6 things we learned about India's games industry at PGC Bangalore

There's a rumbling in the east

6 things we learned about India's games industry at PGC Bangalore

Last week, Pocket Gamer Connects packed its bags, picked its sunscreen, and hopped on a plane to Bangalore for the first mobile games conference of its kind in India.

With a strong history in IT outsourcing, perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise to see the talent of the nascent mobile game development community that's growing in India.

Certainly their enthusiasm, combined with the expertise provided by a speakers' list including the likes of Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka, indie guru Mike Bithell, and Zeptolab CEO Misha Lyalin, not to forget representatives from Google, Unity, Bossa Studios, Disney and Ubisoft, created a fascinating two day experience.

So, without further ado, we've put together a rundown of the key things you need to know about the Indian mobile games market, and what we learned from our two days in Bangalore.

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  • 1 Mobile is India's triple-A

    Mobile is India's triple-A logo

    While the west is filled with "digital natives" that are second, or even third generation gamers, it's far more common in India to see those who are the first in their family to be gamers.

    Manish Agarwal of Reliance Games told PocketGamer.biz that the reason is largely because many Indians in the past have been unable to afford consoles or PC games - and indeed, it's the smartphone that's sparking a new wave of gamers.

    "The gaming world in the Indian market is going to be more mobile than PC or console," says Agarwal, "because it's never been exposed to that. There are 100 million people who will have leapfrogged PC internet and gone straight to mobile."

    He believes that limited consumer access to PC and consoles could make mobile games the new triple-A.

    Indeed, "now is "the best time to be a games developer in India," he says. "Soon you are going to have the second largest - if not the first - domestic market [for mobile games] in the world."

  • 2 The nail becomes the hammer

    The nail becomes the hammer logo

    While gaming is gaining ground in India, Amazon's Appstore evangelist Mike Hines pointed out to Pocket Gamer.biz that the country is also undergoing "a transition from a consulting mindset to an ownership mindset."

    Instead of working to develop intellectual property for other countries, more and more developers are devoting their energies into creating IPs for India.

    This growing passion for gaming and startups is brewing a perfect storm, and a new generation of indie game studios with the energy and dedication to create the next hit.

    "I started working in India ten years ago, and when I started working here the best and brightest over 18 went and worked overseas," Hines explains. "If you weren't quite as good you consulted for overseas.

    "Now the coolest job you can have here is no longer working for a Fortune 500 company, but for a start up. Developers have a sent of control of their own destiny and there's a palpable sense of excitement."

  • 3 Eyes on the global prize

    Eyes on the global prize logo

    We met a lot of developers at PGC Bangalore, from indies to multi-million studios, but one thread that coiled around them all was that they wanted to go global.

    "Honestly, we've never really made games for the Indian audience," said Anand Ramachandran of Tiny Mogul Games on a panel discussion.

    "Imagination has no boundaries, and if you can make games for the global audience don't just limit it to India. Make it go global, make a good game, and it will work in India as well."

    It's a point of view that we heard time and time again over the course of the conference. Most of the developers we spoke with had a global strategy but not a domestic one.

    99 Games' Rohith Bhat CEO summed it up by telling us that his studio doesn't "have an India story, but we have a global story."

    It seems to be paying off for 99 Games, whose casual restaurant-running game Star Chef has players in all four corners of the globe.

    Launched in August 2014, it is on track to surpass 500,000 MAUs this month, with most players clocking up 45 minutes play time a day across eight sessions.

  • 4 India is not a monolith

    India is not a monolith logo

    We were intrigued as to why Indian developers are currently not making games designed to capture their own country's imagination.

    The answer, says Ninad Chhaya of Robosoft, is that "India is not a monolith, there are very few things that will have universal appeal."

    In a country of 1.2 billion people, Chhaya claims that the cultures between regions are vastly disparate. While some cities will have a huge percentage of people playing games, there will be others who have "never been introduced to the concept of gaming."

    So it seems that capturing India's imagination is more a question of business, rather than creativity - though it's a question that Chhaya still believes deserves an answer by those with the cash.

    "I think building an India-focussed game is worth it, depending on who you are. If you're a small studio who needs profit maybe not, but for everyone else yes.

    "Look at any other entertainment form; we watch our own movies in Hindi and do so in in huge numbers. It's local television that we consume far more, and yet it's significantly different from a western or Japanese sensibility - so why should games be any different?

    "There's a huge emerging market of people that have never played games, and it is definitely worth going after that."

  • 5 A creaky infrastructure needs fixed

    A creaky infrastructure needs fixed logo

    One of the reasons that Indian games developers are focussing on the global rather than domestic market is India's infrastructure.

    Developers told us that across the country 4G is a rare commodity and even 3G growth is stunted. The lack of an online ecosystem currently makes it hard for Indian gamers to download large files, updates and purchases - meaning developers are targeting their games elsewhere.

    Monetising those games is similarly difficult, since as a country ecommerce is still in its infancy. Not only are people unwilling to pay with their phones, but a game with IAPs costing $2 equates to 126 rupees. In some parts of the country that's a day's salary.

    However, Reliance Games CEO Manish Agarwal believes that in a few short years these problems will have solutions.

    "As the Indian mobile internet infrastructure gets 3G and 4G, it could be the fastest consumption market and usage market in the world," he says.

    "I can tell you this is one of the most exciting markets. It's 300 million mobile gamers latching on to your brands and your games.

    "I said two years back, wait and watch, in two years time everyone will be lining up in India like what's happening in China - and now it's happening"

  • 6 India's got talent - but it needs to gather it

    India's got talent - but it needs to gather it logo

    It's an issue that cropped up at this year's GDC, but it seems that talent acquisition is a major speed bump for the growth of India's games industry as well.

    Abhinav Sarangi of indie developer All In A Day's Play told PocketGamer.biz that "one of the biggest problems is getting talent.

    "Here in India we don't really have a pool of ex-Ubisoft artists we can tap in to. When I talk to other people they often have the same problems with getting artists or game designers."

    The issue is partly down to the youth of the country's industry, but Sarangi believes geography plays a role too. Games development is centered in Mumbai and Bangalore, with designers living in the former and programmers in the latter.

    For Sarangi, it's been a case of never the twain shall meet. Based in Mumbai, his studio has talented designers but struggles to find skilled programmers.

    It was the first time Pocket Gamer Connects had come to India, but it was also the first event of its kind in the country.

    "This is the first time I've seen people coming and out and sharing their games," Sarangi says.

    "Most of the time they shut themselves in their offices, while the rest of the world I see game jams and meetups between studios. But hopefully this is the start of a wider scene" where, he hopes, talented Indian developers can cross-polinate their ideas and creativity.

News Editor