Indian Hardcore Gaming Industry: A Dormant Power

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 13480 , Published on 06 June 2012
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Ever heard of companies called Trine Studios, FXLabs, Dhruva Interactive? Well, for those who haven’t, these are some of the biggest names in the Indian hardcore gaming industry, which by itself is quite miniscule compared to that in the western nations. India is a nation of people obsessed with entertainment, be it magazines, cricket, movies or the internet. We boast of some of the best IT firms and IT human-resources in the world.

We have our fair share of gamers too, whether they be trying to catapult a bird at a bunch of pigs, or shooting their way through scores of zombies. The companies you heard above have played their part well in the making of legendary games like the Battlefield series, NFS series etc. But when it comes to producing a world-class game that can be labelled as “Made-in-India”, we fall at the bottom of the charts. Why is that so?

Before analyzing the problems, it would be proper to have a brief overview of the gaming scenario in India. The Indian gaming industry is valued at over Rs.10 billion and is expected to grow to Rs.38 billion by 2015. This comprises of both casual gaming (Farmville, Paper Toss etc.) and hardcore gaming (Burnout, Prototype etc.), with the former easily surpassing the latter in terms of number of players and developers in India owing to the huge number and accessibility of mobile-phones, their comparatively low prices, the burgeoning telecom sector and the fact that these games offer quick mental-relaxation on the go to players of any segment (while hardcore gaming appeals primarily to SEC-A urban males in the age-group of 16-26, with roughly 80% of them from the top 8 metros). Now let’s look at the problems ailing this industry in India.

Challenges:

The problems faced by any industry are composed of factors from two sides- the supply side and the demand side. Same goes for the hardcore-gaming industry in India. The supply side comprises of the availability of good games to play and the demand side comprises of the demand for such games. Below is a list of the different categories and their factors that keep this industry at such a low level:

Quality Factors

  • Lack of Compelling Content: Mature gamers do not play games just for the graphics or the game-play; they play it to immerse themselves in a virtual world where they assume the role of the main protagonist. Doing so requires a powerful storyline and content in the game where the player can become one with it. Unfortunately, in India, all major games are either rip-offs of Bollywood movies (e.g. Ghajini) or based upon some mythological (e.g. Hanuman: Boy Warrior) or patriotic figure (e.g. Bhagat Singh). Rather than paying attention to the finer aspects of storyline creation and ensuring immersion of the player, such games merely try to ride the waves of  popularity of the underlying character. 
  • Low Visual Appeal: The visual quality of a game is what sets the first impression in gamers’ minds and attracts them towards trying it out. However, the graphics and animation of today’s hardcore Indian games are similar to those of games developed internationally about 7-8 years ago. Thus, they stand no chance against the games of today which have enough power to bring the most powerful of rigs to their knees.
  • Heavily Buggy: Games developed in India are usually underfunded and do not follow a rigorous testing cycle, which in the end translates into a bug-filled game that is no fun to play.


Monetary Factors

  • Cost of Creating a Game: World-class titles like GTA or Crysis cost millions to create over a span of many years. GTA-IV for instance cost nearly $100 million for development only. Indian game developers do not enjoy such monetary luxury, either by way of their own funds or of publishers in order to develop a game of the same cadre. In addition, tax and customs duty imposed on the gaming industry are considerably high in India. 
  • Cost of Buying a Game: While PC games are quite reasonably priced in India, console games aren’t. They are imported directly and so usually cost their equivalent price abroad, which is quite costly. Also, not everyone buys games himself; students particularly are quite hard-pressed to ask their parents for money for games. 
  • Cost of Gaming Equipment: Gaming is an expensive hobby, primarily because the equipment used to play one nowadays is quite costly. Also, new equipment and more demanding games arise everyday, and one cannot keep investing forever just to keep up with the pace.

Infrastructure Factors

  • Lack of High Internet Bandwidth: An important factor affecting the demand for a game is how much a player can use it to play with its friends. Unfortunately in India, the bandwidth required to play such games online is either unavailable or too expensive. In-fact, it is easier to connect with Singapore servers than with Indian servers.
  • Lack of Dedicated Servers: Game publishers do not see much sense in setting up dedicated servers for their games in India due to the low market, and this contributes to the bad experiences in online game-players.

Other Factors

  • Perception Towards Gaming: Gaming in India is regarded as a leisurely childish activity by many people, comprising not only of parents, but also peers. Due to it being seen as immature, parents discourage it in their children. Such discouragement is not limited to playing, but also in making a career in this field, thus reducing quality developers. Cultural sensitivity is also an important factor, with certain people blaming games like Hanuman: Boy Warrior to be culturally abusive. 
  • Lack of Training Centres: There is a severe lack of quality training centres in 3D media designing, artwork creation etc. in India. Such centres are usually directed towards preliminary level training or training only in modelling and animation, not content creation. 
  • Lack of Marketing: There is a lack of any proper marketing for Indian-developed games, be it through traditional medium or online. This lack of awareness reduces the reach of new games. 
  • Rampant Piracy: This is a problem that needs no introduction. Rampant piracy of over 70-80% of games sold in India discourages developers from creating good games as the developer feels he is not getting enough returns for his work. The low availability of the latest titles also contributes to this.

A brief overview of the aforesaid problems reveals that they are self-sustaining, i.e. the supply of good games is hurt as developers don’t see an enthusiastic market, while the lack of good games reduces enthusiasm among gamers, thus leading to a vicious cycle.

What Needs to be Done

A lot has to be done on many fronts to bring the Indian hardcore gaming industry up to speed. Though no solution can be expected to enhance game quality overnight or change the negative perception towards gaming, a sustained effort on the more tangible areas on the supply side can help in the long run:

  • Better online infrastructure is needed (not just for playing games but also because the mainstream bandwidth provided in India by ISPs is low by international standards).
  • Better training centres are needed to churn out talent in the field of game development.
  • Rather than importing, manufacturing of console game discs should be setup here to reduce the costs of good titles.
  • Online selling of games should be tried to counter unavailability of games and thus piracy. Firms like Flipkart are certainly helping in this regard. Also, on a wider note, infomercials should be launched to educate the people about the bad effects of piracy.
  • In-game advertising should be used to help with monetary issues.
  • Better marketing should be done, like launching demos, community based reviews etc.
  • Easier taxation policies to boost the gaming industry.
  • More numbers of well-managed large-scale gaming fests will help spread a stronger gaming culture.
  • Indian developers and studios need to collaborate with foreign developers to make them understand the actual demands of the gaming community in India. It will help provide them not just the required knowledge resources, but also the funding to create great games.

Conclusion

Overall, it is important to note that the developers can’t wait for demand to pick up and then start making good games, but rather, the opposite must happen i.e. good games must be created to boost demand. Success here largely relies on an ideal blend of technology, talent, creativity, marketing, and distribution. Opportunities are replete in this sector, like creating an India-themed GTA, or a game on the native superheroes like Nagraj, Dhruva etc. or one based on the Indian army. On the horizons of conclusion, it can be said, that the Indian hardcore gaming industry is truly a dormant power with great potential only waiting to be unleashed.

This article has been authored by Sidharth Nanda from IIFT Kolkata.

Image Source: http://www.squamble.com/2012/01/11/gaming-industry-and-its-future-in-india/


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