When we chatted with CEO of SuperGaming, Roby John we got fantastic insights into how the Indian market responds to battle royale titles. But that’s only a part of the fascinating story of what’s going on with Indus, their own title which they've created to dominate the arena.
We got to dig deeper into how Indus was designed and how it represents Indian culture in every facet. SuperGaming wants to change the faceless, location-neutral battle royale gaming arena with a domestic success story that captures the artistic spirit of India.
And as the huge success of BGMI even after a ten-month ban shows, gaming in India and gamer's passion for battle royale shows nossigns of abaiting and, in Indus, SuperGaming are offering a locally developed alternative with a similarly high-fidelity aesthetic aimed at discerning players.
And with 1.5m pre-registrations back in April, Indus certainly has a foothold already. We grilled John to find out more.
PocketGamer.biz: What inspired the creation of Indus, both from a gaming and business point of view?
Roby John: The creation of Indus began with Indo-Futurism. Indo-Futurism was shaped from what we Indians are familiar with - history.
Everyone knows of the Indus Valley Civilisation from two chapters in our history textbooks. It’s relatable and authentic to most. However, we didn’t want to make a game that had you using primitive weapons or have a high fantasy setting. That wouldn’t be as grand. Or fun.
We thought about a few ‘What If’ scenarios and one that stood out was 'What if instead of going extinct, the Indus Valley Civilisation advanced to the space age? And what if we extrapolated that to an entire planet rather than just a river valley?’ This was our launchpad.
At the time, we had an idea of what Indo-Futurism could be but we weren’t really excited by the idea. Not just yet. That’s where Black Panther’s take on Afro-Futurism came in.
The idea of Wakanda being the most advanced city complete with themes that combine Africa’s rich heritage with a hopeful future was truly inspirational.
While we had some previous story outlines, including a mysterious island that would hover above planets in the galaxy and the Olympics, Indo-Futurism stood out.
After all, crafting a game that surfaces India’s glorious past with a hopeful future is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
And battle royale was the obvious genre in which to… do battle?
From a business perspective, we estimate about 400 million Indians play battle royale games and that genre alone is a billion dollar market in the country. With all this in mind, no game has been built for an India-first audience until now. What’s more is, the timing is right. The Indian audience is primed and ready.
Gamers here have a strong preference for international content. Popular titles here include BGMI, COD Mobile, Minecraft, GTA 5, and Valorant. The audience is already aware of what’s good and fun as well as having a baseline expectation of what a solid battle royale should be. It’s an opportunity for us to convince them that a made-in-India game can be world-class, just like the games they’re already playing.
Tell us more about “Indo-futurism” concept and how it guided the game’s visual design?
Indus incorporates Indian culture and mythology in multiple ways. This aids us in being able to extract elements from Indian arts and culture and create a fictional world using them to convey the feeling of being Indian at the same time as being futuristic.
How does this reveal itself to the player? For instance Virlok - the island on which all the action in Indus takes place - is a mix of old and new as you can see from this early art exploration below that was done to capture the tone and vibe.
Another example of this is Jatayu from the Ramayana. It’s a symbol of valour across India and we found it to be a welcome representation of bravery amidst impossible odds. Depictions of Jatayu such as the Jatayu Earth’s Centre in Kerala have it with its wing slain by Ravana. In Indus however, it forms an integral part of the landscape of Virlok as Jatayu Central with our depiction of it alluding to a phoenix.
Within Jatayu Central itself, the architecture is replete with touches from Indian architecture with symmetry and few sharp, hard edges. Furthermore, the colour and surrounding environment were also thoughtfully crafted, keeping in mind the mood and feeling the team wants to give to you when you play Indus - dreamlike, to add to the environment’s allure and mystery.
At the same time though, we want to ensure the environment is readable because at the end of the day this is a game where one of the core components is shooting other players.
You play as a Mythwalker and are not bound to a single form. You can expect to play in a form that resonates the most with you. One of these is Mor-Ni, a player skin inspired by stylings of that era along with a touch of sci-fi chic.
We approached her design as an expression of India’s rich history with a look into the future. The initial thought was trying to answer how Indian culture, such as the well-established, recognisable symbols like the Indian peacock and Indo-fashion elements would look like from the lens of Indo-Futurism, while being highly inspired from the idea of creating a strong female character that exudes elegance, glamour, pride, and confidence.
As for Heena - a playable avatar based on Indian Olympic Pistol shooter Heena Sidhu - we approached her design based on her personality and had several options ready in terms of what her character would look like and what her backstory would be in-game.
From a visual and lore perspective, three personas of hers stood out: adventurer, warrior, and glamour. Naturally these designs - and backstories had to match the tone and look of the game world.
The adventurer had her as a space ranger, using her knowledge of the stars to create a map used by all space-faring civilizations.
We took the glamour persona to cast her as a spy master - maintaining a balance between the many factions in the galaxy through information.
However we settled on a look and backstory - with her blessing - that was more in line with how she perceives herself and how she is perceived: a warrior at the top of her game.
And making Indus inclusive to women has been a priority?
And not just in our characters, while they’re the highlight, but also to recognise our women players. Through all our community playtests we’ve ensured we take feedback from women gamers. Their opinions on wider subjects like our theme of Indo-Futurism to subtleties as to how movement should work have been instrumental in shaping a game that’s inclusive for all. In fact, around 30 percent of our players in recent playtests have been women.
And this isn’t our first attempt at making a game inclusive. Our past efforts such as social deduction game Silly Royale has over 22 million players and trends around that 45 percent figure in terms of female player base, In fact a large, vocal part of the community and its content creators are women.
It helps that at SuperGaming itself, there are talented women as game artists, technical artists, game designers, game developers, game testers, and marketing leads. Globally, 45 percent of all gamers are women but only 18 percent of them make games. That's something we'd want to see change and it begins with us.
The time is right for an Indian epic on a global scale. We should be the first to tell our story to the world through the most interactive medium on the planet.Roby John
What role does esports play in your game?
We looked at building Indus to be inclusive to all kinds of audiences and all kinds of gamers. It's similar to how games like Fortnite have different kinds of people playing, be it casually, competitively or even using features like the Creator Mode. And when we look at it through that lens, esports is an important part of that mix. It also helps in giving the game a chance of being seen by a wider audience that forms a large part of the esports spectator base in India, which by our estimates forms about an 85 million viewer opportunity.
Furthermore, since our last playtest in Surat, we’ve had a lot of questions regarding competitive play as well as features like a spectator mode. With Indus’ core gameplay in place, now is a good time for us to add necessary options and refine them to make Indus esports ready.
India comprises dozens major languages, and many more regional differences. How did you manage to represent and accommodate this in your game?
It’s less a play for language and more a showcase of our culture. And even then, it’s about going deeper too. We don’t look at this as a way to simply show off India and its culture as you already know it. Rather, we want to surface those parts that may not be really well known, but deserve recognition - locally and internationally.
More importantly we want to revisit them through the positive, hopeful lens of Indo-Futurism. Indo-Futurism is about setting your mind free and imagining a world which is unapologetically Indian in its exploration or representation of science fiction. An exploration of our culture if you will.
If Fallout and BioShock explore themes native to their country of origin such as American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, Indus is our attempt at exploring Indian culture through the lens of sci-fi.
As fans of sci-fi, we felt India and Indian culture was under-represented in the mainstream representation of the genre and Indo-Futurism is our response to that.
What are your ambitions for Indus on the world stage, and domestically?
On the world stage we want to put India on the global gaming map. We’ve now seen over three million pre-registrations with around 50% from those outside of India. While we know that the theme of Indo-Futurism hasn’t been done internationally, it's great to see that there’s a demand for it beyond our country.
Prior to pre-registrations we had an inkling that there could be an audience with the success of Black Panther and its take on Afro-Futurism, but to see it play out in real-time with players the world over pre-registering makes us believe we’re on track to put India on the global gaming map.
And domestically we want to deliver a game that's representative of new India. Today’s India is aspirational and already proving itself on the global stage. Indus is a representation of this.
The time is right for an Indian epic on a global scale. We should be the first to tell our story to the world through the most interactive medium on the planet.