Gaming and Mobile Drive Internet Usage in South Africa

In many ways, South Africa is an interesting kettle of fish when it comes to internet penetration. It has a huge mobile market, and it's mobile that's become the main player in bringing internet access to the public. But what's also quite interesting is that gaming is growing at an exponential rate.

Mobile’s role was clarified in research conducted by World Wide Worx towards the end of 2012, which found that broadband access had doubled in two years. From 2010 to 2012, broadband subscriptions grew from 3.6 million to 8.2 million, up 128%,  says the research organisation's report, entitled Internet Access in 2012.

“The migration from fixed-line to mobile represents a profound shift in the way South Africans consume content,” says Justin Zehmke, Executive Producer of howzit MSN at the World Wide Worx website.

“The 9-to-5 internet peak, along with the traditional desktop publishing and advertising model that has become the South African standard, will become increasingly irrelevant. Coupled with the availability of cheaper mobile devices, this presents an opportunity for smaller publishing and tech companies to enter a market traditionally dominated by a few major players.”

The findings show that fixed-line subscriptions are now outnumbered eight to one by mobile subscriptions. This results in a total 15.8% broadband penetration.

But now let's fast forward to July 2013. Arthur Goldstuck, founder of World Wide Worx, showcases another interesting trend in South Africa. In an article on the Gadget personal technology site, Goldstuck has looked at Mastercard's Online Shopping Survey report and has noted that the biggest growth trends when it comes to online spending in the country revolve around “products or services in online or virtual worlds”.

“This refers specifically to buying and downloading online games and purchases made within the games,” Goldstuck says. “It is these in-game purchases, for example, that are driving the massive revenues reported by the Chinese online portal Tencent, part-owned by South African media company Naspers. In the group’s annual results announced recently, it reported that Tencent and Russian portal had contributed 7.9 billion Rand ($800m) to the group’s 50 billion Rand ($5.8bn) revenue.”

No doubt, with internet penetration increasing in South Africa on a mobile front, most of these game purchases are more than likely what the game industry calls “social” or “casual games” – such as the well-known Angry Birds franchise. But despite the fall of fixed-line subscriptions, gaming that traditionally takes place on fixed lines is growing in South Africa in a big way.

This can be seen by the phenomenal increase of the South African eSport community. eSports (Electronic Sports), otherwise known as competitive gaming, is one of the world's fastest growing sports. In South Africa, the country's largest online league, the Telkom Do Gaming League (DGL) grew by 66% at the beginning of 2013 to boast over 4,000 entries.

On a worldwide eSports scale, it's a notable achievement, as most eSports leagues revolve around continents (North America, Europe, or Asia). For South Africa alone to enjoy such a large numbers of entrants is quite an interesting development.

The DGL operates online all year round and culminates in its Championships at the end of the year, where gamers from all over the country (depending on how they perform in the year) are flown to Johannesburg to compete against each other in a LAN environment.

“Around 600 gamers qualified for last year’s Championships, making it the largest competitive LAN held in South Africa’s gaming history, which saw over half a million rand ($50m) in cash and prizes given away,” says Ricus Groenewald, Telkom Gaming Specialist.

This is interesting, given that the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC), an international event, sees similar numbers. Plus the Telkom DGL runs all year round – according to the DGL, it has 2500 active players competing on a weekly basis. Furthermore, over its mid-term break, registrations into its Winter Leg for Dota 2, one of the games it supports, may have even exceeded any other Dota 2 league in the world, with 151 teams registered.

With a lot of positive noise happening around fibre, and costs of broadband access in South Africa coming down slowly but surely, it will be interesting to see where this trend goes. The country is still a long way from seeing fibre to the home, but there have been some wonderful in-roads to getting fibre to business. Vodacom has said, via its head of data Jannie van Zyl, that it will roll out fibre services to business parks within its current financial year. From there, it will look to roll out to gated communities such as estates and complexes, which will be the first step in getting fibre to homes.

That will mean the kettle of fish will once again morph and perhaps fixed-line will become the better option again, as opposed to the current huge mobile uptake South Africa is seeing. And with the trends we see in gaming even at low internet penetration, South Africa might become a pioneer in a very interesting and fast-developing sport in the next few years to come.


Ryan Peter is a South Africa-based journalist who has edited video games site Do Gaming. He has also written books on fantasy, philosophy and theology.


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Ryan Peter

Ryan Peter is a South Africa-based journalist who has edited video games site Do Gaming. He has also written books on fantasy, philosophy and theology.

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