind broadcast and cable Television.
And sure they mass produce games that have become cult-like favorites for gamers across the world, but are the characters and story lines representative of all the people who play their games? One of the biggest changes the video game industry has undergone in recent years is the influx of female gamers on par with that of men. Yes, women now make up half the gaming audience, and in certain categories, even out number the guys!
And as the trend of the gender-mixed gaming audience continues to grow, the issue of diversity also needs to be addressed. While it is definitely important for the aforementioned major brands to lead the way on this issue, it is awesome to see a number of smaller companies take up the mantle and produce and develop games to cater to more niche audiences.
We’ve shared previously about a gaming company in Lebanon, led by Reine Abbas who is widely considered one of the most powerful women in the gaming world, and a company based out of Saudi Arabia which features female-driven story lines in games where women ironically have more freedom than in real life (their aim is to change culture by using games as a visual).
Well now we can add another international company to the map, Kiro’o Games based in Cameroon. The company was founded by Olivier Madiba in 2003, with two friends Yakan Dominique and Waffo Hugues. This Central African gaming company isn’t badass just because of where it is based out of, but also for the content which is catering to its African audience.
A keen gamer himself, Olivier wanted to create a way he could infuse his love of gaming along with traditional African folklore.
“The history of our continent is rich … we took inspiration from local Cameroonian traditions, like the Ngondo festival celebrated by the Sawa people, and we also incorporated symbolism adapted from that of the Akan people of Ghana, specifically the Adinkra writing style,” he told Ventures Africa.
While the company is thriving today, it was not the easiest task to get off the ground initially. One of the problems is the lack of consistent access to electricity, which sometimes results in power outages. Water is still the main source for electricity, so during the dry season, it can interrupt the work of many people who rely on this power.
It also was tough for Olivier and his friends to find funding, as there weren’t many people who believed in the project. Eventually Cameroon’s Ministry of Arts and Culture came through with some seed money and it was the start they needed. Olivier hopes his business will attract more investors to know how lucrative this market can be.
“Our continent is rising and it is important that as young Africans we contribute to its development,” he said.
The company also launched a Kickstarter campaign for one of their recent games and managed to raise €49,774 from backers.
The name Kiro’o is derived from “kiroho maonno” Swahili for “spiritual vision”, something that can definitely be seen in their games. The ‘Aurion: Legacy of the Kori Odan’ game is set in a world of elemental energies and ancestral powers, where players assume the role of a traditional ruler, Enzo Kori-Odan, rightful ruler of the Zama kingdom, who uses the Aurion power granted him by his ancestors to regain control of his kingdom.
Enzo is the only remaining heir of the Kori-Odan family, which ruled over the city of Zama for generations. Erine is the young spouse of Enzo Kori-Odan, and fights alongside him in his quest to restore his legacy. Erine is a support character, she can heal her husband and launch special attack to combo with.
This is a big deal for central Africa, given that Kiro’o Games is said to be Cameroon’s first gaming company. They want to fill a previously ignored market.
“There are 54 countries in Africa, almost all of which are made up of an astounding mixture of traditions. Yet very few of those stories have made it into games or, to be fair, into the wider global media culture,” writes Colin Campbell at Polygon.
Aside from creating games that carry a rich tradition not necessarily seen elsewhere, Kiro’o Games hopes to inspire fellow Africans to rise up and be part of a changing narrative about the continent.
“What we want to change first is the perception we have about ourselves. Africa is one of the most promising continents now. Young leaders and new billionaires are rising up everywhere in the continent. We are living in a connected world…so it is important that other people start to look at us as partners for a better humanity. In the common imagination, Africa is the worst continent on earth. That’s maybe true on a certain point of view but for us at Kiro’o that’s a challenge not a problem,” said lead designer Patrick Hervé Meli.
“We have, with all the problems in Africa, the opportunity to show the whole human race how a group of people can overcome war and poverty and become great. Not great because of our atomic weapons, not great because of huge buildings but great because of the humanity we can put into our own social models. It will be cool if our story as an African studio also inspires young Russians, Libyans, Americans and, of course, young Africans,” he added.
The importance of art, entertainment and pop culture reflecting real life is not just arbitrary, it is in fact very powerful. If this company can create great games that will help young Africans connect with their past and feel proud of who they are, that is something worth far more than simply a dollar amount.
You can hear more from founder Olivier Madiba talking about the unique vision of Kiro’o Games in the video below: