The Port 002: Let the Games begin with Kola Studios

terry kalungi

We have just begun the port and its not about to cease, Episode two rolls in the most cock-a-hoop tech start-up in Uganda that we met late last year, and they need no special introduction cause chances are you have already played a game called Matatu, on your iPhone, Windows Phone or  Android device. We went to Outbox tech hub and got to meet the team  behind the most popular card game this side of the Sahara for a full 411 on what they are up to currently and what to expect in the future. I talked to Terry Karungi production lead at Kola Studios, and indeed she had a lot to say about the genesis and revelation of Kola Studios, so the tradition continues with either the video version or the written version so take your pick and enjoy.


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(TJ: techjaja, TK: Terry Karungi)

TJ: What has Kola Studios done this year?

TK: One of the biggest achievements is one of our products called Matatu, a two player game that focuses on a very popular card game in Uganda. We just digitalized what already existed. To the start of this year from the creation of Matatu, we have seen a cumulative count of over 1 Million games played, a number that has since grown to about 12 Million over the course of this year.

TJ: Do we expect to see other kinds of games like Omweso also digitized?

TK: Yes. Those are the kinds of games we do and focus on from all across Africa; physical games; and try to replicate the same experience. Games like hide and seek, Omweso, or any other game from your childhood.

TJ: Uganda has very few tech startups. What is it like in the beginning?

TK: Being a tech startup in Uganda has its challenges. Given the presence of over 800,000 Smartphones, not everyone is online and of those that are, not many use popular advertising platforms like Facebook and Google. In the beginning, I had little hope in Uganda, but over time, we have seen over 80% of those that play Matatu online.

TJ: What are the prospects of Kola Studios beyond East Africa and Africa?

TK: Kola Studio focuses on digitizing physical games across Africa. Right now we have Matatu for Uganda based on a game from Uganda. We also have Karata, based on a card game from Kenya. We plan to move to Ghana and Nigeria. We plan to start from Africa and then move on after that.

TJ: How have you been able to gain some money out of these applications?

TK: We did get a startup boost from an investor, Savannah Fund to a point where we had a good product. We did have Matatu, one of the most downloaded games in Uganda and has since been ranked number one in the top free games. The challenge was how to monetarise this, given most of our users are Ugandans who do not know what credit cards are and may not have the revenue, so we had to deal with advertisers; who can give us the money. That’s why we created the web advertising platform that is more intuitive, more cohesive, something that is better than the traditional media such as newspapers, tv and print; and also less expensive and more valuable than digital advertising. If you have played Matatu, you have seen the orange ads, and other different kind of ads, being pushed out on our platform. I’m sure all players have seen it.

TJ: There’s a new version of Matatu coming out, version 3.0. What should people expect from the latest version of Matatu.

 TK: It’s going to be more social. You are going to be able to play against your friends much much easier. And for the points you’ve been accumulating until this day, you are going to be able to get something out of them. So there is going to be kind of a cash out on your points.

TJ: So are we expecting some kind of money from these points?

 TK: You could, you don’t know. We will see what the game offers. It’s going to be more exciting, more competitive, and there will be some improvements on the UI. It will kind of still have the same theme, just wait and see. It will be coming out early next year, but it’s going to be really exciting. Most people have asked me, what could be different about matatu and I just keep saying to wait and see what exceptional is. Also, if you feel you have any features you can request for, feel free to just drop us an email, just check out our website and send us an email.

TJ: I’m new to the game, where can I get it from and how do I start playing Matatu?

TK: Matatu is across different platforms. It’s available on Android phones. So if you have Samsung galaxies or the HTC’s, Samsung pocket, Samsung Ace or any android phone for that matter, you can download the game. Then also, if you have an iPhone, iPod, or Windows Phone 8, you can still download the game.

TJ: Can you run us through how it’s done?

TK: Every android phone comes with a play store. If you don’t have it on your home menu, you go to your inside menu and look for the play store. It’s like a store for apps, a shopping area really. Up in the search bar, you are going to search for ‘matatu’. You can also search for ‘kola studios’ as a keyword. Obviously, the first game will be matatu by kola studios. You can also see we have a number of reviews and a four star rating. Just then, you click ‘install’, then you accept and then the app downloads on your phone. You can open it within the play store. It then checks if I have a name available, allows you to choose an email to use and then you just start playing.

TJ: Do you have any advice for tech startups in Uganda? How can they reach the level you’ve managed to attain?

TK: One thing that has gotten Kola Studios where is at is teamwork. The team is the core of any business. Once your team is tight, you can move mountains; you can go far. You can execute and do everything you want. The team is the heart of kola studios. Besides that is focus. You have to be able to focus on one thing, do it well, maximize learning and minimize waste