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In Ghana, Leti Arts is the first brick of an African video game industry

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Eyram Tawia, founder of Leti Arts, in Accra in February 2020. DYLAN GAMBA

Access is via an alleyway along Boundary Road, a busy road north of Accra, the capital of Ghana. There, in soulless premises, shared by several companies, Leti Arts intends to make a name for itself in a market where African firms are almost absent: video games. “The name of the company was not chosen at random because Leti means star in ewe [la langue la plus parlée dans l’est du pays], and we want to play a guiding role for this industry on the continent “, says Eyram Tawia, its founder.

Anyone who studied computer science in Kumasi has always been fascinated by American comics and video games and has been playing since childhood. Whether on Mario, Sonic or Street Fighter. Besides, since the 30-something has always been in a hurry, he started making his first 3D animations with barely thirteen blown candles.

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In 2009, he took the plunge and created his Leti Arts business with Wesley Kirinyatwo, a Kenyan, also an independent producer of 3D video games. Thanks to the 100,000 dollars (around 90,000 euros) from the Norwegian foundation Meltwater, he begins the production of his first game on the phone: Iwarrior. “We wanted to anchor history in that of our continent”, recalls the creator, who opted for a hero, the Masai shepherd, who must protect his animals from wild animals.

“Downloaded more than 80,000 times”

This try is a commercial failure. The game, available on multiple download platforms for $ 3 (2.70 euros), has only been downloaded 8,000 times. But for Eyram Tawia, the main thing is elsewhere. “Many articles have been written about our company and this has allowed us to advertise”, says the head of business, at the end of the strategy, aware of the expectation that there is an African development of this sector.

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In 2010, the company leaves Street Soccer and, from 2013, with Africa’s Legends, Leti Arts is really starting to position itself with a product “Downloaded more than 80,000 times, mainly in Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana”, boasts Eyram Tawia. The features ofAfrica’s Legends however remain basic. The combat system is based on minigames, like questions of general knowledge, but “We put forward African heroes and superheroes, people who look like us”.

The designer also believes to be particularly downloaded in Egypt, because one of the characters is a pharaoh. A first step in its ambition which is not only to “Start a business, but a whole industry” which would allow us to look at Africa differently.

“The problem remains training”

Besides, Abena Addai, communication manager at Leti Arts, these video products want to draw attention to the problems of the continent. “Corruption, health problems and even Boko Haram are an integral part of our games”, she says. In fact, this industry is part of the larger, rapidly growing entertainment world. According to Eyram Tawia, the film's recent success Black panther, which highlights African superheroes, “Raised awareness of the importance of the heroes of the continent.”

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For the time being, Leti Arts remains fragile and does not yet earn any money. The company places many orders for telephone operators, as with MTN, for making small games, but “All of this money is reinvested in the production of home video games”, continues the entrepreneur. Besides, illustrator since 2016, Kwadwo Frimpong-Amaning is busy during our visit on the production of Hot seat, a phone game based on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire ? for MTN.

“There are a lot of potentials on the continent, but the problem remains training”, said the young designer behind his three computer screens. He had the chance to study digital arts at university, but he believes that, due to the lack of material, he also had to train himself on YouTube. Everyone in the company thinks that others will do the same and that, despite the deficiencies in training, “A real video game industry will emerge on the continent”, says Eyram Tawia. The entrepreneur obviously hopes to be and be able to release a game on Xbox in the coming years.

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