GAMING: MWEB voted top ISP for online gaming

MWEB was recently voted as the most popular primary ADSL ISP amongst South African gamers. Desmond Kurz, MWEB's Online Gaming Manager, offers some insight into South African online gaming trends.

The Latest Online Gaming Trends

“MWEB has seen an increase in first person shooters as well as 'massively multiplayer online only' games”, says Kurz. “More and more offline gamers are migrating to playing online”. This is perhaps due to cheaper ADSL pricing across South Africa's ISPs.

While South African online gaming is still lagging behind when compared to Europe and the U.S., the SA gaming community is still experiencing double digit growth, according to MWEB.

Online Gaming in South Africa - MWEB GameZone

Gaming stats: what games are the majority of South Africans playing?

“From an MWEB perspective, the majority of South African gamers are playing Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 3, World of Warcraft, Dota 2, League of Legends, Guild Wars 2 and Minecraft", says Kurz. "MWEB already hosts local servers for a number of these titles and is always looking to secure further titles to be hosted locally for South African gamers.”

I asked MWEB's Online Gaming Manager how MWEB plans to broaden their online gaming serivices. I was intrigued to learn that MWEB GameZone has been running a free online training programme for gamers who want to learn how to play online multiplayer games from a beginner level right up to advanced level for competing online.

“To date, this program has run exclusively for Battlefield 3, however, we are proud to announce that this training programme will be extended”, says Kurz. “This will offer players wishing to learn how to play League of Legends and Dota 2. This was in response to a recent poll held on our Facebook page where we asked gamers what games they would like to receive training on.”

According to Kurz, MWEB GameZone is just one of many other initiatives that will be launching in the future in support of the South African online gaming community, particularly competitive eSports. “Its goes without saying that we will continue our efforts to put pressure on distributors and publishers to provide local services to South African gamers, particularly locally-hosted gaming servers”, says Kurz.

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* This review is spoiler free! *

Dear Esther,

I happened upon fragments of washed up letters found amongst the rubbish that the sea brings. Soggy parchments bring word that those on the mainland speak of my lonely plight as some sort of game.

I find it hard to believe that a world exists beyond this island. I am sometimes haunted by human-like figures in the distance, but I know that this is merely my own disillusion taunting me.

I sometimes don't recognise my own words on occasion where I find myself communing with the nature of this place. The car wreckage too seems unfamiliar at times, but again I wonder if it is this island that has dulled my sense.

The mystery surrounding the wrecked boats and ships on the island continue to taunt me. Their once sturdy frames rendered as fragile as paper to the rough seas. Only hollowed skeletons devoid of life remain.

I find myself drawn toward a flashing light like a moth to the flame. I hopelessly hold on to the belief that there lies my salvation. I painfully trek through the bowels of the island in search of answers … or to find a new kind of solace ...

Dear Esther Game Review

A red light beckons; broken boats and shipwrecks mystify.

Dear Esther Game Review - Caves

The atmosphere Dear Esther creates is incredible - it feels cold, damp and lonely.

* * * Dear Esther Game Review * * *

For me, playing a good game is like watching a well written movie but being involved in how that movie pans out. This is immersion at its best. If suspense-injected story-driven gameplay and immersion are what excite you as a gamer, then Dear Esther awaits you.

A mystical mix of good graphics, emotive music and thought-provoking narration is what Dear Esther offers. Although brief (1-2 hours), Dear Esther is a memorable experience from start to finish. The script does vary slightly each time you play, but it is the mature nature of the writing which leaves something new to be discovered each time.

“The script also deserves praise. It charts a course through vastly different topics you never realised you cared about before – folklore, the Bible, shepherding, travel writing, guilt and medicine – and turns them into something meaningful without speaking down to its audience.”
- Dear Esther Game Review by PC Gamer

There isn't much more that needs to be said about Dear Esther. I purchased the game off Steam for $10 and it has been worth every cent. So stay up late, dim the lights, expect no interruptions and enjoy the Dear Esther experience!

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STEAM: And the future of the video game industry

DIGITAL distribution giant and gaming platform, Steam, has fast become the Google of the gaming world – reaping in an estimated US$468 million (roughly R3.1 billion) in revenues through June 2011, according to This attests to the fact the gaming industry has become one of the fastest growing industries in history.

Using Steam has become compulsory for ardent PC gamers, who are forced to use the platform to buy, install and update several of the latest gaming titles. According to Wikipedia, as of July 2011, Steam had over 30 million active users and offered over 1 300 game titles. It is estimated that Steam has a 70% share of the digital distribution market for video games.

The Steam platform
The Steam gaming platform

The idea of creating a centralised online platform to distribute games and related media online was, in part, a move towards combating software piracy – specifically pirated games. To play a store bought game that is powered through steam requires one to register a Steam account. One then has to be logged into Steam to install the game, update the game, play the game and be offered a host of promotional adverts upon exiting the game.

In bandwidth-stricken countries such as South Africa, one can imagine what a schlep this can be. In my experience, if a newly released game if bought through Steam, it can take up to two days to download and install. Thereafter Steam automatically updates your newly bought game, which can take another day or two. If your bandwidth hasn’t run dry by this point, you then have to log into Steam before you can play your new game for the first time.

Steam Error

The benefits of Steam
One can understand the benefits that gaming platforms such as Steam offer. They have made it extremely difficult for impoverished gamers to play pirated titles; it automatically patches and updates your game collection, and it offers you downloadable content for your favourite titles. It does also offer a lot of specials and promotions, whereby one can easily transfer and convert your money into US dollars and buy games via the web for cheap. In fact, purchasing games through Steam is so simple that it can be dangerously addictive.

However, this is not to mention that the Steam servers are often running at full capacity whereby one is put on a waiting list to play. I was once informed that my newly installed and updated game would launch in approximately five days. Bearing all this in mind it’s fair to say that Steam is having a negative impact on many game consumers who don’t necessarily want to play multiplayer.

Market research

Anti-piracy aside, Steam most certainly uses its cleverly crafted platform for market research purposes. A Steam user’s page includes some brief personal information, details of any games owned, as well as the number of hours played in each game. Steam admits that it collects and reports anonymous metrics of its usage, stability, and performance and uses this information to justify implementing new features.

However, a lot of this information is collected without notifying the user or offering an opt-out. Some of these metrics are also available publicly, such as what games are being played or statistics of a player’s progress in certain games. Last year, Steam announced that they would begin collecting a list of users' installed software as well.

Steam critiques

Steam has been criticised for allowing developers and game publishers to change prices and restrict game availability depending on the locations of users. Despite the reduction in manufacturing, packaging, design and distribution costs, this can cause some games to cost more than their retail prices. Steam has also been heavily criticised by European users for pricing games much higher in Euro-zone countries.

Furthermore, according to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, “Steam's availability is not guaranteed and Valve is under no legal obligation to release an update disabling the authentication system in the event that Steam becomes permanently unavailable.” -

Ardent PC gamers can argue for or against the value of Steam. However, if history has taught us anything, it is always wise to be cautious of that which is powerful. However, with Steam now being in the position of power that it is, has implications for gamers worldwide. In our liberal and democratic age, I suppose the biggest concern is a lack of choice.

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GAMIFYING EDUCATION: Introducing gaming to the classroom

EDUCATION is the very foundation of our future. No doubt there are flaws in our current education system that need to be addressed. The marking system, learner agency and voluntary tangential learning are a few of the major issues in education today.

There’s a theory that tries to define each decade according to technological progress. Loosely speaking, by the end of one decade everyone had cellphones, by the end of another everyone was on Facebook, and this decade (2010-2020) it is said that everyone will be a gamer in a broad sense. It’s not a solid theory, but I’m sure you catch my drift.

Some exciting ideas are starting to surface which involved introducing gaming into the classroom — making education more fun and engaging. Again it is no solid science, but a few schools (especially in the United States) have started implementing such ideas into their teaching techniques and have started to see positive results. They have begun gamifying education.

To put gaming into better perspective — the most successful games on the market today are ones that encourage gradual progress. These award the player with experience points as he or she progresses through the game. Once enough experience is gained the player levels up, which comes with particular rewards or perks.

Benefits of a rewards system in education

Working towards clear and tangible levels with clear rewards or benefits would be a huge motivational factor for learners. Assignments and tests would feel more rewarding rather than disheartening if there is something to be gained. This wouldn’t necessarily require a major change in the way papers are generally marked. Marks would merely be changed to levels and learners would work towards a total rather than down from one.

Offering class-wide achievements, such as giving the whole class a reward if one or a few learners accumulates X amount of experience, would also encourage peer support. Rather than envying the top achievers, peer pupils would encourage their progress. The top achievers, on the other hand, would understand that they couldn’t get the best possible score unless they help the other learners improve their marks.

Gamifying Education

Gamifying Education: Agency

A huge hurdle for teachers is dealing with learners who lack a sense of agency — who feel that their opinions and choices don’t matter. They may feel that they have no control over their choices, perhaps ones that were made for them by their parents. They lack long-term goals and motivation — something that is common in young people today.

It is known that learners with a higher sense of agency do better at school. What’s interesting is that agency is the life force of games! You are in full control over the choices you make and the future lies entirely in your hands. What’s more, games teach us that if we fail, we try again (or try something different) until we succeed. This could be a huge benefit behind the idea of gamifying education.

Voluntary tangential learning and information

A third challenge for our educational system is encouraging learners to pursue information voluntarily outside of the classroom. Homework, for most, is a bore — a chore that needs to be completed before we can play proper games. There are very few external motivators that encourage self-education.

An idea behind gamifying education is to turn a subject into a game by leaving out pieces of the puzzle and using information that you want learners to learn on their own as keys that unlock the next section of the game or subject. In searching for this information there’s also a chance of tangential learning — learners stumbling across other pieces of related information.

I recall one of the most exciting times in my own education, which was when different subjects started to interlink and connect up. And this happened long after high school. Learning and understanding the connections between information and ideas is so important in education. A cross-disciplinary approach could be created early on by creating the keys mentioned here across different subjects. This will also allow learners to shine in different subjects and encourage communication and sharing of education among them.

Gamifying education may also create an understanding and an appreciation of the importance of other subjects that learners may not immediately be interested in. I sure wish I had understood this when I was in high school.

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MIND SPORT: Should competitive gaming be considered as an internationally recognised mind sport in South Africa?

THERE was a lot of talk and debate towards the end of last year about 2011 being “the year of eSports”. The central debate in a South African context was whether or not competitive gaming should be recognised and treated as an international mind sport in our country.

Electronic sport, or mind sport, falls into the category of non-physical competition. Competitive gaming is the fastest growing mind sport, and there currently exist several leagues and tournaments word-wide whereby gamers compete at amateur, semi-professional and professional levels.

With a steady increase in the number of competitive gamers across genders and cultures, the mind sport debate revolves around the idea of classifying network gaming as an official national sport and treating and covering it in the same manner as existing sports such as rugby and cricket.

It’s a misnomer that ‘real’ sport is physical and sweaty and demands an impressive display of physical prowess. With most sports being based on warlike principles, it’s often forgotten that quick wit and strategy play an integral part in most of the sports we love. And let’s face it – not everyone is cut out for the gym or has the impressive build of Os du Randt.

Consider chess, poker, pub quizzes, crossword contests and poetry slam as competitive mind sports. These all require quick wit, intellectual talent and creativity without the need to physically tackle opponents to the floor. And if you think that gaming is mindless finger-clicking, competitive gaming demands huge amounts of quick thinking, strategy, and above all, teamwork.

The World Cyber Games

World Cyber Games 2014

The World Cyber Games, which began in 2000, initially consisted of 174 competitors from 17 different countries with a total cash prize of $20 000. In 2006, 700 competitors from 70 different countries fought for the cash prize of $462 000 (Wikipedia. Image:

The good news is that African countries are gradually getting on board and gearing up to compete internationally. Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) is currently driving inter-school gaming leagues and organised the first official gaming test match between South Africa and Namibia last month.

According to an interview with the president of MSSA, Colin Webster, published on ITWeb, “One of the key highlights this year is the fact that MSSA is in talks with local government to organise a national e-sports LAN event that will have the same stature as a national sporting event. Gamers from all over the world will be able to test their skills against South African gamers.”

Unfortunately, for South African gamers to compete on a global scale and participate in the major leagues held in Europe, Korea and the United States, politics need to come into play. In order to compete internationally, gaming (as well as any sport) need to meet a certain set of criteria. There are good reasons for these, but when we consider that hi-tech sports such as gaming are ever-evolving with technology, perhaps we need to consider having such criteria updated as well.

The central issue is that for any sport to qualify and be able to compete at an international level, it needs to be accessible to everyone. Every government school has a sports closet full of soccer balls and cricket bats and there are real efforts to offer the same to rural schools around the country.

However, now that we are undoubtedly living in the digital age, it is also becoming compulsory for all schools to have computers and internet access. That’s all it takes to set the stage for competitive gaming tournaments. Learners could even opt to participate in network gaming during their lunch breaks. I’d guarantee that you wouldn’t have to twist any arms to get learners interested.

Mind Sport Growth and Revenue

There is also the opportunity to make a decent living from competitive gaming. The World Cyber Games held in South Korea every year sees a huge flow of revenue from sponsorship and advertising – not to mention the marketing value that top, individual gamers gain by proving their skills. As existing tournaments have shown, large technology and PC corporations are more than willing to play their part and offer sponsorship and support.

To put the growth and interest of competitive gaming into perspective, the World Cyber Games, which began in 2000, initially consisted of 174 competitors from 17 different countries with a total cash prize of $20 000. In 2006, 700 competitors from 70 different countries fought for the cash prize of $462 000 (Wikipedia).

I sincerely hope that competitive gaming gets the attention and coverage it deserves within the realm of mind sport. As an ardent gamer, I believe that having games pushed and played to their limits by professionals will improve the quality of existing and future games as well as associated technologies.

Furthermore, it’s a chance for people to engage with the latest technology, a chance to bring together people with similar interests, to team-build, to profit off all the advertising possibilities, and to show the rest of the world that South Africa has what it takes to compete globally in the realm of quick wit and real time strategy.

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Mind sport links:
2011: The Year of eSports
Africa gears up for e-sports

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