Growing Pains: It’s the new economy, stupid

2014-03-12 10:00

I steal minutes throughout the day to tend to my village in a rather addictive mobile phone game called Clash of Clans.

It’s a strategy game where one builds up a base and army, and goes around smashing up other people’s bases. Ja, just like politics.

The other people are the 25?million users who play daily across the world. Here’s the kicker: certain aspects of the game tend to get really frustrating if you don’t possess certain resources, so one ends up buying them via credit card.

This is known as a “freemium app”. It’s free to use, but you’re charged a premium to get the most out of it. Consequently, the makers rake in roughly R7?million a day.

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the maker. Called Supercell, it was founded in 2010 and has only two products – two games made for Apple and Android devices called Hay Day and, of course, Clash of Clans.

Each of these games was initially developed by a team of six. The company boasts 100 employees in its native Finland, the US as well as the Far East.

The East has also enticed them with a R15?billion cheque for 51% of their company. Isn’t that amazing? Six video game-loving pals start a company, make two games which go viral and get a cool R15?billion for half – all in just five years.

Sounds much like Facebook or Twitter, both of which were themselves started by nerdy kids having fun connecting pals, and have now listed for so many hundreds of billions, even you couldn’t say the numbers out loud.

Last year, I tweeted about meeting 19-year-old millionaire Nick D’Aloisio in London. At age 15, he made an app he eventually sold to Yahoo.

The app, called Summly, summaries news pages for Apple phones and was bought for more than R300?million. Yikes!

While my mind was blown, Nick said something profound about “young people being able to exploit the opportunities to make better technology because they use technology”.

So all those hours youngsters spend peering into their phones could actually lead to them becoming filthy rich or, more importantly, building businesses and employing hundreds of people in a very short time.

Remember our first Afronaut, Mark Shuttleworth? And the tech man of the moment, South African-born Elon Musk? They made their stacks from building innovative software in an industry with barriers to entry lower than opening a spaza shop.

All that’s needed is a device, lots of imagination and the ability to program.

To paraphrase an old politician: It’s the new economy, stupid.

Now imagine the impact in a youthful country obsessed with entertainment of a concerted drive to teach as many kids the handy skill of creating their own games.

While last year’s two highest-earning artists, Madonna and Lady Gaga, made a combined R2?billion, Grand Theft Auto, a video game franchise, generated five times that in just three days.

Software firm ThoughtWorks initiated the Black Girl Code one weekend – free programming lessons for black girls. Meanwhile, Mdu Comics, famous for the Izikhokho cartoons, are making their own arcade kiosks using discarded computers.

So while we scratch our heads about how to create “real” jobs, why don’t we look at the interest and access to technology our youth are demonstrating (there’s 10?million of us on Facebook and Mxit already)?

Leveraging this off relatively low-cost programming training can help turn the vast reserve of dreams into reality. Now put that into your manifesto and launch it.

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