Lakunle Ogungbamila is a man with a dream. He is CEO of Lagos based gaming company Kuluya Ltd. His company has developed more than 50 games, all of them free to play on the internet from their website www.kuluya.com. The company made up of graphic artists, animators and designers are also working on mobile versions of their most popular games. The games all have recognizable African themes and names like Malaria, Bushmeat, Monkey Run and Zulu. They pose a series of challenges that players need to overcome to win. The young budding internet enterpreneur, a computer graduate has some amazing insights into how Africa should and must join the internet business revolution. He Spoke to Ange Ngu Thomas.
Q Why did you decide to begin developing games of all things?
It came from the realization that we like to think that there are three pillars of entertainment. You have movies, you have music and you have games. In Africa, you have movies covered by Nollywood, Gollywood, etc. There are many movies coming out of Africa to critical acclaim. You also have music coming out of Africa that is also doing very well. You have power houses for this in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. When it comes to games, nobody has developed games for Africans following African experiences. If you look at games developed so far, they are mainly developed for western consumption. The protagonists and antagonist are always western, the main characters are always western. The story is always western. So we said its a big market, nobody is doing that in Africa yet. So we decided to start developing stories around our African experinces and so far it’s been good. The main focus is to develop games for Africa with African themes, African stories so that you can use the games to sell Africa.
Q Africa presently has a myriad of problems from wars to famine to diseases. Why did you decide to get into something that will instead make people laugh or relax instead of providing something that could address some of these problems?
All the stories you hear about Africa are negative. Noboddy focuses on the positive aspects of Africa. We believe that there are positive things coming out of the continent and it is time to project that. If you talk only about the negative things about Africa, it will only re-inforce the negative feelings that the continent is a dead hole. We need to start showing the positive things about Africa to people out of the continent. We are just balancing the negative perceptions that people have about the continent with more positive things.
Q What are the major themes that you handle in your games?
Right now the games are really centred around ideas that are peculiar to Africa. I will just mention three. We have a game that is titled Zulu. Zulu is a warrior from South Africa. We developed a game around him that is apart from telling an African story, is also entertaining. We created an under-world where he operates and added some mysticism peculiar to Africa. Also, there is another game there known as Okada. Okada is very peculiar in Nigeria. Anybody who has been to Nigeria knows what an Okada is. They are bikes people use for transportation in Nigeria and some other African countries. Again, Africans are very spiritual. We therefore designed a game known as Obanje. Obanje is a spirit child. We placed the setting in a beautiful rain forest. These themes are peculiar to Africa and that is what our games are about. To get Africans to play this games, we need to make them interact with things that are familiar to them.
Q Africa has problems with internet connections, few people have desks and laptops and a lot of other internet related infrastructures. How do you develop games that people in Africa can still access easily?
We make sure our games are small enough for the worst internet connection to be able to download. We know internet connection is an issue. We try to optimize our games and make them simple for people to access them. We know most people are not online. Most internet penetration you have in Africa is for mobile phones. We are now trying to develop mobile versions of our games. When we notice a particular game is very popular online, we develop mobile versions that anybody with a good mobile phone can access. We are aware of the infrastructural problems acrooss Africa and we are trying to work around that.
The Kuluya team
Q Which are the most popular games that you have?
A lot of people love our game known as bushmeat. Okada is another popular game. Maochi, another game that involves shooting arrows that is quite popular in Ethopia and Nigeria. These are the games we are now developing for mobiles so that more people can access them.
Q What demographic figures do you have? Who are those playing the games in Africa and do you have players from out of Africa?
In terms of visitors, most are located in five African countries mainly Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya and Ethopia. We don’t have a lot of players out of Africa because we haven’t started directing any type of marketing there. We want to first develop the African market before we go abroad. We have to restrict our marketing to Africa for financial reasons. Our over-all goal is to go abroad but we will do that later. We get an average of one hundred thousand visitors a month.
Q How much does it take to play the game?
The games are completely free at the moment. You dont even have to register. You just need to go to our website www.kuluya.com to play. We want as many people as possible to play the games. We could change that in the future but for now, the games are free
Q So how do you make your money?
Obviously, we are not making so much money in terms of covering our cost. However, we are making some revenue. We make money from advertisements inside the games. We have also started developing games for some clients and brands in Nigeria. Obviously, we still have a game plan for revenue generation which we will roll out in the next two months. We will be publsihing a new version of the website which will generate revenue. I can’t let the cat out of the bag for now. People will see the changes when they happen
Q Describe the games and how they work for someone who has never heard about your company
Most of the games involves moving your mouse around. You can play them without exerting a lot of mental energy. Some involve using the control key on your keyboard to move and sometimes avoid obstacles. In our Okada game, you need to use the mouse to drive around obstacles on the road like vehicles and other things. We try and make the games as simple as possible for the players
Q Getting 100.000 visitors a month is a fairly good site visitor figure. What type of feedback have you been getting from players since you went live?
The feedback has been great. If you look at our facebook page, you can see a lot of positive feedback. A lot of people are also telling us how the games are changing thier perceptions of Africa. Some people don’t believe and ask if we are in the US or UK . When we tell them we are based in Lagos, they are really surprised because they did not believe such a company could exist in Nigeria. In terms of acceptance, it has been overwhelming. We get people calling us every day wanting to be partners.
Q What does it take to be a successful online enterpreneur in Africa?
It takes perseverance. In Europe and US, the challenges you face are just a tenth of the challenges we face in Nigeria or anywhere in Africa. Apart from trying to make your business work, you have to try to consider other environmental factors like power and skills. If you are an online enterpreneur in a country where the internet is not so good or expensive, you understand how much of an uphill task that can be. Its hard but you have to persevere because Africa is the next big thing in the internet space. We are still very very green. A lot of western financiers are beginning to see value in this. A lot of people in Africa are now getting into the idea of doing business online. Its very challenging but also very rewarding
Q Nigeria has problems with power, paying for goods and services through the internet is a problem. If you decide to start charging online, how will you get round these problems that are peculiar to Africa?
It comes back to your business strategy. Africa is a very different terrain from what obtains in the west. What we are trying to do is get a stratefgy that will generate busines that is not being done in the west. Payment will be an issue but we have seen companies doing business with payment online. Some online businesses compliment but we also need to make sure we dont only depend on online payment. Payment will always be an issue but we have generators. The internet has problems but is developning and can only get better. Power is not so good but can also only get better. There are many payment methods in Africa including mobile payments. We will be innovative in getting round these many issues. There are many challenges but there are many opportunities too. There are businesses that have succeeded in Africa online. We want to join those companies that have set the pace for online marketing in Africa
Q As CEO of Kuluya, how does your average 24 hours look like?
I wake up in the morning and I am in the office by 7 am. I go home at 8 pm but it dosen’t stop there. In every twenty four hours, I am working on something Kuluya related. So it dosen’t stop, every single minute either on the bed or in the office, I am working.
Q That sounds like a recipe for a marital breakdown. Are you married with children, how do you manage all that?
I am happily married with a son . Its hard but then my wife understands. She knows and understands my vision, passion and drive. That is how it is for everybody who works with us. Mine includes taking work back home.
Q What advice will you give to others who will want to follow your example across Africa?
The most important thing is to have a dream, work out how you can achieve that dream , then cut up and burn the bridges behind you and just go on. I have noticed over time that if you have too many options that are competing with your dreams, you end up not following your dreams. You are always going to be second guesising yourself. Be clear about what your dream is, cut off all other options and focus. Have passion and following your dream, stay true to the dream.
Q Your educational background
I studied computer sciences and economics at Obafemi University in Ife Nigerai. After I finished school, I worked with United Bank for Africa implementing their web strategy for three years. I then joined Iroko partners for a year before we created Kuluya. I have also done other jobs in between.