The following isn’t really a blog post. It’s an excerpt from an email conversation I had with some like-minded folk about the state and direction of gaming in the Indian context. Credit for this goes to NT Balanarayan. He is the one that got the ball rolling on this one. Some of the questions asked were :
What’s holding back India as a market to develop games? What can we do to popularise professional gaming in the country?
Here is the guilty party:
Anand Ramachandran, blogs at bossfight.in is a columnist for The New Indian Express
Chirantan Patnaik, blogs at neuralchaos.com. He set a record by playing GTA for 40 hours straight!
NT Balanarayan, blogs at gamebashing.com and writes for DNA.
Bharat Joshi, yours truly.
“What’s holding India back as a viable game development destination? There are many factors to be honest.
1) The way I see it, our education system is structured to create a professional army of drones. Essentially, we create some of the best software coders and IT specialists that are great on a technical level but crap from a creative standpoint. Game design is a lot more than just writing stable code. Hell, coding isn’t really a part of the creative process till much later. The concept is key, everything else follows. Unfortunately, in India’s quest to create a professional workforce, creativity is the first thing that is killed off in a student. If you want more proof, ask yourself when was the last time you played a decent mod created by an Indian for any game. (Mods NOT maps)
2) Gaming has yet to become accepted as “normal” in this part of the world. In Korea, if you claim to be a person who does not game in anyway, people look at you funny (trust me on this one; I’ve been there about a dozen times). It does not matter that the average US gamer’s age today is 33. Here, an adult that confesses to being a hardcore CS player is seen as being brain damaged or, at the very least, “immature”. Can you gauge the reaction of a standard parent when their kid walks in and says “I’ve really thought about it Dad, I’ve decided I do not want to be an engineer. Instead, I want to create the next Duke Nukem.”? Nuff said.
3) Lack of funding. This ties in closely to the lack of any professional talent. There isn’t a single game developer in India worth mentioning. I hasten to add here that I am not including flash/browser based games. Even if there are some brave souls with the balls to put their careers on the line to back up their idea, their budget would be slim indeed. The average title costs a few million dollars to develop, not counting marketing etc. I’m pretty sure Ghajini “the game” didn’t cost that much.
4) Piracy. Most of the leaked code you find tends to get through during the cloning process, i.e., it’s when DVDs are being manufactured that some asshole nicks a copy to sell to pirates (usually a factory worker). India is notorious for not having a legal system in place to protect intellectual property. Why the hell would anyone set up shop here?
I could go into further detail but these are the biggies.”
“The Indian gaming industry grew out of IT roots, not entertainment roots. These typically value processes over people, numbers over creativity. Our development studios simply don’t have the DNA to build competent entertainment content – just look at animation for a parallel.
Things will change as the kids take over – but it’s not going to happen in a hurry. I met several young development studios at NASSCOM this year, they’re all making okay games. But not ONE of them, in my opinion, has the capability to create decent, contemporary game – even something like Machinarium or Plants vs. Zombies for instance, leave alone high end stuff.
I think it will be at least three to five years before we see world class casual games, and ten before we see a top-end title from India (complete – not outsourcing based)”
“Interesting, meanwhile there’s this talk of prices of EA games for consoles going up by Rs. 800, do you think it’ll have an impact on gaming in India?”
“In the short run – probably yes – it will prevent growth. The numbers we do are so small anyway, that there’s probably no major impact in terms of revenue. But it certainly will reduce / limit the number of games people will buy, for sure. That’s Economics 101. But in the long run, not really. Once the recession is truly behind us, and companies start thinking long-term again, they will not be able to ignore India as a market (it’s the largest untapped gaming market in the world) and will do whatever is needed to boost sales.”
“Bharat had an intriguing point of view on seeing games through a ‘normal’ perspective. In fact, most of the issues raised around cost and maturity of development are directly proportional to the fact that video games are still considered a geek’s sanctuary and domain. This definitely has to change. Development woes and lack of creative talent in the Indian gaming industry is often blamed for intriguing titles. Before I talk about the year that went by, I’d like to stick my neck out and say this: Consoles may yet be the closet thing to an answer for the lack of interest/market.
I have been a PC gamer throughout and have only in the recent 2 years or so started playing on consoles. I wanted something that I can immediately switch on and play on a big TV instead of having to constantly upgrade my PC and install arcane system drivers.
The experience of pick-up & play is really what the console industry is pushing for. It is via this medium that most of the casual consumers can reach out to some of the blockbuster AAA titles that next-gen gaming has produced. I can’t be bothered to keep up with every damn NVIDIA card that comes up.
So there: More penetration in the homes of people, would directly impact gaming sales in the region as well as pique interest amongst smaller developers to make interesting home-grown content.
As far as the year that was, I totally loved it, and hated it. Indian games that came out were lacking in almost every department. A franchise like ‘Hanuman’ could’ve been totally mind blowing had it been made with an iota of interest and storyline. Why does a game only have to involve punching and firing guns? Plot out some radical RPG elements into the franchise, and we might as well be exporting these games like Japan has been doing since the past 10-12 years.
I still believe that most of the development in India is stymied by the belief that a creatively led game would only appeal to the niche. Let’s face it, we are a very ‘mass-market’ oriented culture. From political strategies, marketing plans of companies to bollywood; everyone aims for the ‘lowest common denominator’. However, I refuse to believe that individual and creative content does not get into the mainstream. Take a look at some of the movies that have done well despite having interesting stories and shoe string budgets. The same can be said of games, make something truly creative and engaging and you are bound to get noticed.
How about a well structured RTS game based on the Mahabharata? Or perhaps a dark yet tactical FPS located in the streets on Mumbai. This is obviously an oversimplification but hope you get the drift. What do you guys think ?”
“I agree with consoles being a lot more convenient. The plug and play aspect is something the PC cannot compete with (at least in the short term). Also, from a strictly cultural standpoint, it would be much easier to get a family huddled around the home TV rather than the PC in Dad’s den. As Anand rightly surmised “India is the largest untapped gaming market in the world”.
That being said, from a purely Indian perspective, ask yourself this, “How many PCs are sold for every Xbox?” Furthermore, console games are a lot more expensive. Even the “plug and play” nature of consoles is changing. Mods are becoming common; games have to be installed on built in hard drives etc. Besides, PC penetration here is ridiculously high; I live a few miles from the biggest IT hardware market in Asia (Nehru Place, Delhi). Just take a look at how many “Farmville” players are from this country. This is where I think things are going to start turning.
The interest generated around browser-based games is pretty much impossible to ignore. The span is global and it’s instant. Compare that to the supposed 25 million dollars Valve spent on promoting Left 4 Dead 2. How many posters or ads on TV did you see for the game in this part of the world? Modern Warfare 2 is the biggest selling IP in the history of entertainment. THE HISTORY OF ENTERTAINMENT for crying out loud!! The PC version of the game is STILL not available in India. I want to be optimistic, I really do, but the fact remains that there is something very, very wrong here.
(Totally on board with the Mahabharata RTS though. That would be awesome. As would a Ramayan MMO)”
“Small nit-pick – but it’s simply the biggest launch, in terms of revenue, not units sold. Consider a movie ticket as a unit, which costs about $10, as opposed to a game, which costs $50 or more. The numbers here don’t always tell the complete story.
Harry potter / Star Wars are still by far the largest selling entertainment IPs – sellling books, comics, games, toys, clothing, merchandise and more. MW2 still has a loooooooong way to go 🙂
Also – completely agree with Bharat on PC / Mobile and other high-penetration devices for growing gaming in India. With consoles, the entry barrier is simply too high for a mass-market penetration in the near future.
It’s simple – in mature markets, games do the numbers they do because of one reason – the general middle-class can afford and buy them. In India, this will only be possible if we broaden the ambit of what we see as ‘games’ and a ‘gaming market’. Facebook and Farmville is a good example of where to begin.
Having said that, we aren’t even tapping into a decent percentage of those who CAN afford them. This can surely be done with better pricing and smarter marketing.”