In the Highway Code, there is one unstated fact — that Kenyan roads have owners.

Now one game illustrates what a thrill it can be driving in Kenya, writes FREDRICK OBURA

Kenya’s matatu industry in Nairobi is liked and loathed in equal measure by the city residents.

The drivers’ mastery of panya routes, and their disregard for other motorists in smaller vehicles such as Vitz makes matatus popular to people keen on avoiding the heavy traffic jams.

To the tame, the story of Kenyan roads and the unruly matatu culture read more or less like fiction.

And now, a new racing game (Ma3Racer) developed by Planet Rackus — Nairobi’s newest game development company — brings to the world the thrills and dangers of driving on city roads, quite literally.

The game highlights in graphic detail the tricks behind the matatu driving madness from the comfort of a mobile phone.

The Ma3Racer is a free-to-play game downloadable from Nokia’s Ovistore. It allows one to test his or her driving skills on the busiest, and roughest Nairobi roads — collecting points at each dexterous manoeuvre.

"Before you start playing the game, you have to choose the kind of matatu you want to drive," says Mwaura Kirore, the Ma3Racer founder.

"A gamer’s skills would be tested on how he or she navigates through the city’s roads avoiding various obstacles on the highway to reach a specific destination."

There are many obstacles on the road, for instance pedestrian crossings, roadblocks, stationary vehicles and cars being driven on the wrong side of the road.

"The more you avoid the obstacles to get passengers to destination safe and sound, the more you collect money/points," he says.

Other obstacles such as handcarts, the motorcycle riders popularly known as boda boda, among others would test driving skills of a gamer in reaching destination safely.

Thrills in racing a matatu on Nairobi roads has attracted the attention of gamers from around the world. Currently, gamers in countries such as Asia, and Europe lead in racing on the Nairobi roads.

"We are avid gamers, it took us about six months to piece everything together and come up with Ma3Racer," says Jimmy Gitonga, the Content Developer.

"The response is encouraging. We made the game available to users in about two weeks ago on Nokia’s ovistore," he tells Tech Insight.

Global attention

"We have over 80,000 people across the world downloading the game."

Kirore says the choice of Nairobi’s matatu was strategic.

"This is just part of the games we are going to unveil. Its part of our plans to tell various unique Kenyan stories through digital platforms as away of marketing and opening the country to the rest of the world," he says.

He notes that applications such Ma3Racer and similar content built with local consumers in mind might add value and increase penetration of mobile phones, and Internet as well as penetration of other modern technologies in the country.

In a recent survey conducted by Apoyo Consultoria for CCK, Internet usage in the country is at a paltry five per cent. The study partly blamed the lack of relevant content for the low usage.

Mobile phone manufacturers such as Samsung, and Nokia have recently increased campaign through various competitions targeting the expansion of local content.

Safaricom, the region’s leading telecommunication firm sees opportunity in local content in building a robust telecommunication sector.

Early this year, the mobile operator partnered with Strathmore University in crafting Masters of Science programme (MSc.TID) to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the telecommunication sector as an important pillar of sustainable economic development.

Gitonga says the proliferation of ICT in the country and the growth of the content development industry could help absorption of Internet usage and other technologies.

Growing interest

"Three years back, talking about software development was a rumour. Today, we are seeing growing interest from graduates passionate about application development," he says.

"More incubation centres with infrastructure like Nairobi’s iHub should be rolled out in all counties to nurture software development among entrepreneurs."

Deloitte in its report Technology, Media, and Telecommunication, predicts that by end of the year, the global video gaming will continue growing from a more diverse revenue stream.

The industry is forecast to generate $52 billion in software revenues this year, 6 per cent higher than last year.

The report forecast that the total revenue from these relatively new sources could be as high $10 Billion, or 16 per cent of total game revenues, by the end of next year, and over time could represent 50 per cent of all revenues for the industry.

Another report by Telecommunication, Media, and Technology (TMT) report says the hardware would generate $13 billion.

"A large percentage of revenues from the gaming industry is likely to come from monthly subscriptions, peripherals, fees for services and in-game purchases and advertising in the free-to play markets," the report notes.

Gitonga called upon the Government to tighten laws that would protect the properties against abuse by third parties.

Copyright protection

"We are headed to an era where software development would be as precious as land or any other commodity in the country," he said.

"We, therefore, need effective judicial system to cushion the industry from revenue loss through copyright infringement," he said.

"Increased software piracy has had profound effect in the past few years costing the industry billions," says Deloitte in its Technology, Media, and Telecommunication report.
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