Sony, the renowned Japanese consumer electronics and gaming giant, has made an undisclosed investment in Carry1st, a video game studio situated in Cape Town, South Africa, through its Sony Innovation Fund venture arm, as revealed exclusively to CNBC by Carry1st.
This strategic investment signifies a collaboration between the two companies on various commercial opportunities. Currently, both entities are in the preliminary stages of exploring potential ventures.
Cordel Robbin-Coker, CEO and co-founder of Carry1st shared that discussions with the Sony Innovation Fund commenced approximately eight to nine months ago. During these talks, Robbin-Coker emphasized Africa’s potential as the next significant market for video game growth to the PlayStation console maker.
Robbin-Coker stated in an interview with CNBC, “As large companies like Sony that have really strong footholds in tier-one and tier-two markets start thinking about where the next billion customers and gamers are going to come from, our pitch is that Africa is a prime market for that.”
He added that there is an overlooked console opportunity in Africa, highlighting the rising adoption of consoles in countries such as Nigeria, Morocco, and Algeria. Sony is entering a burgeoning gaming market with substantial growth potential, with Carry1st and Konvoy’s research predicting that Sub-Saharan Africa’s gaming industry will generate over $1 billion in 2024.
Many gamers in Africa currently acquire consoles through “gray” markets, purchasing devices imported from overseas by local vendors. One aspect of the partnership between Carry1st and Sony aims to assist the gaming giant in expanding PlayStation’s presence in Africa.
Carry1st’s CEO expressed the hope that their collaboration could help Sony in various aspects, including broader go-to-market strategies and digital payments. As the console business model evolves towards online experiences, Carry1st’s localized payment service, Pay1st, allows African gamers to make purchases using local infrastructure and payment methods like M-Pesa and mobile wallets.
Carry1st, known for developing social and casual puzzle-based mobile games for the African audience, currently focuses on making and scaling games for clients like Activision. The company is planning to venture into developing its own original titles, with three games currently in development, targeting a debut first-party game launch in 2024.
Despite being an early-stage startup, Carry1st has experienced significant growth in recent years, reporting a nearly ninefold increase in revenues between 2021 and 2023. The company collaborates with prominent game developers such as Activision, Supercell, and Riot Games to bring popular Western game franchises to the African market.
Sony’s investment in Carry1st marks the first financial commitment from its flagship African venture fund, Sony Innovation Fund: Africa, launched in October 2023. The fund, with an initial allocation of $10 million, aims to support early-stage startups in Africa’s entertainment industry.
Carry1st’s roster of venture backers includes notable names like Andreessen Horowitz, Bitkraft Ventures, Google, Riot Games, and rapper Nas, contributing a total of $60 million in funding to date.