| How they turned their passion for Gaming into a viable and profitable businessBy Joseph Mathai
(Listen to the podcast here)
I’ll tell a story, a story about a little boy. A little boy whose father brought home a computer and he spent hours on that computer playing one of the most fun games. As you may have guessed I was that little boy and in retrospect the "game" was Lotus 1-2-3. I have no idea why I found that particular program interesting enough to be a computer game.
Perhaps it spoke to my passion for video games. Personally I love games the concept of being transported into another world where you can be almost anything is appealing to me. From the good old days with the Sega Mega Drive, Ending Man and Gameboy’s to current day consoles and computers. As I write this am filled with nostalgia from back in the days being caught by parents playing Sonic when I was meant to be “reading”, that was not a fun conversation and one thing that drilled into me is that video games were a waste of time. But the fact is that the gaming industry has grown into almost unstoppable force eclipsing both the movie and music. As of last year the industry was valued at 65 billion dollars it is kind of difficult to dismiss gaming as a waste of time when we are talking about figures like that.
It is this love for games that led me to Nexgen Ltd a video gaming company founded by Nathan Masyuko, Ayub Makimei and Hilary Murugu. I sat down with Nathan and Ayub to talk about their company and all things gaming.
Tell Me about NexGen Ltd?Nathan: NexGen Ltd does video game tournaments & events. We also retail in consumer electronics mainly computer software and hardware. We have a huge following of gamers, so we felt that they needed somewhere they could get PC accessories from dealers they could trust, plus we also build custom machines for clients.
You really have to a genuine love for video games to enter this kind of business. Am curious what is your gaming history?Nathan: From the usual Donkey Kong then I got an original Nintendo in 1994 from my brother who had flown out. Then I got the Sega Mega drive 2 and after that I got the Play Station and I’ve been Play Station all through. I’ve only recently bought a gaming PC. I’ve dubbled in it but nothing hardcore.
Ayub: I started with PC remember GP carting, on windows 3.1 so it just went like that I kept upgrading PC and till now am still a PC gamer. I built my own rig.
How did you guys come up with the idea to form NexGen Ltd?Nathan: We met in high school but then the seeds hadn’t been planted of partnering up and working together we just knew each other from church retreats. Years later we bumped into each other I was working in a working in company that used to do VOIP telecommunications. I used work the night shifts and it was really boring and he worked in a video library so he would bring me movies. We started talking about our dreams. He wanted to go into computer retail and I dreamt starting a gaming centre where people could come play games and pay cybercaf rates. This was in 2006. Ayub loved the idea and we decided to merge the two. So when my contract ended in 2007 I didn’t renew it, we registered NexGen Ltd and begun the process of trying to convince Kenyans that gaming is a noble, viable & respectable business.
Yes I can imagine that was not easy. What kind of reaction did you get when you first approached potential investors?Ayub: The first 3 years were hectic. Nobody could see the viability and we were the only gaming company struggling to make it out there, we’d go to all these companies and tell them this is a viable business capable of working and bringing in revenue, but no one was interested.
Nathan: Our business model was different from others. Most people work save up money and start the business in a small cubicle. If you want to build KICC you have to you have to have proper foundations. But to build a kiosk you don’t even need to lay out a foundation. We took it upon ourselves to develop the industry and you can’t do that working out of a stall. In my head we would still be stuck on food, shelter, clothing and two machines which wasn’t viable for expansion. So we decided to draw up a nice business plan and went knocking on doors. We discovered that people who call themselves investors & VC’s don’t venture into start ups. They invest in companies that have been running for more than 6 months to a year and have financial records which is a catch twenty two because you need money to start your business. But for us proof of concept has been in the last two to three years.
Ayub: In 2009 when we did the WCG games.
Yep the World Cyber Games tell me how you got involved in that?Nathan: In January 2009 Hilary sent me a link to the WSG. I looked at it and thought food, clothing, shelter we need to sort to sort those out first so I ignored it. In June Chora Bizna begun and my brother told me we need to come up with an idea. So I went online and stumbled on WCG again and decided to send them an email I really had nothing to lose. Shockingly they responded with a list of requirements. We worked hard borrowed money and time was running out but we managed to organise two events at the Village Market. Unfortunately one week to our departure date one of our financial backers pulled out. We were heartbroken but we kept on pushing. One of our players his father was in the sports ministry we tried that route but got the usual government bureaucracy. We finally pulled resources and managed to send myself and another player.
How was that experience?Nathan: That changed our perspective on gaming. It was like going to the Mecca of gaming. There were over 60 countries represented and over 600 representatives, 80,000 people attended over 5 days. We were the 5th African country to take part. It was interesting to see people carrying there guitar heroes from home and key boards ready to play games. With companies such as Samsung, Microsoft, AMD, Razor, and Intel all there to display there products and they don’t cut any costs. It was amazing and well organized.
So you are back from the WCG how did participating in the games change your company?Ayub: It galvanized our company, we now had a better vision. We adjusted our scope since trying to get investors wasn’t working. So that’s how we got into events plus we also begun to plan for servers though we still haven’t gotten the space. At that time there was no gaming centre in Kenya. Now that’s changed with new companies coming up and expanding.
That leads us neatly into your events planning tell me about your LAN parties?Ayub: They are our most popular events. Gamers love to show of their rigs, we’ve never really had a LAN party for consoles because of the added costs of providing televisions.
Nathan: What we do instead is host the virtual FIFA championship series at K1. We’ve done 8 this year and remember we are doing this simply out of passion.
Ayub: But the LAN bashes are the most popular with several guys showing up and we love the response. VFC’s do maybe 100-200 but the LAN parties exceed 200-300.
Nathan: You just apply and we make space for you. The LAN parties are more of a social gathering than a competitive one. There is that competitive edge where you get to see the top tier of the Kenyan gaming world. But there is also the communal thing where you have free for alls in games like Call Of Duty with everyone running around pulling all nighters. People are friendly and it’s a great atmosphere.
Ayub: It’s a small community compared to other events. Our first parties had 10-15 PC’s maximum where we used to squeeze into a small house everyone knew everyone, but now people come because of word of mouth and it’s a Nexgen event especially the ones at the ihub.
How is business doing from a perspective LAN parties & selling products?Nathan: For us we haven’t broken the glass ceiling because of our capacity. We’re still working from job to job. We’ve had to sacrifice in order to invest in this dream plus I do this because I wish it was something that someone else would have done. Provided me with a place to go and play games and enjoy it properly. On our part competition is great we proved to everyone that this gaming market is viable.
Ayub: What I enjoy now is that we don’t need a proof concept anymore. Our company makes money, our competitors make money. The more people who are involved in the market the more money it creates for all of us because we were the first like Safaricom. So now when we approach an investor they now know about gaming.
Switching gears a little you are also involved in Afroes Company Ltd that develops mobile games, tell me about that?Nathan: I met Ann Githuku Shogwe the C.E.O. of Afroes in December 2010 her cousin and I used to go to school together. She formed the company after working for the UN for over 15 years. I had no experience in developing games but I got there because I was the only one dealing with gaming. Personally I always wanted to try it so I contributed with the game design writing (scripting). We put together a small team and developed a game released in May and launched in July called Haki! It’s an environmental rights game. Haki! Shield and Defender.
It’s like Mario you play from left to right fighting evil guys from cutting down your trees. We’ve won a couple of awards. A Tanda grant for it this year and an award at the World Summit Youth Awards. I flew to Montreal to collect the award. It was great with different competitors developing apps and other tools promoting social change. We actually won for two awards Haki and Moraba which is based on gender based violence. It’s short for Morabaraba a board game played in South Africa nicknamed Zulu chess I tend to think of it like tick tack toe. It’s a very interesting game. So you answer questions about relationships and gender issues like rape. We work with partners to fund the games so that they are free.
Where are the games available?Champ chase is available on our site afros.com it’s on children protection rights. We even disseminate child protection hotlines. Moraba can be found on techjam. Haki can be found on the Ovi or android store.
Now one of the most hotly debated questions among gamers PC or console?Ayub: Am a PC gamer when it comes to gaming I think it’s about where you started. I can use a console quite well but my heart got hooked to PC. With the PC I can switch video cards. I like that whole concept of changing. Consoles take long to change their innards. One console takes about 5 years before it’s replaced. I love some of the console games though am usually extremely happy when they come to PC.
Nathan: I am console gamer but my personal pledge is to learn both and enjoy them because gaming is gaming. When it comes to argument of PC versus console its where your heart lies. Whether the smoke looks more realistic on this machine than the other one, am more for the storyline. Gaming is gaming it’s just about the medium you and your dexterity while using whichever machine. The points raised by both sides are valid. It’s better to have a better graphics card when playing some games. But I like console games because the games are standard. You leave you’re pals place beating him up in PS you go home and the game is still the same. I like the standardization. PC gaming though is more fun because you are allowed to do more. There are more patches and extras but consoles are getting more interactive.
Favourite titles this year?Nathan: It was uncharted 3. They took Tomb Raider and took it to the level it should have been. It’s a fun game to play and has that story element. I am into stories, in Uncharted you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over plus they just throw you into ridiculous circumstance. Ohhh and Batman Arkham city. This is the first time I’ve felt like Batman it was gritty and they use the voice actors from the cartoons. They build you a city and you have the freedom, I like those games whatever you think you can do. I can’t wait for Grand Theft Auto I think that’s where my life savings will go. Anyone who needs to play some good games I recommend those ones.
Ayub: Hmmm... Tough question am not really a FIFA fun am not used to the concept of controlling people so I don’t even play strategy games that much. I would say this year it's mass effect. Am playing 1 to 3.