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Conquering Africa's video game market

LAGOS -- It's a common enough scenario in Nigeria and across Africa: how to get rid of pesky mosquitoes whose buzzing disturbs sleep and whose bites can carry malaria and other diseases.

Two Nigerian start-ups have tapped this — and other aspects and quirks of daily life in Africa — to create online and mobile phone video games that are winning fans around the world.

It's easy to see why “Mosquito Smasher” — which has earned comparisons to “Angry Birds,” the worldwide mobile app success of recent years — might be a hit.

The graphics are simple, the aim clear and the reward immediate: squash as many of the blood-sucking parasites as possible under your thumb with a satisfying “Splat!”

Another, the highly popular “Okada Ride,” has players guide a motorcycle-taxi driver around roadside street vendors, road-blocks and police in the notorious traffic of Lagos, a sprawling metropolis of nearly 20 million people.

“What I like about Nigerian video games, it's one: the local content, because it tends to give you that everyday feel,” said Chucks Olloh, 32, a big fan.

“For example the 'Okada' hussle, it tells you how you ride on your bike, trying to avoid so many obstacles on your way home or on your way to work,” said the computer programmer from Lagos.

“Two: it's very simple. All you have to do is to gain as much points as possible and avoid the obstacles.”

An African Flavor

The worldwide video games industry, worth more than US$63 billion in 2012, is expected to reach nearly US$87 billion in 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a recent study.

And while the African market has not figured prominently on the radar of game developers, the founders of Maliyo — the makers of “Mosquito Smasher” and “Okada Ride” — and Kuluya are hoping to change that.

Both firms were launched about 18 months ago and draw inspiration from life in Lagos. Kuluya — “action” in the Igbo language of southern Nigeria — has already created some 70 games.

It hopes to reach one million mobile telephone users by the end of June and has fans well beyond Nigeria's borders.

“In Africa, we have a lot of downloads from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa,” said Lakunle Ogungbamila, who runs Kuluya.

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Nigerian concept developer Adesugba Collyde works on a video game character at Kuluya's office in Lagos, Nigeria on Feb. 25. (AFP)

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