Y'know Zapiro, that political cartoonist who's probably the most-hated man in ANC's world? Well, he's making a mobile game. Or, more accurately, his digital publishing company have decided that Facebook and Twitter pages aren't enough and that they should extend the Zapiro brand by pushing out a few more digital products with Zapiro's name on them. First on the list is Zafari, a mobile god-game where players get to interact with Zapiro's beloved characters. The game has been conceptualised, and its creators are turning to South Africa's new crowdfunding platform - StartMe.co.za - to get the game funded.
I unfortunately wasn't able to catch up with Zapiro himself, but the questions I sent through for the cartoonist were picked up and answered by Zapiro's Digital Product Developer Richard Hainebach - the man who developed Zapiro.com and associated social network pages.
What's your videogaming history - do you consider yourself a gamer, and if so, what are some of your favourite videogames?
I do not see myself as a gamer at all. I am a digital product developer.
Background to the Game: In 2010, I (together with Zapiro) developed and launched the Zapiro.com, Zapiro on Twitter and the Zapiro Facebook fan club. All of these sites have become very popular. Readership on all of these sites have grown exponentially. Last year, we (This is being done through a company called Berg + Bach - www.berg-bach.com) decided that we had to go further and start developing a number of digital products including a mobile game. As we had no experience in his area, we approached a Cape Town based animation and development studio called Sea Monster and Brendan McNulty to help us with the idea as they previously were developing something similar for Dstv until Dstv got cold feet. We did n't want to produce any game, we wanted to produce something special, where people have the ability to interact with Zapiro's caricatures in a fresh way: instead of just reading and interpreting them. We wanted to provide a platform so that they can play with the elements of South African culture, and not merely complain about them. This has resulted in a homegrown game that people can relate to in a very personal way. In the game players will be able to chose between going down the high road and be morally responsible or the low road of greed and self-enrichment.
Are you hoping the game will make South African politics more accessible to the masses, or will you be happy if it's just a fun excursion?
Its horses for courses. - There are those who will just enjoy it - ie a fun excursion but there are others that will see it as a game involving South African politics and we hope it will stimulate debate and make people aware.
What are your thoughts on crowdsourcing, the StartMe platform, and how it can help aspiring South African creators?
Developing such a game requires resources, we ourselves at Zapiro.com, Zapiro studios and at Sea Monster have put in a lot of ime to get the concept right, but now we have pay animators to start implementing these ideas. Startme was one idea of getting some form of funding. Many people including decision makers at large corporations like the idea of the game but are scared to support it openly due to fear of losing business with government. We are therefore compelled to go the crowdsourcing route.
As of writing, the game has netted R355 of its R250,000 target - the same sum it had when I first looked at the page on Friday 19th April. For a game that's developing with the involvement of such an iconic public figure, I'd have expected more - more interest, more chatter, more funding. So why is it so low? If you look through StartMe's projects (there aren't many of them - a mere 46, enough to fit on three pages) you'll see that very few of them have any funding at all and even fewer were funded successfully - most of them elapse their allotted time at 0% funded. Their Facebook page has 10k followers; 6k on their Twitter page; and that seems like a lot - until you consider that the population of Cape Town in 2007 was 3.5 million.
The gentleman running the show on Zafari's StartMe project page, afore mentioned Brendan McNulty, was kind enough to set some time aside to answer a few questions about the project.
Are you directing the game at any particular audience, or are you hoping it will be picked up by young and old alike, regardless of political slant or lifestyle?
No particular audience, South Africans and expats with smart phones
What was your motive in choosing StartMe as your crowd-sourcing platform, instead of going with more popular platforms like IndieGoGo - or doing what other locals have done, and using an American or UK bank account for a campaign on Kickstarter?
We're evaluating using a Kickstarter in addition to the Startme platform. Startme is good because its more cost effective, can use local currency and is local.
South Africa has a dubious economy right now - do you think there's enough 'free money' floating around to make crowd-sourcing a viable venture?
We're not looking for huge amounts, and there are some enticing options for the higher tiers (tea with Zapiro, signed prints of his work etc). We believe that it should be fundable.
For prospective project creators - I know it's early days yet, but how has your experience with StartMe been so far?
Startme has been great, they have collabarated well with us, and given us lots of support.
Why mobile? If the money was there, would you consider other platforms, or is this a design choice?
We'd love to do a number of platforms, but mobile is a widespread platform within SA. Especially with the game we've created it fits well with the abilities of mobile and tablets
The project page mentions Pocket Gods - are there any other influences nudging the game's design?
Pocket Gods is the biggest influence, we've got a few mini-games in there, so things like Digger and Angry Birds you'll also see referenced
According to their Facebook page, StartMe was founded in 2009 - but the oldest project on their website is from June 2012. Let's assume the latest date to be a more accurate representation of how long the site's been live; that's almost a year, and yet there are only 46 projects across the site of which only seven have been successful.
Of course it's mostly the responsibility of the project owners to assure good coverage of their projects on their own social networks, to drum up activity, get interviews, give press releases - but when you look at huge crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, there's no doubt that at least some of the limelight comes from the platforms themselves. In May last year, Kickstarter had over 2M backers. That's a pool of two million people who are using kickstarter and will potentially see your project when searching through active KS projects. Although Kickstarter requires either a UK or US bank account to use, it DOES have local South African projects who've found a way to work with those restrictions - and IndieGoGo is available here in SA with a South African bank account.
Supporting local initiatives is all well and good, but when you're thinking about your business - and from Hainebach's responses to my questions, Zafari is quite clearly a business venture - you absolutely need to consider your options from a financial perspective, and I just can't see StartMe working out as well as the crowdfunding monsters Kickstarter and IndieGoGO that are both viable options. This begs the question though - why isn't StartMe more popular? The fact that there exist Kickstarter campaigns created by South Africans - quite a few, and with greater success than those on StartMe - shows that there is a market for crowdfunding in SA. But maybe there's just not enough disposable income in the country for a purely South African platform? Or is it simply that StartMe is badly marketed? Maybe crowdfunding isn't a well understood concept in SA and people approach it with a degree of cynicism - or not at all? Either way, it's not looking good for Zafari. Still, there are (as of writing) 49 days remaining - and stranger things have happened, and hopefully the upcoming Zafari on Kickstarter campaign will be more fruitful for the team.
/ MWEB Gamezone Twitter
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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd