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Video games will be fully tailored to tell African stories, says 22 year-old Mekan Games founder

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“Video games will be fully tailored to tell Kenyan stories,” says 22 year old Mekan Games founder, Evans Kiragu.

Kiragu says gaming is getting so popular in Africa and Kenya is one of the key growth markets. TechMoran caught up with Evans Kiragu, the 22-year-old co-founder and CEO of Mekan Games, a game development company based in Nairobi, Kenya to tell us about the future of gaming in Kenya.

Mekan Games is undoubtedly one of the most vocal video game development companies in Kenya and East Africa at large, being able to cause ripples and set the pace in a largely unexplored field in Kenyan tech sector.
See below what Kiragu told us.

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Who is Evans and what drives him?
Well simply put, Evans Kiragu is a 22year old campus student. I love making friends, I
believe I’m funny (maybe), and socially, I’d say I’m an extrovert. However, I also have
an eye for entrepreneurship and I mainly focus on Technology. My drive is to solve the
problems of society though interactive media.
Throughout my educational background, I have always found myself focusing on Tech,
however my official certifications include the degree I am perusing now in Computer
Technology, and certification in Web development, mobile applications development and
USSD that I got earlier before joining campus.

Briefly tell us about the team players under your leadership at Mekan Games. 
The Mekan Games team consists of 4 individuals, who are passionate about tech and the
emerging gaming industry in Kenya and Africa at large. We handle different roles and
tasks, summed up, they are:
– Evans Kiragu: Founder and CEO, lead programmer
– Carren Mwikali: Animator and CFO
– Darin Munene: Lead Design.
– Pauline Waigumo: Design.

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What does Mekan Games do? Which titles have you worked on in the past? How did they
perform? 

Mekan Games generally develops interactive media for the local gamers market. Our focus
as of now is mobile video games. So far, we have been able to release four video games
under Mekan Games. Namely:
1. World Down Under
2. Wings Of Fury
3. Craving Carrots
4. KnockOut 2017

Mekan Games logo

Our best performing video games so far is Wings of Fury, which received over 25,000
downloads from all over the world, shinning a spotlight on the team. Currently we are in the
process of pushing out Knockout 201, which is our latest title, released about 3 months ago.
Focusing on politics and the elections, the video game is doing well in the market, at just a little
over 2500 downloads.

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Video games is a largely unexplored field in Kenya’s tech scene, what was your motivation
for starting the company?

Weirdly, the fact that the industry is unexplored was motivation enough. I had been in the
tech space long enough to see the blow up of other interactive media industries. And so I
had a feeling when starting out that it will happen in the gaming industry too. It is already
happening all around the world, even in Hollywood where gaming is bringing in more
money, compared to movies and music combines. With a global figure of $111 Billion,
the gaming industry captured my attention. And believe me when I say that the local
industry is showing some great potential.

How would you describe the Kenyan market for video games?
I would say the market is very selective. Kenyans are very hard people to please because they are very choosy. A video game seizes to be just entertainment when it comes to Kenya. It
transforms to a tool that can tell Kenyan stories best. And so the local market tends to buy
into games that suit their narrative. Not just any form of entertainment.

Who are your major competitors in this space?
Multiple studios are emerging in Kenya. Examples include Black division games and
Mesmerize games.

What do you do to stand out from your competitors? 
We make games that Kenyans would want to play. It does seem cliché, but trust me,
making a game for the people is not easy. We constantly keep the player in mind before,
during and after development. To us, it is not about making a video game that we would
want to play or deem cool. It is about making a game for the citizens. Other than that, we
make sure that we are consistent in our releases, making sure to release at least one game
a year, could be more, but at least one video game regardless of the odds.

What has been the toughest challenge for Mekan Games since its inception? 
Marketing. For quite some time, the team had amateurs when it came to the business
world. I mean, a group of students who had the skills to develop video games, but zero
skills when it came to the art of selling this form of art to an already tough crowd
(Kenyans). But thorough time and more market research, we have learnt how to get to
our target market not only more quick, but also more effectively given our limited start
up resources.

What has been the toughest challenge for you as an entrepreneur? 
Choosing a team and constantly sticking to your vision as team head, amidst numerous
suggestions and criticism. Well choosing a team is as hard as it gets. I mean, these are
people who are ideally supposed to give their all and not get paid for the effort. They are
supposed to ride on the hope of getting company equity one day one time. it is a tough
one. Adding to that is the constant pressure to take into account all advice from random
people and think them through. As an entrepreneur, it does get to a point where you feel
if you consider all you are being told, you will essentially have a different company. And
so it brings about the hard choices you have to make as to if something is important or
not.

Is there any point during your entrepreneurship journey that you would term as easy or a
walkover?

(Took about 10 min to think about it). No. I don’t think there is. For every step we make
forward, we always have to put in some considerable amount of effort. Either that, or so
much has gone on that I cannot remember the easy times.

Earlier this year you released a title, Knock-out 2017, how was its reception into the
market? Would you care to comment about the irony of a message of peace conveyed in a
fight-like manner?

The reception was great! Never have we made a game that has gotten such a rise in user
update within a short amount of time. That combined with the numerous suggestions
from the market to make is an annual sequel shows it was well received.
We wanted to create a form of media that would show the reality of Kenyan politics.
What do I mean? Well art is but a window to the truth or a perception to one’s opinion of
the truth. With that in mind, we felt that Kenyan politics was all twisted. Kenyan youth
were being used as puppets by the politicians to commit acts of injustice and cause
lawlessness. We felt this was wrong. And so we made a street fighting video game,
having local politicians as the characters. Our aim was to communicate to the youth that,
the same way you control the politicians in the game, is the exact same way that you
should control them in real life. Push them to make positive changes to the society. All in
all, out message is that we are not the puppets, we are the puppeteers.

Mekan Games logo

In your interview at KTN’s Morning Express show, you and your former colleague Mr.
Abdi, expressed skepticism about the role school plays in entrepreneurship, would you
elaborate further on this subject?

Well I believe this can only be explained on a personal level. According to my view,
school is very important to any entrepreneur. Why? Because as an entrepreneur, chances
are your venture will be helping to solve people’s problems. And so, you need to be around these people and interact with them. Basically you need to be on the ground. And
what better place to do this than in school. In addition, school teaches you how things are
already being done, triggering in your mind and alternative of how else they could be
done. And lastly, you need to be around non-entrepreneurs for you to realize that you are
different, and hence cause you to venture out to find out more about yourself.

Where do you think your company will be in the next 5-10 years? 
An African leader when it comes to interactive media. Not only in video games, but also
in related industries such as Augmented reality, Virtual Reality and gamification.

How is your experience at Chandaria Business Incubator at KU? Is there a similar one at
your campus, why did you choose to outsource instead?

Chandaria has given us as a team the space to grow, criticize and feed our ideas. One of
the most important things I as team head am grateful of, is that Chandaria has taught us
how to make our area of interest, a business. Which is very important.
Well yes, JKUAT does have a similar program. However, due to several factors such as
proximity to the CBD, terms of agreement and resource availability made us opt for
Chandaria.

What do you think about the future of the video game sector in Kenya?
I see a future where video games will be fully tailored to tell the stories of Kenya. I see a
future where we will have a big title maybe based on colonization, post-election violence
and other events that unite us as Kenyans.
The video game industry in Kenya is currently valued at a little over $31m. I see a future
where we unlock this potential.

How can one access your video games?
You can access our games though the following links to the google play store:
Wings of Fury
Craving Carrots
Knockout 2017

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