The weekend of 10 – 12 October 2014 saw the hosting of the 12th annual Really Awesome Gaming Expo (rAge) in Johannesburg, attracting thousands of PC and console gaming enthusiasts from across the country.
Long gone are the days that gaming is seen as a pursuit by teenage boys stuck in their parents' basement. Gartner estimates that the worldwide video game market will reach $111 billion by 2015. Across PC, console, handheld, and mobile, gaming provides people with a completely immersive experience in an interactive environment. This is the evolution of entertainment with many gamers preferring to be in control of the story instead of just passively watching a movie.
But what are the trends we picked up on at the event and the state of the gaming market in South Africa?
One of the key things is that the gender split has decreased significantly in recent years. The average person seems to think that gaming is only for guys, but that myth has been busted. When rAge first started, the majority of women going were the ones being dragged along by their other halves. However, this past weekend at rAge 2014 there was very little of that. In fact, we spotted quite a few lads who were there at the request of their female companions. While there is still some work left to do for complete gender parity, it is refreshing to see the women gamers racking up their share of multi-player wins in the LANs.
The console versus PC battle, that is as old as gaming itself, still dominated proceedings but in a friendlier way than we've ever seen. Certainly, there are still those gamers who feel that the desktop computer is the only true platform for competitive playing. Many proponents of desktop gaming argue that the modular approach means that systems are almost infinitely customisable. Even if they use similar hardware in their cases, no two gamers use exactly the same system. This also ensures that full value is derived from components such as graphics cards, motherboards, memory, hard drives, and so on.
However, the consensus is that consoles are a welcome addition and quite often a complementary one to some of the hard-core PC battles going on. Last year, there was much anticipation around the imminent launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Now with both being available the focus has shifted to what can be done with the consoles and the titles available on each. Some of the distributors did mention that quite a few gamers are still adopting a wait and see approach when it comes to buying one which could have an impact on sales of the launch titles.
Let’s face it; hard-core gaming in many ways comes down to budget and it is clear that the custom-mod and design community is still thriving despite challenging economic times. Just wandering around the LAN section of the event, and seeing some of the machines being used blew our minds. There were many familiar faces but more than enough new and crazy designs to show the industry that gamers still want to build their own computers and have the money to do so. Looking at the spate of new hardware from processors to graphics cards in the pipeline, this is certainly good for the local economy.
The South African gaming market has seen tremendous growth. According to research released by the Make Games South Africa association, there are 32 game development companies active in the country. While studios are spread out across Gauteng, the Western Cape, and Durban, the interest from aspiring developers come from all over the country. Granted, the R30-million revenue generated by local games last year are still small when compared to other markets, it is a clear sign that there is so much potential here.
Gaming is also becoming a massive spectator sport in South Africa. Judging by the LAN competition and the Rectron Dota 2 tournament, competitive gaming is thriving here. With everything from shout-casters (read game commentators), massive crowds watching the finals, and even cheerleaders (the obligatory booth babes), now is the time to be involved in e-sports. Teams are not only sponsored but competing for thousands of Rands of prizes. And while the gamers have always taken it seriously, the past few years have shown that competitive gaming is much more professional than ever. Granted, the market is still tiny when compared to the Asian and European leagues but thanks to corporate support there is massive amounts of growth potential.
Ultimately, gaming is alive and well in South Africa. With rAge being considered a massive success by all, hardware distributors and game publishers have reason to be excited.