Free Lives, the South African games development house behind renowned titles such as BroForce and GORN, has struck gold again with its latest offering Cricket Through the Ages, which becomes the first and only game on Apple Arcade built by an African developer.
Launched in September 2019, Apple Arcade is Apple’s video game subscription service for iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and macOS devices. At launch, the platform had just over 100 exclusive titles, with Cricket Through the Ages in the company of games built by industry giants such as Ubisoft, Konami, and CapCom. All the games on Arcade are free to subscribers and can be played offline.
Cricket Through the Ages is a single button physics game, which combines major milestones in human history, cricket, and a wild sense of humour that is the hallmark of all Free Lives games.
Prototyped over the course of a single game jam (the gaming developers’ version of a hackathon), the game was inspired by South Africa’s abiding love for cricket, although the connection to the sport is often warped. The “bowler” can find themselves delivering anything from an apple to a snake, while the “batsman” hits the missile away with a club, sword, or whatever else is relevant to the historical period.
Cricket Through the Ages’ appearance on Arcade is a major coup for the South African game development space, with the platform restricted to games that push the boundaries of storytelling and design.
Acting as a testament to the kind of development talent available in South Africa Cricket Through the Ages’ presence on Arcadecould prove a much-needed catalyst for a local gaming space that faces some serious challenges.
As Free Lives founder Evan Greenwood points out, “Few South Africans are able to afford the upfront capital required to get game projects off the ground, and most studios have to take contract or service work to sustain themselves. That takes time and energy away from the process of developing original titles”.
And even when developers are able to build their own games, South Africa’s location on the world map can make promoting them a challenge.
“Most games-related conferences – where developers get the opportunity to show their work and tap into global networks – are hosted in the US and Europe, which are difficult to access,” says Greenwood.
That situation makes it all the more remarkable that Free Lives has built up a staff complement of 18 since it was founded in 2012.
Among the factors Greenwood cites as important to the gaming house’s success are the relationship it has with its publisher Develver Digital — which it relies on for business insight, testing and localisation support, marketing strategies, general feedback — and the collaborative organisational culture it’s built over time.
But the Free Lives founder also believes that building solely for iOS has been advantageous.
There are a couple of reasons for this, he points out. “The first is that there are so many iOS devices (around 1.4-billion) in circulation around the world,” meaning that the potential market is huge.
“Another benefit,” Greenwood says, “is that iOS has only one version of its software across all platforms making compatibility much easier to deal with across different devices with specific use cases. Having only one version of software means you are developing for a small number of different hardware options, resulting in easier testing and a reliable user experience for every player”.
Cricket Through the Ages featuring on Apple Arcade only serves to further underline how adopting this singular approach has paid dividends.