In June last year 24 year old Arvind Yadav from Jaipur posted an idea for a game on Kickstarter. He was looking to raise $3,500 to develop a role playing game based on ancient India. To everybody’s surprise folks on Kickstarter gave him over $36,000 to make it happen.
As entry barriers to game development come down, developers like Yadav are looking to make their fortune. Although nascent (and with a few ups and downs), game development in India is slowly making progress.
Historically India has been more of an art outsourcing hub for console games rather than game development. But with recent success stories like the $160 mn acquisition of Bash Gaming and the coming of mobile app stores, the Indian gaming industry has a lot to look forward to.
Entry Barriers are coming Down
Until the opening up of mobile app stores, game developers did not have an easy publish platform to release their titles easily. “The entry barrier for indie games have come down to a great extent due to the mobile app stores,” says Lalit Patel, the co-founder of Bash Gaming.
Remember the recent craze about Flappy Bird? A simple game with simple controls that went viral. Mobile platforms have a very low entry barrier and highest reach compared to all other gaming platforms. Due the low session lengths, games need not have a lot of depth and detail. They are also much easier to develop and publish.
Says Joel Johnson, the founder of digiKhel
Console has the additional challenge of requiring large upfront investment and very experienced teams. Mobile games, however, can be brought out far more quickly and it’s a lot easier to publish your game.
Mobile games also have the advantage of attracting even to the casual gamer and has better reach as compared to consoles.
Kinshuk Sunil, of Hashstash Studios, which is making waves with its new game called Circulets says
It is easy to be successful with an extremely simplified game in the casual space on mobiles than any other platforms, riding on this huge number of audience.
Where Is The Indie Game Development Scene Going?
From a handful of obscure studios that began game development as early as 1999, Indian gaming industry has come a long way. There are more than a hundred gaming studios in India. One of the first gaming success stories was Indiagames, which started off with a 5 member tam and went on to get acquired by Disney for about $100 million.
Similarly, the recent acquisition of Bash Gaming by GSN Games for about $160 million, was another milestone for the game development community.
In spite of these acquisitions and milestones, the Indian indie game development scene is still in its early days. “We make crappy games first, and then eventually get better. I’d think we’re at least five years away from that level of game development,” says Joel. Dhruva Interactive, a Bangalore based game development company, is also setting up an incubator called Gametantra for mobile game developers.
Even though a lot of new developers are trying their best, until a solid foundation of funding and mentorship is available for these developers, the road ahead looks tough. “Most Indie developers are stuck in earning their daily bread and butter, which makes things a little more complicated,” adds Kinshuk.
Inspite of these troubles we are seeing a crop of new startups and developers coming in and bringing more variety and flair in the indie gaming industry.
Indian Problem For India Developers
Unlike most startups, indie gaming companies find it difficult to raise funds, especially with the fact that investors a mainly looking for a return in investment and these companies are not developing solutions to problems which in turn will yield better results.
“It is difficult to find the money (funds) needed to work on your own games. Unlike regular startups in India, we’re not working on or pivoting on ONE idea and this is a big challenge in raising funds,” says Joel.
Since revenues mostly come from buyers outside India, a lot of the indie game developers are focussed on developing games for those markets.
“Since the revenue generated from Indian audience is negligible, Indian game developers have to focus on the countries outside india,” says Lalit Patel of Bash Gaming. His company which built a viral casino game was acquired by American social gaming company GSN Games for nearly $160 mn in February.
Another big problem the indie gaming industry faces is access to experts and mentors. With gaming not in the mainstream developer space, mentors and experts are difficult to come across, especially in the case of indie developers just starting off.
“Game Development and associated disciplines are hardly fields of academic study in our country. Most people in the domain are either newbies or self-taught experts,” Kinshuk says.
According to Joel, a lot the games we see launching today in India are mass produced and doesn’t have much content or thought process going into it. He adds
If you were to ask today’s indie why he doesn’t look around for any mentors, the response usually is ‘Which Indian dev’s been really successful in games?’. They point to Bollywood based games on their phones, and ask if they’re expected to learn from the developers of these?
With not many companies in the industry even the ecosystem hasn’t had enough time to evolve and quality comes with experience. “Game design which is as important as game art can only improve when people develop and fail a few times, improving every time,” says Patel.
While it has been a bumpy ride (we’re hearing that a large game publisher is pulling out of India, more on that later), all the signs point to the fact that there’s a lot more to come!