Bukola Akingbade is many things. She is a mother to three. A role that she holds dear and that inspired her to establish her company Kucheza Gaming. She is also a marketer, entrepreneur and trained architect. In 2020 she decided to channel her decade-plus entrepreneurial experience into her current venture leaving everything behind to focus on gaming.
Her Nigerian-based studio aims to use the power of video games to engage and get future generations ready to pursue careers in gaming. So far she has facilitated the awards of esports athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 with rewards such as dedicated gaming laptops and Amazon vouchers. Let’s see how her children sparked the idea to establish one of the most impactful studios in Nigeria today.
Bukola’s childhood was filled with a lot more physical playing than video games. She recalls playing table tennis and tabletop games such as Ludo, Chess, Draft and Monopoly. The Commodore 64 console was her first gaming experience. Her favourite game then was 2D side-scrolling space shooter Gradius, which she enjoyed playing on the Nintendo. Bukola grew up surrounded by siblings and cousins. She therefore inherited consoles from older siblings and cousins. She adds, “In our household, you got what you asked for. When he travelled, my dad would not go out of his way to shop for toys or games. If you wanted him to get you something specific you’d have to ask him for it and you’d get what you want within reason.”
She compared her childhood to her sons’, noting the significant changes in media consumption and behaviour due to technological advancements. She highlighted the shift from scheduled TV programs where TV was on between 4 pm and 10 pm when she was a child to on-demand content today. She observed an evolution in her children’s preferences from traditional Disney shows to influencer and gameplay content.
Current generation’s language
“So a lot has changed and the same thing applies to video games. When I was growing up there were less than 500,000 phone lines in Nigeria. Now there are hundreds of millions. Access to the internet and video games has changed. That access provides the avenues for content consumption and creation. I don’t see video games as something very different from TV. It is a channel similar to any channel where storytelling happens in a more immersive way.” She stressed the importance of understanding and engaging with the current generation saying, “To affect this current generation’s cultural representation, you have to speak their ‘language’. If you don’t connect on their level, you’ll lose these generations.
In high school, Bukola, uncertain about her future, leaned towards pursuing computing. At her father’s suggestion, she pursued architecture due to its practicality. She explains, “My dad’s older brother was an architect. I was doing technical drawing in school and I was great at math and some science subjects. So my father said he thought I would enjoy architecture.”
Unreal Engine training
Currently, Bukola focuses on inspiring children, especially girls, to embrace technical subjects early. Through initiatives like mobile game jams and interschool esports, she aims to foster girls’ interest in STEAM fields. She encourages early exposure to career possibilities like game design, game development, and shout casting and believes this early desire motivates them to persist. In esports tournaments, she actively advocates for girls’ participation, emphasizing inclusive game choices like Mario Kart 8 to make gaming accessible and enjoyable, promoting equal representation. As she puts it, “If they get that desire early, they will want to stick it out to see where that road leads.”
Bukola now predominantly hires architects in her company, valuing their structured approach to design and problem-solving. She emphasizes that architecture goes beyond art. Functionality and aesthetics go hand in hand, it follows the philosophy of “form follows function.” With her architectural background, she heavily favours Unreal Engine. A skills gap in her team prompted Bukola to initiate an Unreal Engine training. “Unreal Engine, combines technical elements with C++ and a visual blueprint side. Its versatility extends beyond game design to architecture, live rendering, production, animation, and automobile design. Internally, it’s a crucial skill we recruit for so because there’s a massive gap in our team and we are still in the extremely early days here, we need to upskill our team. We’re also welcoming those interested in shifting into using this technology for video games or pursuing opportunities in other companies.”
Building the ecosystem
Bukola discovered her passion for marketing after reading a Times Magazine article. She shares, “I can’t remember the name of the building but one of the four sides of that building was used as a digital board. And they were talking about how much the board earned for the building and the company that owned it. It was a piece about architecture and advertising. I read that and thought actually yes, this is exactly what I want to do. So from my second year in university, I knew I was going to go into advertising for sure.”
As a leader, she emphasizes the importance of dedicating time to building the ecosystem in emerging industries. “I’ve come to understand that when you are in an emerging industry, you also need to commit time to build the ecosystem. If not you’re going to regret it or you are not going to like what it looks like because it will be full of people who have less information or whose objectives are very different.”
Kucheza was launched in October 2019 and initially planned to create its first game five years after its establishment but pivoted due to COVID-19. Bukola explains, “During those Covid years, we brought forward our studio capabilities.” Unable to continue in-person school activities, they used the time to create a concept. Bukola found inspiration in the book “The Wild Kingdoms” about Yoruba mythology. She reached out to the writer for permission to use it as a reference. The Wild Kingdoms (Itan Orisha) game was released for testing in October 2023. It started as an ambitious open-world project but was streamlined into a mobile game with a few missions. “ It was a very difficult, expensive and sharp learning curve. We started with a big idea and released something much smaller,” she confessed.
Bukola pointed out Samsung’s dyslexia initiative as an impactful story in the games for change space, stating, “I think there’s a huge opportunity in video games for good. And that ethos resonates with me that games for good don’t mean you make only educational games.” A notable example is how Samsung partnered with a popular game company in Asia to create a workflow for detecting dyslexia in children. “So within the space of a month or two, they had tested millions of kids just because those kids always play the game. And they were able to get 25 thousand kids whose parents they sent messages to saying that based on this evaluation we strongly advise that you take your child for a screening. Games are immersive. They have our attention, so we can use that for change.”
Bukola highly values relationships, expressing, “What has stayed with me throughout my career is the relationships I’ve built.” She emphasizes the significance of these connections, highlighting the importance of managing them well and advising, “Don’t burn bridges, it’s not worth it.” If she could talk to her younger self, Bukola would emphasize staying fearless and not feeling constrained to follow a fixed path. She advises maintaining focus on the objective while being open and agile in adapting to the changing roads of business.