After Joshua Usoro won the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest dance marathon by relay in 2019, he set his eyes on another record of some sort. He was going to make an endless runner game that would rival the Subway Surfers and Temple Runs of this world.
He had tried in 2017 to break the record for the longest dance marathon by an individual but didn’t make it to the finishing line. So he went back to his drawing board and return a winner two years later.
And had started his games studio Blueportal in 2018. He didn’t come from a software background per se. His undergraduate major was in Management Information Systems. But Joshua Usoro had gained hefty experience working as a software developer for years.
So three years ago he got to work. This year he launched Aki and Pawpaw, an endless runner game that is already making waves for heralding a new dispensation in the Nigerian games development arena. “I just knew it was time to solve problems using technology,” he told Technext in a recent interview.
Joshua Usoro is yet to get investors. So far, Blueportal has been bootstrapping, a situation he understands well having been running businesses since he was fifteen. “With my experience, I’ve learnt to grow things from scratch,” he said.
But his decision not to accept investors yet is not because of the lack. The Aki and Pawpaw endless runner has great potential. For starters, it’s fast and mimics Lagos with more familiar sounds and scenes than many of the games that came before it. Plus people are actually playing the game.
“People have offered to buy equity in the company but I’m not ready for that at the moment. The company can fund itself. We just keep exploring and evolving,” he said.
The premise of the game is not different from the famous Aki and Pawpaw film by Nollywood’s early stars, Osita Iheme and Chinedu Ikedieze that it’s based; A picaro is let loose, moves from an agrarian society to a city to destroy and survive. To achieve this, Aki and Pawpaw, the game foregoes the kind of bright colourways in many Nigerian endless runners for subtler shades of browns.
“It was a bit deliberate cause we were trying to achieve the real Aki and Pawpaw movies from back in the day. The local feel and all,” Joshua Usoro said.
Peppered with multiple twists and turns, mostly the types that dominate endless runners, magnets for coins, the occasional faster shoes, jetpacks etc, Aki and Pawpaw also offers motorcycle rides, reminiscent of the okada native to Nigerian roads.
But working on this game in Nigeria for four months straight, especially with less access to tools strikes at why the future of Bluepoprtal as a games studio looks bright to many.
“A lot of work went into it, especially the fact we don’t have 3D environments in the African market. So you have to create everything from scratch. It was challenging, but we enjoyed every bit of the experience and pulled through,”
Joshua Usoro and the gaming business
As a Nigerian games industry insider, Joshua Usoro has seen studios fall and rise in developing countries like Nigeria where they are already too few. He says that a lot of it boils down to a lack of understanding of the business of running a games studio.
“I think, it’s majorly about understanding the business of gaming. Having tech skills is different from running a business. When game developers or studios have a good business skill it’s easier to scale,” Joshua Usoro said.
“I usually say there is no money in gaming but the gaming business, there’s no money in fashion but the fashion business, there’s no money in music but the music business. Whatever you are doing understand the business side of it and every other thing would fall in place,” he added.
He would like to see the government also come in and strengthen the hands of some of these studios with grants and other funds to cover some operational and research costs.
“Just like UAE, how their government has invested a lot in gaming, if the Nigerian government fund gaming studios and provide platforms it will go a long way,” he said.
In the meantime, however, his focus is on building even more products for Blueportal including Mamba, an action game based on true events.
“We are working on a lot,” he said. “Mamba is coming soon. It’s an action-adventure game, based on true events in Nigeria. Other games we will be publishing for game developers. Asides from gaming, we have our software development section. A lot is also coming from there. This year, asides building software for clients, we are building our own products,” he said.
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