Solving obscure puzzles, bagging weapons from the Gods and completing a slew of tasks in an ancient Indian backdrop - the action-adventure game, Raji, is all this and much more. Filled with Hindu mythological elements such as temples, sculptures and mandala art, Raji, the central character in the game, is on a quest to save her brother, Golu, from the demon-king Mahabalasura.
The game was developed by a team of thirteen people at Nodding Heads Games in Pune and can be played on the PC, Nintendo Switch, latest versions of Xbox and Playstation.
Gone are the days when India’s gaming ecosystem was associated with Bollywood adaptations and poor characters, animations and props.
Presently, the mobile gaming space is leading the race owing to the growing accessibility of smartphones and reasonable internet packs. Games like Ludo King, Indian Air Force, Real Cricket 20 and others have pushed the valuation of the market to $1.2 billion and this is only expected to increase further according to the research firm CLSA.
Even when it comes to PC and console games, Indian game developers are catching up. Gaming companies and studios such as 99games, Nazara Technologies, Octro, Moonfrog Labs, Lakshya Digital, Pyrodactyl are braving challenges to release many gems. Whether it is the compelling and realistic narrative of Unrest or the fun and quirky elements of Lovely Planet, gamers are enjoying every bit of it.
The country’s potential in building games
The gaming industry in India is presently valued at $ 930 million and is estimated to grow at 41 percent every year. With over 560 million internet users, the nation saw a huge rise in the gaming user base in March 2020. Though this was partly because of constant lockdowns and people being restricted to their homes during COVID-19, demographics played a role too. More than 50 percent of India’s population is below the age of 25, and 60 percent of gamers fall in the same age group.
The mushrooming interest in gaming among the youth has made India the hotbed for global giants. From Nvidia announcing the establishment of over a 100 gaming cafes, Ubisoft deciding to reboot “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” through its studios in Pune and Mumbai, Rockstar Games acquiring Dhruva Interactive to Electronic Arts Inc signing a contract with Mumbai-based game distributor e-xpress Interactive Software (eIS) - the participation of international companies is the Indian gaming industry is strengthening the development cycle.
The success of games like The Last Train by Smash Game Studios and Asura by Ogre Head Studio has already ascertained the quality of game development in the country. Whether it is creating game assets, programming, character modelling, designing, animating, or testing India has a pool of talented individuals who can pull it off.
Chirag Chopra who founded an indie game development studio called Lucid Labs in 2015, has been building experimental and artistic games by collaborating with skilled individuals from across the world. The studio’s latest game titled 'Possessions' which is a simple 3D puzzle game about perspective and spatial awareness, released on Apple Arcade for their new game subscription service.
Chirag believes that the country is definitely capable of producing AAA games in the near future. “Lately, game developers and designers have started taking risks. They are willing to invest big, and spend more time on projects,” Chirag quips.
Iron in the fire
Gaming PCs and consoles are considered a luxury in many Indian households due to the cost involved in purchasing and maintaining them.
Shreekanth Namilakonda Venkata, Game Developer at PlayD Game Studio highlights this further.
“Mobile phones are both affordable and portable. A good quality gaming PC costs around Rs 1 lakh and a Playstation or Xbox console comes with a price tag of Rs 40,000 to 45,000. So, for obvious reasons, many of the gamers prefer playing on their phones,” Shreekanth says.
Besides, casual and amateur gamers are known to be reluctant to spend too much on other devices. The demand for e-games like Kabaddi, Teen Patti and Rummy which is gaining a lot of popularity in smaller towns and rural areas because of their Indian roots are easier to play on the phone.
Nevertheless the experienced lot are generally looking forward to engaging with very realistic, immersive plots and graphics. And hence, gaming studios in India are upping their ante when it comes to developing spectacular graphics and using technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality.
Thus, it can be said that India offers an untapped potential in both mobile and PC/console gaming space, though the former has a larger user base.
Challenges along the way
Despite all the comforting prospects in the Indian gaming industry, there are some roadblocks that need to be overcome. Most of the Indian startups and studios are bootstrapped. And, in order to scale, they need a good amount of funds. For instance, to make a game like Red Dead Redemption 2, a great deal of effort, expertise, detailing and time was needed. Seven years of hard work, 1,200 actors in a motion capture studio and a 2,000 page script was no joke.
But, venture capitalists in India usually invest in business plans that can garner money from the users themselves. Monetisation is again difficult since most of the gamers in India are students below the age of 25 who do not own a PC or console.
In fact, Raji was delayed by a few years owing to the lack of funds. The Founders Shruti Ghosh, Avichal Singh and Ian Maude rode the struggle bus through its making.
Shruti recalls this in an interview with The Indian Express, “In the initial years when we tried to do a Kickstarter campaign, we could not reach the goal. That was the only plan we had back then. We made a demo for 10 months and sustained ourselves through our savings.”
Shruti even had to sell her apartment to stay afloat. She later bagged an Unreal Dev Grant, which is a $5 million fund that supports various developers working with Unreal Engine 4. This was just about enough for her team to sustain for a few months, until finally, super.com. agreed to be their publisher.
Another challenge that indie gaming companies face is to do with gathering all the resources required to build games.
“Mobile games are comparatively easy to develop in terms of programming and graphics, etc. And, some of them even recycle or clone existing games to produce new ones. Console and PC games on the other hand need a huge team of dedicated people, a lot of expertise and plenty of time. AA games require a minimum of 2 to 3 years and AAA demands at least 5 years,” notes Shreekanth.
Even in today’s time and age, several Indian parents are against their children playing video games since they believe it to be a waste of time. The same goes with building a career as a game developer or designer. This is because of the stigma associated with the field of gaming.
“I had to grapple with my parents and convince them to take up a career in game design. It took me a while but I didn’t stop trying. Finally, I landed in Rubika, a French school of design,” says Chirag.
Nevertheless, there seems to be no dearth of opportunities in the Indian gaming industry. According to a specialist staffing firm called Xpheno, India has about 23,000 gaming-based job openings, with pay packages ranging from Rs 3 lakh to a little over Rs 40 lakh. So, those who are crazy about games, do not mind spending long working hours or carry out bug-testing, can surely go for it.
All in all, there are obstacles that the industry needs to break through, but it has all the flair to make a mark in the global gaming sphere.
Some resources and links to help you learn more about the gaming industry in India: