Interview: Sorelle Kamdom of Kiro’o Games on Game Dev. In Africa and Kickstarter

"...there are two major challenges which we often faced: power cuts and the digital divide..."

img_009The vast majority of video game industry is in North America, parts of Asia, and Europe. Though this seems to cover a lot of ground, video game production is typically localized to specific areas – with everywhere else frequently being treated as digital deserts. One desert that is quickly becoming an oasis for game development is Africa. An example of how Africa is home to up-and-coming game studios is Kiro’o Games in Cameroon.

To learn more about Kiro’o Games’ current project, Aurion, Legacy of the Kori-Odan, making games in Cameroon, and turning to Kickstarter, I was able to interview the studio’s head of marketing, Sorelle Kamdom.

You can learn more about Kiro’o games by visiting their homepage and following them on twitter at @KIROOGames.

Nicholas Yanes: What were some games that you enjoyed playing as a kid?

Sorelle Kamdom: When I was kid, I played video games with my brothers such as Super Mario Bros., Prince of Persia, Street Fighter, with Super Mario Bros. being my favorite.

Yanes: Can you describe how Kiro’o Games came to be founded?

Kamdom: Madiba Olivier, the founder of the studio started working on Aurion since he entered university in 2003. He produced the first version of Aurion by using RPG MAKER. In 2012, he launched the project with the support of some friends and relatives. However, there were many Cameroonians who had great doubts about its implementation. In May 2013, we received the sponsoring of our Ministry of Culture and Arts. This sponsoring brought us a lot of visibility abroad and around our country. Then we started receiving our first funds which allowed us to effectively open the studio in December 2013.

There is a video which summarizes how the project evolved, for those who want to learn more about they can watch it here.

Yanes: Additionally, what are some unique challenges videogames studios face in Cameroon specifically and generally in Africa?

Kamdom: Videogame studios in Africa have difficulties raising funds, especially countries like Cameroon, where there are few or no venture capitalists. When we launched our project it was not easy to convince potential investors (especially Cameroonians) on the need to create a video game studio. There were many who were skeptical. Thanks to publications in the media, we gained a voice and now it’s getting better and better.

For our special case, we were also faced with training and aligning abilities of the team. There is no specialized school in the field of video games in our country, like in South Africa. It was essential to teach to the designers how to draw on tablets because most of them were drawing their sketches on paper. It was the same for programmers who do not have practical know-how about game programming techniques.

Finally, there are two major challenges which we often faced: power cuts and the digital divide.

Concerning the first point, power cuts, we live in the tropical areas and usually at the beginning of the year, January to February, it is the dry season. The few dams we have can no longer generate a lot of power. As a result, power cuts become recurrent and hindered our activities. For example, during a recent interview on Skype with some journalists we got a power cut.

It was terrible.

For our future project, we will probably use the solar energy.

For the digital divide, internet access is not effective throughout the territory. As a result, there are usually outages, slow network connections, and similar problems. We hope with the advent of the 3G, telecommunications operators will offer good services, which could help us reach our goals without hindrance.

Yanes: A recent game from Kiro’o is Aurion, Legacy of the Kori-Odan. What was the inspiration for creating Aurion, Legacy of the Kori-Odan? On this topic, why did Kiro’o want to make an Action Role Playing Game?

Kamdom: Well first because we are RPG fans. And also because we think they are the kind of games were you can innovate the most. Imagine if you want to make a soccer game and jump into the FIFA vs. PES battlefield. Or another FPS clone of Call of Duty. RPG players are the most open-minded to innovation and new universes. We focused on action because we love it when a game gives you the real sensation that you have to think as a warrior to win, and we tried to offer the ultimate fighting system of an Action RPG in 2D.

Yanes: While Aurion is set on a different planet, is the game’s narrative based on any stories or legends unique to Cameroon?

Kamdom: Like all fantasy work, we invented it by using real myths as raw materials. We discuss the world of Auriona more in a recent Kickstarter update. But we use a lot of very important values in the majority of Africa’s mythology. For example, the belief that the connection with one’s ancestors has an influence on your life is something we put in the game with as an explanation behind the “Aurion” energy.

Yanes: In order to produce Aurion Kiro’o turned to Kickstarter to raise funds, and Kickstarter campaigns tend to be a demanding experience. Can you share what you have learned about turning to Kickstarter?

Kamdom: Hum, our campaign will end on 20 October, 2015. After that, we will brainstorm in order to evaluate it. Presently, I can’t say with accuracy if the Kickstarter is a great and rich experience, but it does have a lot of suspense and surprises.

img_011However, we know are will still be learning more about how to bring a Kickstarter campaign to a successful end and how to communicate about, well after its end. I can recommend Kickstarter to everyone who wants to get funds for their own project.

Yanes: Overall, what are your long term goals for Aurion? Would you like to see it turned into a movie?

Kamdom: Aurion turned into a movie? Why not? We are planning to finish the Saga of The Kori-Odan in two or three games depending on the public’s react on the first one and to create others games based on this universe.

Another goal we have is to expand our activities by creating new videogames for PCs and consoles, as well as comics books, cartoons, movies, etc. We notice that all these goals depend on the success of our first installment of Aurion.

Yanes: Additionally, what are some long term goals Kiro’o Games has outside of Aurion? Do you have any other projects that people should look forward to?

Kamdom: Our biggest long term goal as Kiro’o Games is to become a publisher in our continent in order to organize the game market. It will be a great benefit for all our economies, for all the gamers in Africa, and the world. We dream about this daily. We are working hard and hope it can be done.

Actually, Aurion is the only project we have and it had been under creation for twelve years. (We talk about this journey in this video.) We just want to release this first game, and observe how the market reacts before launching a new project.

Yanes: Finally, with the videogame industry in Africa growing, what should people outside of the continent know about the African gaming industry?

img_002Kamdom: The video game industry on the continent is on the right path. In 2013, the market was estimated at almost $300 million (source). The video game industry is growing gradually, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries (Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, etc.). However, we need to attain a number of objectives to expect more efficient results. These objectives being:

  • Diversify the industry: Most African studios develop games for mobile and tablets. We hope to provide a breath of fresh air to this industry with our African-Fantasy RPG game and would like other developers to follow our steps. The more we create games on PC or consoles, the more competitive we will be around the whole world, and the consumer market will expand in size.
  • Organize the distribution sector: We want Africa to join the global consumer market (which is not yet the case). To do so, there must be a well-established distribution channel to organize activities and manage sales.
  • Cooperate with players: Through meetings, regional events, etc. We will be able to discuss issues related to video games in Africa and propose solutions. A demo of Aurion was recently shown to MAZE 2015 a gaming Festival which took place in South Africa (also in Germany). It gave us visibility and there are some South Africans game developers who support us a lot on our Kickstarter. The English-speaking part of Africa with studios in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, etc. is the most advanced in the industry. However, evolving separately will not make us progress quickly. It is therefore important that we cooperate, to give the African video game industry a prominent place in the world.

Remember, you can learn more about Kiro’o Games by visiting their homepage and following them on twitter at @KIROOGames.

Remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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