[rAge2016] Michael James on the SA gaming space

Throngs of gaming, gadget and tech enthusiasts descended on GrandWest Casino this past weekend for the very first Cape Town leg of the much-loved rAge 2016 - that's the 'really awesome Gaming expo' to the uninitiated. In-between the madness we managed to sit down with Michael James, senior project manager for rAge, to discuss the present and future of SA gaming, and the role rAge plays in its development.

BizcommunityGive us some insight into the local gaming industry. How does it compare globally?

Michael James: The defining thing about the local gaming industry is that it’s smaller. We’re not selling hundreds and thousands of units in South Africa, so getting international exhibitors out here and getting them to take our territory seriously is quite a challenge. But the quality on display at rAge means that when developers, or those running distribution companies, do attend the show they can see this is a serious market and there’s loads of enthusiasm and energy present. This helps grow business.

The base is quite small at the moment, but as this country develops, more and more people will start getting better jobs and the demographic will widen to include all communities; then I think we’ll have more people buying games in this country. The future is looking good.

BizcommunityWhat about local exhibitors? Did they need convincing to come on board?

James: We had quite a challenge getting people to bite in Cape Town. I’m not really sure why they didn’t know or believe in what we were doing. I would have thought going in that I would be able to snap my fingers and everybody would come running. Some of them did because they know the show and they believe in the products and the brand. But some I had to convince, make plans for and do deals with.

Ultimately my goal is to make sure that those visiting the expo are having the best experience possible and in order to do that we need a lot of diversity on offer. It’s a challenge throwing a cool show together, and of course it’s always only half as good as I wanted it to be. So next year I think we’ll have a lot more, and bigger and better.

BizcommunityCan you elaborate on some of the challenges and opportunities game developers face in South Africa?

James: In terms of the disadvantages in this country we just don’t have many game developers that have been having much success overseas. There are some - like Broforce and Stasis - but we’re not really the go-to country for development. Opportunities are that we have such a diverse culture and such interesting people with great imagination. I think there's opportunity in putting games out into the world that nobody’s ever thought about or seen before. It’s just tapping into it that’s the trick.

We have an initiative called the NAG Jam where we drop a topic on the Friday at 7pm - this year's topic was ‘Down but not out’ - and then budding developers have until the Sunday 7pm to produce a game and submit it to us. We have seven entries from that coding jam and those seven games are on the rAge showroom floor. Through initiatives like this we’re trying to build gaming development in the country. A bunch of guys could be making a game one weekend and the next they could be at rAge showing it off to the public.

BizcommunityWhat are some of the other features at rAge aimed at boosting local industry?

James: Besides just having an expo full of cool gaming attractions for people to experience and thereby growing gaming as a whole, there's the first NAG LAN we’ve done in Cape Town. This is also thanks to Internet Solutions, HP and Intel who provided the equipment and the bigger internet connection to make it work. We’ve also got HWBOT on the showfloor. That is a seven city, five continent overclocking competition tour. We’re the second stop on the world tour and it wraps up in Germany. So it’s an international competition taking place in South Africa, which generates a lot of interest. They’re also offering overclocking workshops for the general public.

Then we’ve got eSports. There’s an ASTRO gaming cup - that’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III. There’s the Telkom Digital Gaming League (DGL) event, where clans in booths on stage fight against each other. eSports is going to be taking over quickly. DSTV screened eSports a couple of weeks ago for the first time, which is quite significant.

I think eSports is something that’s going to keep growing, and that’ll get sponsors talking about gaming, more people watching gaming, and hopefully Mom and Dad can understand why their kid is so interested in it. Getting buy-in from the parents is important. We’ve added all these little things to the show and hopefully it’ll grow the industry and the platform of gaming and geekdom in the country.

BizcommunityAre you a gamer yourself?

James: Yes, I have been pretty much my whole life. When I was really young I was one of two people in my town that had a computer. I was an 11-year-old kid with a strong interest in home computers. My parents were good enough to buy me one so I could start programming, playing games and messing around. That’s where it kind of started and I’ve never gotten rid of that passion.

BizcommunityWhat are you playing at the moment?

James: I’m playing Terraria, Diablo, and Call of Duty. I’m looking forward to playing No Man’s Sky which is coming out quite soon. And then I play a bit of Minecraft every now and again.

BizcommunityWhich event features are you personally most excited about this year?

James: The way eSports is being absorbed by people is fascinating for me. I know what the potential is because I know what's being done overseas, but seeing it in live action here with crowds cheering... it’s become like real sports. And of course I'm excited about all the exhibitors in Cape Town that we’ve never had in Joburg before. It’s nice to meet them and see what their ideas are and hopefully give them more exposure.

BizcommunityHow are you hoping to grow the expo in Cape Town over the next few years?

James: At the moment we’re using all the space available at Grand West. But they'll be extending the expo space, and then hopefully we’ll have the Grand Arena which would be great for eSports with the LAN behind it. Once you fire off a first show, people get to understand it and you have numbers to work with. We can then say "Look, we’ve had this many people and there’ll be more people next year, come and exhibit." That’s our general strategy with growing the show. And of course word of mouth spreads like wonders. People are excited, the kids love it and tell their friends and it just keeps getting bigger all the time.

Michael James stands at the forefront of the fast moving and ever evolving gaming geek culture in South Africa. As a serial entrepreneur in this field, Michael has successfully launched and run the fastest growing expo of its kind in South Africa (rAge) and more recently brought the IGN brand to Africa (IGN Africa). All of this was made possible by using the platform of NAG Magazine that he now publishes each month.

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About Lauren Hartzenberg

Retail editor and lifestyle contributor at Bizcommunity.com. Cape Town apologist. Food fanatic. Dog mom. Get in touch: lauren@bizcommunity.com