Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated on several occasions that India should start developing its own video games in order to compete in the world market. Much like many other things PM Modi said, his statements about the gambling market in India were little more than sweet words whispered in the wind and then instantly forgotten.
What the government has to do
Recently, Prime Minister Modi reiterated that the Indian industry should contribute more to the global gambling industry.
“Today the world wants to better understand India’s current potential, Indian art culture, Indian society,” he said. “Our toy and games industry can play a major role in this.”
What makes this statement hollow platitudes is the fact that the Indian government hasn’t really done much to encourage game development in the country.
Many governments around the world have courted gambling companies by offering incentives like tax breaks or support for developing games as a real career by subsidizing education, while India – possibly one of the largest gambling markets in the world – has done little.
In order to actually promote game development to the extent that PM Modi dictates, much more needs to be done for court developers. Let’s face it, the main reason companies like Ubisoft and Square Enix have set up in the country is because of the lower labor costs here.
As a result, most of the Indian studios belonging to these larger companies are more focused on supporting larger projects led by international studios rather than creating new games inspired by India’s rich history, culture and geography.
Where is the Indian gaming audience?
However, these issues go beyond the fact that our government doesn’t really want to do anything about gambling. Class and income disparities are a real problem in India. Despite our huge population, PC and console games are considered an incredibly small market here, as evidenced by the consistently low inventory levels of new Sony and Microsoft consoles in the country.
PC or console gaming can be expensive hobbies, not just in terms of hardware costs, but software costs as well. Games can cost anywhere from Rs. 100 during a massive sale, all the way up to Rs. 4,999 on Sony’s latest PS5 exclusives. Playing free-to-play games on a smartphone is rightly preferable to most gamers given the low barrier to entry; to quote Blizzard “You all have phones, don’t you?”
Sure, there is one aspect of all of this worth striving for; Gaming PC maker HP recently said that 37 percent of mobile gamers in India want to switch to the PC for a better gaming experience. But it’s also worth noting that that leap isn’t just going to a store and buying a gaming PC for most of the country.
The Indian game development industry?
As a result, the Indian gaming market is largely limited to mobile games, as evidenced by the comically absurd fanaticism behind PUBG Mobile, Free Fire, and Battlegrounds Mobile India. This means that most of the country’s gaming companies are focusing on the incredibly large mobile user base rather than the relatively niche audience who prefer to play on a console or PC.
In terms of mobile game development, however, the Indian industry is either focusing on gambling or developing another game that is trending – be it another Battle Royale or perhaps a clone of Among Us. Originality and artistic value seem to exist, but largely frowned upon. Instead, the industry seems to be more interested in quick, short-term profits.
There are of course rare studios like Ogre Head Studio or Nodding Head Games that concentrate much more on making games for an audience on consoles and PCs, and have therefore also enjoyed international success.
However, unless the way the industry works in India changes, studios like this one will remain a rarity. There is simply no real infrastructure in the country to support games like Raji: An Ancient Epic or Asura. Studios must instead go to Kickstarter and hope that their ideas and execution are good enough to warrant crowdfunding support.
In the meantime, an Indian studio would love to announce a game based on the Indian Military Days after PUBG Mobile was banned in the country, and loves to win all the patriotic – borderline nationalist – support it can get in the build-up release on Day of the Republic.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent and should not be attributed to IGN India.