Friday, February 29, 2008

History of Gaming in South Africa

Just over a month ago I started writing for a technology based website
So far it has been a very fruitful venture. I'd like to highlight my most popular article from the website.
History of Gaming in South Africa
Before PC fanboys start snarling - this is purely a console only expedition.

In 1972, The first Home gaming console, The Magnavox Odyssey was released in the States.
In 1976, Television was introduced in South Africa

OK. So we missed the first generation of gaming (Game Consoles are broken into 7 chronological generations - I’ll highlight them in this piece)

The second generation, also known as the Atari Generation, started in 1976. Space Invaders, Pong, Pacman and Pitfall pushed the fledgling medium into many homes. But back in South Africa, you had to be an Oppenheimer to get your hands on one.

The third generation introduced gamers to a fat Italian plumber named Mario. Finally, gaming had come to South Africa. The only problem was that most South Africans bought knock offs, instead of the Nintendo Entertainment System. These knock offs (or nes clones), known as Golden China or more simply T.V Games, were extremely popular here, with many gamers owning them along with a variety of compilation cartridges. We all remember blowing the cartridges before inserting them in again. Aah - fond memories (I found six facebook groups dedicated to this activity) Who can forget Super Mario Brothers, Islander, Snow Brothers, Excite Bike. The Sega Master System had a tiny support base, which was reflected in global preference to Nintendo.

This however changed in the fourth generation as South Africans flocked towards Sega's Mega Drive system. Sonic soon replaced Mario as the mascot of choice. This was probably due to a lack of Interest in the African market on Nintendo's behalf. A mistake that Sony would capitalise on when they released the PS1.

Ster Kinekor, the distributors for Playstation in South Africa released the PS1 with virtually no competition. Nintendo's N64 and Sega's Saturn never saw our shores. Those of us who wanted them had to rely on importing them, or getting them from specialist game shops that often charged much more than the market price. Sega didn’t launch the Saturn in South Africa, allowing the Playstation and its successor, the PS2 to have a monopoly control over the South African market for almost a decade.

Riding strong from the success of the PS1, Ster Kinekor and Sony launched the PS2 in South Africa and suddenly, gaming became cool again.(Microsoft didn’t bother to market the original Xbox here, and only Makro and a few other retailers burnt themselves with the Nintendo Gamecube)Sega's Dreamcast wasn’t launched here (some might say thankfully) Even now, as we watch the seventh generation unfold - Sony's PS2 is still shifting machines across the rainbow nation. The sixth Generation came and went and like the generation before, Sony were still the Big dogs in South African gaming.

All this looks to change now, in the seventh generation. Microsoft came in with a bang at the end of September 2006, and since then has slowly built a sizeable fan base with more and more gamers appreciating franchises like Halo, Project Gotham Racing etc. The Xbox 360 launched at the same price in South Africa and the U.K (one of the prime indicators that it was looking to make an impact in the country. The Playstation 3 launched in March last year, with less fanfare than the Xbox ( a few top Billing presenters playing motorstorm doesn’t make for a convincing launch) and a price tag that resembled a down payment on a car as opposed to a new videogame system. Sony it seems, have gotten too comfy at the top and let down their guard. Sony launched the PS3 at R6500 making it wildly inaccessible for most consumers who wanted to upgrade from their PS2's. Then out of nowhere, the Core group got the rights to distribute Nintendo’s revolutionary new console, the Wii. Finally, after three decades, South Africans are now included in the global gaming market like never before. Where to from here? Here's hoping to more 'localisation' in games, and even some South African developers making it in the big leagues.

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