Teddy Kossoko is a solutions architect from the Central African Republic and founder of Masseka Game Studio, a game design company that develops video games aimed at promoting African culture. A pain point in his effort to showcase African-made games on the world stage has been the traditional app store payment model.
When Kossoko launched Masseka Game Studio in 2018, he initially placed its suite of pan-African games in the Google Play store. Masseka was able to gain around 10,000 users but struggled to earn from its active user base. The games’ customers were primarily located in sub-Saharan Africa and did not have the credit or debit cards necessary to make mobile game purchases through Google Pay.
So the founder decided to develop his own solution — an app tailored to facilitate the payment infrastructure that African developers needed to earn money for their products. He called it the Gara store.
App stores don’t suit African payment methods
A mere 3% of people in sub-Saharan Africa use credit cards for payments. Debit card penetration is also scant at an estimated 18% of the population in the region.
Consumers in sub-Saharan Africa instead rely on cash and mobile money, near-instant payment services offered via mobile devices, to make payments.
Kossoko initially wanted to work with Google to integrate cash and mobile money payments into the Google Play store’s model.
“I went to Google and told them that I could build a system for people in Africa to make mobile game purchases,” Kossoko told DW.
But Google turned down the offer, Kossoko said. “Google told me that if I put this in the Google Play store, they would remove it.”
Developers are restricted from promoting third-party payment technology in games hosted on the Google Play store, according to the company’s Developer Distribution Agreement (DDA).
Google removed popular mobile game Fortnite from the Google Play store in 2020 after its developer, Epic Games, tried to subvert the store’s payment system.
Despite limited payment solutions offered by Google’s proprietary app store, developing with Google comes with tailored support and full access to a suite of easy-to-use software development kits.
Creators that try to circumvent this model risk losing time and money, Kossoko told DW. But he felt it was necessary for the future of his company to develop the Gara store anyway.
How Masseka Game Studio built an Android app store
Kossoko and his team chose to develop an app for Android phones. Android is the dominant mobile operating system used by around 80% of people throughout Africa. The Android system is also easier to subvert than the Apple-run iOS system, according to Kossoko.
“We can’t deploy our platform on Apple products because the system is locked,” he said. “With Android you can do what you want. The limit is your imagination.”
It took four years and more than $1.02 million (€1 million) to develop the Gara store. People were initially doubtful of Kossoko’s ability to build an independent Android app.
“They told me that most of the best developers who can do this kind of stuff are in the US or Asia,” the founder said.
He took some of this advice and hired a technologist from the US, but he also made sure to onboard developers from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin and Cameroon to help others learn about the technology his company was creating.
Help from Amazon Web Services
Masseka Game Studio received additional support from Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon-owned platform that provides cloud computing products to customers.
AWS never gave the studio money directly, but they offered the team resources necessary to grow their store. This included a business developer, access to investors, infrastructure to host their data and two on-call technical support staff.
The final result was the pilot of a functional app store that could facilitate mobile money payments.
In its pilot stage, the Gara store involved 500 content creators who created around 3,000 forms of gaming content. April 1, 2023 is the store’s official launch date.
But even with a tailored solution to fit the African gaming market, Masseka will still have to fight to earn every share of revenue that the Gara store generates.
A half-billion-dollar industry
Masseka Game Studio also offers a revenue-sharing model for creators who develop apps and sell mobile applications within the Gara store.
The company gives 80% of earnings from game sales to content creators. The studio takes 20% and deducts around 5-10% from its own earnings for taxes and operating fees. This means that Gara grosses a mere 10% of total game revenue.
Kossoko says this amount is not enough, but he is willing to take the pay cut.
“We know that we need to give to content creators first to structure the gaming ecosystem,” he said. “Once the ecosystem is solid, we’ll make a lot of money.”
Africa’s mobile gaming market is profitable. Game revenue for mobile games from the top 5 countries in sub-Saharan Africa totaled around $590 million in 2021.
But the lack of tailored solutions to fit the mobile gaming market combined with new entrants into the mobile space can hamper local earnings. Digital service tax burdens may also hinder the growing mobile game market.
Chinese phone makers and Africa’s digital service taxes
Handsets made by Chinese phone makers have flooded the African market. Tecno, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo maintain 34.2% of the mobile vendor market in Africa, and each company has its proprietary app store used to distribute applications.
While Kossoko believes that China’s mobile phone vendors can add healthy competition to the gaming market, they can also outspend growing ventures like his.
“If Huawei came today and said we’ll put in 100,000 times the money that we are to cover the market, we would be invisible,” the founder told DW.
On top of the stronghold that China-made cell phones have on the African cellphone market, developers must also contend with digital service taxes levied by governments in seven African countries.
Kossoko thinks that African governments should let developers generate money first and create jobs before extracting rents from creators.
“Otherwise, it’s going to stop people that want to think about new kinds of business, because they have to think about taxes before developing solutions,” he said.
The future of the Gara store
Despite numerous hurdles, Kossoko is confident about the long-term sustainability of the Gara store and the potential that his company possesses to showcase African culture and history on the world stage.
In one Masseka Game Studio-created adventure called “the Legend of Mulu,” the player goes on a quest through the lens of Mulu, a young girl on a mission to find stolen artifacts in Africa. During the journey, Mulu meets Maasai tribes in Kenya and goes on a marathon with Pygmy people in central Africa.
“The Legend of Mulu” is sprinkled with rich graphics and soundscapes that immerse the player in African culture and history. The founder believes this experience helps users discover the richness of Africa through an authentic lens.
Kossoko says that the ultimate message of Masseka Game Studio and the Gara store is this: “Africa is not a black box. We have lots of things to share with the world.”
Edited by: Benita van Eyssen