Promoting Africa with video games: Teddy Kossoko’s mission

  • April 18, 2019

Teddy Kossoko runs Masseka Game Studio using video games to deliver his message and introduce people to the real Africa. To create his games, the young entrepreneur works with historians from France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), setting his fictional plots in the most authentic cultural landscape possible. In conversation, Kossoko shows striking maturity in both his thought process and his desire to change the world.

Hello, Teddy, please begin by introducing yourself.

I’m 24 years old and the founder of Masseka Game Studio, which is the first European video-game studio dedicated to African stories. I also work at Capgemini as a software engineer.

I was born and raised in the Central African Republic, with a strict father who quickly taught me about responsibility. So when I was very young, I decided to be the agent of my own success and do everything I could to create opportunities for myself. My father heavily influenced me throughout my childhood and pushed me to work hard.

Can you tell us about your schooling in the Central African Republic?

I had lots of problems during high school. In the Central African Republic, if the teachers want to hinder students, they have all the power to do so. They can keep a student from passing the baccalauréat exam by using their network, even if the exam copies are anonymous. In 11th grade, my friends and I denounced teacher corruption in the first edition of the high-school newspaper. We were banned from school for a week and our parents had to file a complaint to get us back in! Clearly, the daily environment was not ideal.

I knew that, for several years, no student had succeeded in passing the French baccalauréat exam, so I decided to prove to myself that, with enough work, anything is possible. I was also conscious that, by obtaining the French baccalauréat, I would open many more doors for myself and have the guarantee of a diploma, even if my professors wanted to make sure I failed my Central African Republic baccalauréat.

It was during this period that I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, I think. The programs were completely different—for example, I had to learn Spanish in less than a year to have a chance at succeeding in my gamble.

“In the Central African Republic, if the teachers want to hinder students, they have all the power to do so. In 11th grade, we denounced teacher corruption in the first edition of the high-school newspaper”—Teddy Kossoko

Can you tell us about your first year in France?

After obtaining the two baccalauréats, I chose to attend Blagnac IUT (University Institute of Technology) in September 2012. To begin with, I planned to go into medicine, which is why I followed the scientific track in high school. But when I graduated, I didn’t see myself spending eight years studying before working. I wanted to create and start changing the world, so I shifted to computer science.

It was my first time in France, and I was discovering a whole new world. I was excited and scared at the same time, but I soon felt at home, especially with the support of my professors, who were very present. It was still a difficult time in my life because I didn’t know much about computer science, even though it was my passion. I knew the basic functions of a computer, but beyond that… I had become used to being among the best in my cohort, but I got a 4 for my first exams, the worst grade in the class. I knew I had to react fast to not lose my footing, so I doubled my efforts. I spent lots of time learning lessons ahead of time, so that I could ask all my questions during class and really understand everything. That’s how I managed to succeed and end up among the top 25 in my class of 100.

“It was my first time in France, and I was discovering a whole new world. I was excited and scared at the same time, but I soon felt at home, especially with the support of my professors, who were very present”—Teddy Kossoko

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What was your first professional experience?

I pursued a master’s degree in MIAGE (Computer Methods in Applied Business Management) to honor the promise I made to my mother that I would work in computer science applied to business. As part of it, I did a work-study program for the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.

At the end of my studies, a friend who worked for Capgemini circulated my CV internally and I was called five minutes after it was sent. I went there and, in my first interview, the recruiters showed me an entrepreneurial environment with an innovation laboratory. That was what convinced me to join them. It was July 2017. After that, I was able to work not only in really interesting sectors such as space, where I’m currently evolving, but also on developing my own projects in the innovation laboratory.

Speaking of your projects, how did you come up with the idea of making video games?

Between my IUT and MIAGE studies, I decided to tour Europe to discover new cultures and understand the European view of Africa. That was when I realized that, for many, Africa is like an opaque box and they don’t know what’s really going on inside it. When I came back, I decided to present the African continent to the world in a different way.

During my first years in France, I realized how powerful video games were. At the IUT, for example, people were always playing, whether it was on their phones, consoles, or computers. It was my first contact with “geek culture,” which doesn’t exist in the Central African Republic. I told myself there was an opportunity here—if video games have this much ability to capture people’s attention, I could use them to send a message and present Africa in a better light. So I started developing the Kissoro Tribal Game.

“The IUT was my first contact with ‘geek culture.’ I told myself that if video games have this much ability to capture people’s attention, I could use them to present Africa in a better light”—Teddy Kossoko

Can you tell us more about your games?

In 2014, I made my first video game—Shmup, a shooter game that allowed me to perfect my skills in Android development. Then I learnt to use the game engine Unity 3D, which is more efficient in creating more complex games. It was in this context that Kissoro Tribal Game really became serious. The game revolves around the young Elikiya, who must save his kingdom from war by winning the Kissoro tournament, a game that is played in all African countries in different forms.

We had 13,000 downloads in the two months after it launched and it continues to grow at a pace of 50 downloads a day. Right now, we’re developing a game called The Adventures of Inspector Guimonwara, in which the protagonist, a brilliant but alcoholic inspector, calls upon a marabout to travel through time and investigate the assassination of his sister. But he lands in the 15th-century Songhai Empire, right after the death of Sonni Ali Ber, who he doesn’t know but whose murder is connected to his sister’s murder. We’re also working on a second game project—The Legend of Mulu.

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Where do you find inspiration? Where do you go to find all this information?

A big part of the games in production today is based on real facts transmitted through the oral tradition, which was the norm in Africa before writing arrived. To that, we add fiction, notably to the characters and their stories, to make the game interesting and, most of all, fun. Because there is very little information online, we consult historians to perfectly reproduce these old kingdoms where the adventures evolve. We work a lot with the CNRS on these subjects. We make the effort to be as authentic as possible in the stories we tell to deliver the messages in a way that doesn’t contradict reality.

“We consult historians to perfectly reproduce these old kingdoms where the adventures evolve. We make the effort to be as authentic as possible”—Teddy Kossoko

What message do you hope to send through these games?

In The Adventures of Inspector Guimonwara, we hope to help people discover the history of the central African region and spread information about the marabout, a figure often caricatured in western films. For Kissoro, the idea is to portray conflicts between tribes, as there are many in Africa’s history, and to show how we were able to solve them using peaceful methods. The objective is to tell young people that they must—like the main character—be proactive and create peace.
As for The Legend of Mulu, the goal is to show how the primitive people of Africa —the people who live in harmony with nature and draw knowledge, food, and medicine from it—are today threatened by globalization. The idea is to allow players to travel and put themselves in the place of these people, who are regulated by nothing but the seasons.

Can you tell us more about Masseka Game Studio? What’s your vision for its future?

At Masseka, there are three of us in France—a graphic artist, a scriptwriter, and me—and three collaborators in Cameroon. In terms of sales revenue, our first game wasn’t really developed with a vision of profitability, but we are working on being able to generate a certain level of revenue. We are now seeking to raise funds to ensure a salary for everyone until we can live off our games. My vision is to succeed in developing a whole universe specific to Africa, like manga in Japan and comics in the United States, through a large company. That’s why we maintain a certain graphic homogeneity in all of our games, to create a strong brand identity that’s immediately recognizable.

We also have another ambitious project in the pipeline to create a store of applications dedicated to Africa. In Africa, few people have a credit card, but more and more Africans have cell phones. We hope to propose adaptable payment methods, so that they can have access to all kinds of applications on their cell phones.

“My vision is to succeed in developing a whole universe specific to Africa, like manga in Japan and comics in the United States”—Teddy Kossoko

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How do you balance your work at Capgemini with running your studio?

I regularly have 20-hour days, but like I said, I’ve been used to working hard since high school. Also, despite the two roles being very different, I manage to blend them. When I’m at Capgemini, for example, I often promote our video games. Since the environment is very centered on entrepreneurship, I get lots of feedback, be it from users, potential investors, or even solution architects sharing their experiences of creating and producing applications. It really happened naturally. My colleagues at Capgemini regularly saw my activity on LinkedIn and took an interest in the studio. My current manager, who also started out in video games, is a constant support and understands my time constraints, which allows me to do both.

What have you taken away from this entrepreneurial adventure so far?

Locally, the Masseka studio has found lots of popularity in the Central African Republic. Young people are proud of this success and the French embassy seeks to use that enthusiasm to get young people together and encourage them to travel and become entrepreneurs. That makes me really happy.

Globally, I’ve received lots of positive feedback and testimonies from young people who have been inspired by my journey to launch their own ventures. This makes me very proud. On a personal level, beyond the major difficulties I’ve experienced, being an entrepreneur has allowed me to learn more about myself. I’ve learnt more about the value of money, and the importance of opening up and meeting as many people as possible, whether they work in creative, technical, or financial fields, to learn from them and grow on a daily basis. In addition, in seeking to help others discover it, I have rediscovered Africa.

“In seeking to help others discover it, I have rediscovered Africa”—Teddy Kossoko

Translated by Kate Lindsmith

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Gabriel Boccara

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