It is no secret that game development
is yet to truly take off in India. Sure, there is a multitude of
gaming companies, but most of them are merely into outsourcing.
Whether this is an outsourcing of an entire game, or just the art,
the fact remains the same: There is currently no game developer
producing games for the Indian market!
For India to have a vibrant game
development scene, there should be local content produced for the
local market, and producing the games for the local market should be
profitable. Developers making games for the Indian market should not
only survive, but they should actually prosper. But for some reason
or the other, that is not happening. Let us examine why.
The oft ascribed reason is that there
is no money to be made selling games in India, and statistics seem to
support this statement. This year saw the release of Ghajini: The
Game, a high profile game based on the Aamir Khan movie by the same
name. Although Ghajini the movie went on to become the highest
grossing Bollywood movie of all time, the game itself didn't fare so
well, selling less than 50K copies. Retail royalties are typically
25% (or less) of the net, and once this is factored in, it becomes
obvious that a studio can't survive on such sales.
Not surprisingly, Indian game
developers have switched to revenue models that include outsourcing
or co-producing. However, numbers by themselves tell only half the
This year (2009) I was a speaker at the
Nasscom's Animation and Gaming Summit, Hyderabad. There I had the
occasion to meet Anand Ramachandran - marketer, writer, comic book
artist, and an all round creative guy. He gave a very interesting
talk: 'Beating the Mythology
Hangover'. In the talk, he made the case for what he
called 'disruptive content' in games. Disruptive content is something
that is unique and original, buzzworthy, and has top class production
Disruptive content, he felt, was the
key to successfully developing games for the indian market. Instead
of blindly copying from indian mythology and/or bollywood to make
games like Hanuman and Gajini, he said, the studios should
concentrate on creating content that is disruptive. He listed a few
examples of disruptive games – Katamari Damacy, Plant Vs Zombies,
World of Goo etc.
So, what is it about disruptive games
that makes them click? Being innovative alone doesn't seem to do the
trick. The history of gaming is littered with innovative games that
failed at the altar of commercial success.
I believe that one of the key
components in the success of the games mentioned above is
marketability. Each of these games had a great pre-release buzz that
simply kept increasing till the date of release. These games are
different, but in a marketable way. In a way that makes people stop &
look at them, in a way that makes the gaming websites and magazines
preview and review the game.
As an example consider Plants vs
Zombies – the name itself makes you curious about the game and we
all know about the 'zombies on your lawn' video that went viral and
contributed a lot to the eventual success of the game.
So, what does this have to do with the
Indian gaming market? Well, let us now take a look at what the
numbers don't tell you.
The game Ghajini, when it was about to
be released, had a decent pre-release buzz, because it was being
released a month after the movie had already gone on to be a big hit.
Unfortunately, the developers failed to harness the buzz and did not
promote the game well. After the game was released, it was
universally panned by the reviewers. The game was deemed too glitchy
to be played. The game had issues with characters getting stuck in
sofas, drawers and walls. There were places where the enemy AI
refused to function.
In short, the games that have been
released so far in the Indian market weren't quite up there on the
quality front. To be successful in the Indian market, you need a game
that is marketable, has high production values and is fun to play.
Wait. Isn't that the same as everywhere else?
India is still a developing country,
but certainly there are enough people who can afford to buy personal
computers, playstations and games. What is really lacking is a
kickass game that captures the people's imagination. Once we have a
game like that, we will find that a market has suddenly appeared out
Bollywood is very big in India and we
could try riding on their shoulders. License a Bollywood IP and make
a game on it. There is always going to be some buzz around a game
based on a bollywood movie. Add to it some clever marketing and a
good game, and that could be just the ticket.
One really good game. That's all we