Ghanaian computer game developer Eyram Tawia on the impacts of Covid-19 on his business | D+C
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a severe disruption for all economies around the world. But not all entrepreneurs have had only negative experiences. Eyram Tawia, CEO and co-founder of Leti Arts, one of the first companies to develop video games in sub-Saharan Africa, told D+C/E+Z how he and his company are getting along amid the Covid crisis. . Eyram Tawia is based in Accra, Ghana, and his co-founder lives in Nairobi, Kenya.
Where are you currently working?
I am at my office in Accra. I work quite often in the office because we have very good conditions here. I have a fast internet connection, a generator, everything we need. But apart from me, hardly anyone is here. All of my staff are working from home. Everyone is welcome to come to work at the office, but it is not mandatory. If you are able to do your work remotely and deliver, then I’m fine with where you work. But I don’t want to hear that the power was out or there was no internet. If you can’t work properly from home, you need to come to the office.
Is this a new workflow or was it like this before the Covid pandemic?
No, before Corona everyone was working in the office even though we were working remotely with our Kenyan teams. But a lot of things have changed. Overnight, we were forced to work from home. We therefore install the whole team in a virtual environment and we use collaborative and communication tools such as Miroboard, Skype, Discord and Slack. Now all work and communication is done remotely and we have a perfect working environment. In fact, we are even working more efficiently than before the pandemic. We hadn’t been able to monitor people and it was more difficult to monitor them on the spot in some cases. Now all of this is possible. I don’t know why we didn’t work like this earlier, it’s perfect for us. I used to say, God created Covid for the gaming industry! For our industry, it is important that everyone knows how to use a computer. It happened because of Covid. Even my grandmother and my aunts now know about computers and Zoom. For the first time, I played online games with my mother in the village.
But was everything positive for you? Have there been any setbacks in your business?
Oh, yes – there were. At the start of Corona, the first six to seven months, it was really difficult. We generate 90% of our revenue through funding from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We develop games for customers – serious games like health education (as I told you in a previous interview for www.dandc.eu). When Covid-19 started, all of our clients stopped funding. They needed time to restructureure. So it hit us hard. We had to lay off a lot of our employees, we went through hard times of not having any income. So we had to fight, find new businesses. But our customers started coming back and our business normalized again. We were even asked to set up an educational game on Covid behavior. This is a trivia game in the form of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” that we launched on our trivia platform The Hottseat. Players must answer questions about Covid. Now we are completely back to the same level as pre-Corona times and we are growing. We have a core team of 15-20 workers for all projects, full time is around 10. The rest are freelancers and interns joining us.
Have you received Corona support from your government?
Not at all. There were stimulus programs and the government said it had allocated funds for entrepreneurs. I did not apply due to the difficulty of obtaining these funds. My wife, who runs a traditional kente cloth weaving factory and employs 17 weavers, applied twice. She never got an answer.
What else has changed in your business due to the pandemic?
We didn’t know if we should keep our office, because we have a lot of empty space, including a large hall, which we no longer use. But it is always important to have a physical place for personal meetings. And we’ve found a great new purpose for our room. We are in the process of converting it into a training center where we train interns in game development. It’s starting to take off. We even completed our first training with women in animation. We received a small grant from an organization called ScaleUp Africa with MasterCard Foundation. They wanted us to train women because women lack job opportunities and there are very few women in game development and in the tech industry in general.
It looks promising. When we last spoke, you expressed your regret that there is not enough training for game development and IT in Africa. Is this a first step to change things?
Yes, it definitely is. The course was going pretty well. Our approach is that we want to add value to existing skills. For example, if you like to draw pictures, we try to teach you how to create a comic for a video game. If you love programming computers, we show you how to do coding for games. There are many different steps in the process of creating a game.
How did it go with your female trainees?
We had 30 women who applied. 20 of them were active throughout the course and 15 obtained a certificate. Teaching women is the same as teaching men; there is no difference. If a woman is interested in programming, she is good at it, if she is interested in art, she does it. We plan to work with three of the 15 graduates. It’s perfect for us. The idea is that we eat from our own farm. The next course will start in October. So now we are setting up a team of instructors. I did the first lesson myself, but I don’t have time anymore.
Will it again be a women-only training?
I think it will be mixed. But I am tempted to redo a next course only with women. But there are so many more men interested than women. Let me give you an example: when we advertised the first course, we asked women to apply – and yet we had 90% male enrollment. I think one of the reasons is that the game started with male representation. Women often cannot identify with the characters. In most games, women are gendered projections of men. We try not to stereotype our characters. We have women of all different shapes in our gaming universe. But it will take time to change that. And positive affirmation can help. So we are thinking of a scholarship for women.
Besides promoting women, what are your goals?
We want to train as many people as possible in video games. And we want to contribute to the challenge in Africa to create jobs for young people. We want to develop the skills of young people and we try to have partners capable of absorbing the workforce. We also try to establish many different opportunities for players in Africa. We come together under a umbrella named “Pan-African Gaming Group” which is currently made up of 10 gaming studios across Africa with the same vision to transform the gaming industry in Africa. We also want to connect entrepreneurs. We have just officially launched the Gamer`s Association Ghana with around 250 participants in our WhatsApp group.
The main activities of Leti Arts are educational games for NGOs. But you also work on your own computer games like Africa’s Legends, where African superheroes are the main characters. What other games are you planning?
Over the past few months we’ve created a lot of new games, one game is called Puzzle Scout, which is coming out soon. You collect writings across Africa, link them to chapters, and by the end of the game you’ve built a book. As with our Africa’s Legends, we want to share our story. We teach about Ghana, how the British invaded it and how it became independent. Everything we create relates to our original idea of teaching history. For this, we are partnering with one of the great museums in Africa, the Pan African Heritage Museum in Accra which is scheduled to open in 2023. They will be responsible for the historical content. We also have a new game with one of our superheroes, it’s called Karmzah Run and we are updating our African legends. But still, we are looking for a major investor who will finance some of these projects.
Eyram Tawia is CEO and co-founder of Leti Arts.