Taking Nollywood to the next level with Aki and Pawpaw

Taking Nollywood to the next level with Aki and Pawpaw

A game app based on the 2002 Nollywood comedy, Aki na Ukwa, has been released by Play Network Africa. The app received over 130,000 downloads on just its first day, but the developers say they are just getting started.

By Gabriella Opara, bird story agency

In 2002, Nigeria's film industry - widely referred to as Nollywood - presented Africa with a comic relief movie called Aki na Ukwa. The film stars Chinedu Ikedieze and Osita Iheme as two mischievous brothers (Aki and Pawpaw) who cause chaos at home, in their village, and at school. It is widely considered one of the funniest films to come out of Africa.

It has been over twenty years since the much-loved characters first appeared on screen but now they are making a comeback in the form of a mobile phone game. On April 28, 2023, Play Network Studios announced the launch of the 'Aki and Pawpaw Epic Run' game.

"Aki and Pawpaw are known for their mischievousness. This served as the central theme of the debut film, Aki na Ukwa. An endless runner game is the most befitting thing for these characters. If we had made cooking or dress-up games, that wouldn't have generated as much interest or excitement as this did," said Joshua Usoro, the founder and CEO of software development firm Blue Portal Studios, who pitched the idea to Play Network.

"I reached out to them and pitched my idea for a game centred around Nollywood characters. At the time, I was most concerned about getting a company to partner with to create a game by Nigerians, in Nigeria," Usoro explained.

Before then, Usoro had pitched to several companies aiming to create an indigenous mobile game focused on African storytelling. However, Charles and Jeff Okpaleke, Co-CEOs, of Play Network, were the first to key into his idea.

After several brainstorming sessions, discussions, and agreements, Usoro and his team of twelve began developing Aki and Pawpaw Epic Run mobile game in November 2021.

Usoro and his team of software engineers, animators, game developers, and character designers worked with Play Network for about two years to create the game.

"Aki and Pawpaw Epic Run is the result of many hands and minds. Twelve people made up the initial internal team, but it quickly expanded. We ultimately hired several freelancers to complete the game within this timeframe," he said.

Aware that Aki and Pawpaw memes are staples across social media in Nigeria and other African countries, Usoro intentionally made the game reflect the memes' diversity, as well as the movie's mischievousness.

The game has drawn comparisons to popular mobile games like Temple Run and Subway Surfers since it was made available to the public. A criticism is that the only thing that makes Aki and Pawpaw Epic Run unique is the indigenous characters and scenes.

Uchechukwu Okolie, game developer and Principal Partner at Cleec Designs, believes the game industry in Nigeria needs all the attention it can get, so the game is an important step.

"After installing the game, I noticed it had similar concepts and templates to Temple Run, just different characters. To me, it seemed like a game that was already existing, launched with a few changes. However, the game industry in Nigeria needs enough attention, so Nollywood doing this helps," said Okolie.

According to a 2022 Statista report, the market for video games is the largest market within digital media. 

"The African mobile games market is estimated to generate $2.16 billion in revenue in 2023, and by 2027, there will be 310,600,000 users" the statistics provider offered.

On the day of its release, Aki and Pawpaw Epic Run had over 130,000 downloads across iOS and Android app stores.

The free mobile game includes avatars in the likeness of other Nigerian personalities, such as Warri Pikin, Mbakwe, Nengi, and Cubana Chief Priest, in addition to the primary characters Aki and Pawpaw. Furthermore, the game is set in three parts of Nigeria: East, North, and Lasgidi (Lagos).

The more gems a player acquires, the more avatars and levels they can unlock. While this makes it attractive for several players, some are dissatisfied with the game's aesthetics, stating they could be better.

Software developer Nurudeen Faniyi is an enthusiastic player of the game who believes it can only get better with more upgrades.

"I came across the game on Twitter, and since I'm a fan of endless runner games, I downloaded it. I've enjoyed playing it so far, but I hope the developers keep updating the app. Upgrade the environment, colours, graphics and characters to make them more aesthetically pleasing," he posted.

Although visual appeal matters a lot in gaming, seamless play is paramount, according to Usoro. The technicalities of creating the game require a lot of intensive game development and more sophisticated games also eat into download space and memory on each user's phone, he explained.

"When creating the game, we always had it in the back of our minds that it would be played on high-end and low-end devices. We want our game to reach everyone and be played by them without lags. Of course, we will constantly upgrade the graphics. But, right now, we're doing our best not to compromise on quality play," Usoro said.

Blue Portal and Play Network Studios are now in talks with animation and telecommunications companies in Nigeria to bring more of their vision to life, he said.

"The game is out, and we're glad about the warm reception it's been getting so far. But we're currently in talks with MTN and some animation companies to take this further. Imagine seeing Aki and Pawpaw the way you enjoy watching Tom and Jerry. There's a lot on the pipeline, and we will keep improving and developing as we go," he concluded.

bird story agency

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