The Great Indian Circus

No, there is no technical issue going on up there. It’s just that the gaming industry in India is so small, that I could not find one significant title to put an image up there. A developing country with a population of over 1.2 Billion has not developed a single good title is extremely shocking to me. Which is why I decided to dig deep into it and find what’s actually the cause behind this. Having lived 21 years in the country, I feel like I am qualified to pass my thoughts over it as well.

The Significance

Ignoring all the problems, why I think a good game industry in India is important is the global presence. Right now, India has no place in the global gaming industry. Having visited GDC recently, I did not see more than one Indian booths at the Expo. Currently, top tier gaming industries source part of their work from India. Rockstar has an office in India where the team worked on Red Dead Redemption 2, but instead of feeding the existing companies, I think India has potential to make their own games. India has the largest young population structure which leads to its growing and evolving gaming culture. It has beautiful location and landmark potentials which are already being used in AAA games like Hitman, Call of Duty and Uncharted. Also, its unique and saturated and diverse structure can lead to different level designs.

Current Presence

Even though there are no insignificant video games in the global market, few Indian games were advertised locally which I could give a try. Here are few of those that I remember. Starting from the relatively-worst to relatively-best.

Don 2 (2013)

This abomination of a game was developed for the PS2 and PSP after a movie of the same name. It’s embarrassing to think that an Indian company was working on this in 2013 when American companies were working on The Last Of Us and GTA V. Terrible controls and design made it impossible to play without getting frustrated and the graphics were early 2000 quality.

Apox (2011)

I was looking forward to this game because it offered an RTS game with First Person Shooter controls. However, it was an indie game and the game felt like it was very rushed to publish. The developer(s) probably realized that they over-scoped and didn’t bother to make it better. I really liked the concept, but felt like they couldn’t execute it properly. Even with this screenshot, it is clear that the art is terrible. They were going for Company Of Heroes-esque style but clearly failed.

Ghajini (2008)

For a game that was released in 2008, the graphics were not bad. If I were to compare the graphics quality, I would compare it with GTA San Andreas. Ghajini is a stealth game and probably the first Indian title that I bothered to complete. I did enjoy the game, however, I did not see any innovations. It was a Hitman ripoff, with an Indian aesthetic, and as it was developed after a successful movie, it was fun to play.

Lovely Planet (2014)

If chaos in relaxation was a game, this would be it. It’s a sweet gentle game until it takes you on a fast paced ride. Mostly, the reviews were positive but many people were critical about how the game’s art looked exactly like Katamari Damacy. People also complained about the lack of harmony in the game, but overall, it was the first successful game in India. Personally, I felt that the reward system was bad, but the game itself was not. Which is why, it is on the top of my list.

Apart from the games above, I would also like to make some honorary mentions:
1. Desi Adda – A simulation of traditional Indian outdoor games. Graphics were bad, but as an Indian, it would take you on a nostalgic ride.
2. Angry Brides – I never played it, but it’s on here because it
got a lot of attention for addressing the dowry problem in India.
3. Ludo King – A simulation of the board game ‘Ludo’. Not much to say, it is exactly how it is meant to be.

Cause

India has made all these games that nobody really plays. So, what’s the reason behind this? Do not quote me on these points, but I do think these are the reasons why we are so behind in the global industry.
1. Piracy – Can we make the font bigger and make the text bold? I did not know that games could be bought legally until the age of 10. Buying games for 1/10th of the price from the local store felt natural. I had no idea that I was buying pirated games, because of how normalized piracy was. My first legal game that I bought was a Spongebob game which was ‘ridiculously’ priced for ~$7, where only a few days ago, I had bought GTA San Andreas for $2. But can you blame us for this? Indians are ridiculously underpaid. The per capita income is 7,060 PPP dollars which is almost 9 times smaller than USA. Now, imagine buying any mainstream game. For example, PUBG – available for ~$14 in the Indian market. Considering India’s per capita income, it’s like buying PUBG for 9 times the amount, that is, $126. Would you buy PUBG for $126? Or would you rather buy a pirated copy for a mere $20? This is also one of the reasons why the ad revenue model is popular in India’s gaming market. I would also like to bring China in this as Tencent figured this problem out very quickly, making their mobile games available for free with a bunch of ads.
2. Gaming bad – India is a country mostly filled with individuals with an orthodox mindset. Playing games is considered bad and a waste of time. My parents initially thought that joining the ETC involved ‘playing games’. So, for a country where people don’t even consider the existence of such a market, how can you expect it to flourish? Hopefully, the newer generation is more welcoming about video games.
3. $Money$ – Again, do not quote me on this, but I think this is a global issue. Gaming industry, as compared to other industry, has a lot less money involved. Game Workers Unite, an international organization made these excellent cards which showed how employees in the gaming industry are exploited.

Now, combine this with India’s per capita income. Okay, don’t even bother, the results are disastrous. You might argue that the gaming industry also has indie developers but that involves a big risk. From my observations, Indians are less likely to take risks and more likely to settle down with a job.

A New Hope

I do not have the latest data, but according to this source, in 2016, 160 thousand Computer Science students graduated in India. I am sure the number has increased by a lot but more the number of computer science students, more the software developers. And more the software developers, more the number of people in game development. India does not have good designers, because engineering skills are always preferred over creative skills. Students are trained like robots to do work, involving no creativity.

But, thanks to the newer Indian game companies, India has been pacing a little digital gaming and gaming technology. Gaming and technology enthusiasts are entering the market to meet the rising demand for interactive games and tap into the potential of this business niche. The following Indian games companies have been consistently contributing to the games development markets worldwide and will soon have good enough independence to make their own games.

19 Studios – Headquartered in Delhi NCR, 19Studios has been designing, developing and delivering digital games for mobile platforms for years. Equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure and powered by the best of brains in the industry, 19Studios has built a huge portfolio of expertise in game development. Tom and Andy, MacMillan, Web Wabbit, Paint Ball, and My Rooms are some of their clients.

Zebu Games – One of the most promising games startups in India, the idea of getting into mobile games development started here when people began realizing how powerful the mobile market is. Homebound and Wordmint are the most popular mobile games in their portfolio. Zebu Games is looking to develop games in multiple Indian languages and monetize their games through in-game advertisement.

Along with these names, there are also studios like 99Games, Axis Entertainment Limited, Rolocule, Juego Studios, CreatioSoft, GameEon Infotech, Games2Win, Dhruva Interactive and also, Holy Cow productions (a company founded by an ETC alumnie). But the question remains, when will we see something like this from an Indian company?:

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