Over the last 40 years, video games have evolved to become one of the biggest and most popular entertainment sectors in the world. From its roots in video arcade machines to becoming a niche hobby as personal computers became mainstream, video gaming is now a multi-billion dollar industry, riding off the development of and propelled by new technologies, gaming-oriented hardware, and high-speed Internet access.

By Gavin Lingenfelder, head of hosted technologies at Seacom

There are always new frontiers being explored in this sector. We see this in discussions surrounding the so-called “metaverse” and the connection between video games and new technologies such as blockchain. But there is more to this as video gaming begins to fully establish itself in South Africa, and institutions and service providers embrace it.

There are opportunities for games to promote new skills, entrepreneurship, economic growth, and infrastructural development. How we approach these opportunities, and knowing what resources and tools we need, is the first step to reaching them.

The power of the cloud

In its early days, video gaming was primarily a solo experience or that of a small group clustered around a console or arcade machine. But with the proliferation of the Internet, online multiplayer has come to represent a cornerstone of that experience, and now plays a role in all forms of gaming, ranging from console to mobile.

The late 2000s marked a turning point for the medium with the arrival of cloud gaming. Thanks to the cloud, gamers could stream and enjoy their favourite titles on their devices via low-latency Internet connectivity, similar to a video streaming service or remote desktop application. It is a straightforward premise that benefits the consumer by eliminating hardware constraints and opening the door to a new level of accessibility.

Today, many of the industry’s biggest players offer cloud gaming platforms such as Google Stadia and PlayStation Now, while cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure and AWS offer businesses the fundamental tools and space they need to facilitate their projects. Cloud gaming represents a paradigm shift when it comes to accessibility, but there are also social and economic possibilities to consider, especially in the case of developing nations like South Africa.

Local flavours of gaming

Even though the region is traditionally overlooked by the global gaming and investment community, the number of sub-Saharan African gamers increased substantially between 2015 and 2021, with mobile gaming accounting for much of this growth. South Africa leads the way in the region: revenue from gaming in 2021 was $290-million and 40% of South Africans are reported to play games.

South Africa’s gaming ecosystem is transforming thanks to various initiatives that speak to the community and the potential of the industry. While longstanding stakeholders such as the Cape Town-based studio Free Lives and events such as the annual Africa Games Week continue, schools have begun to invest in dedicated gaming and esports programmes to promote IT and 4IR skillsets, and further integrate technology into existing curriculums.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the Tshimologong Incubation Hub at the University of the Witwatersrand offer support for gaming start-ups who are taking advantage of the local industry’s growth.

Whether it’s in sales, development, coding, or becoming the next esports champion, these kinds of programmes have the potential to give way to new careers and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people. All of these examples are the petals of a blossoming ecosystem, and there is real incentive to discuss what we need to properly underpin it.

The infrastructure we need to start playing

The current conversations surrounding the concept of the “metaverse” (a digital and interactive landscape propelled by automation and extended reality (XR) technologies), have been assisted by the role that video games play in community-driven projects and the domains in which users will conduct their online activities.

Regardless of what the future ultimately ends up looking like, video games as a sector, and the infrastructural solutions that form their bedrock, are worth exploring in this new digital age.

At the heart of gaming sits the ability to host and transmit data. Whether computational capacity is located on-site or in the cloud, businesses can lay the foundations with enterprise-level solutions that give them the storage and processing power they need. At the same time, companies that are looking to host video gamers and offer facilities stand to benefit from fibre connectivity, as the ideal experience is one of low latency, low packet loss, and high bandwidth.

All of this is in the name of a smooth and seamless experience. Quality infrastructure equals quality performance – something that remains a challenge for the South African ecosystem. But by working with trusted suppliers and operators, and with the support of the community, companies can invest in the right solutions that take their games and gaming to the next level.