Games industry bets big on India

Market players look to tap rapid expansion of games in country, spanning all facets of industry including PC, console, mobile and social.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor on

From social to PC, and console to mobile, every segment of the games industry in India is witnessing a flurry of activities with players launching games to suit every inch of the Indian palate.

Zynga, which created social games such as FarmVille, Mafia Wars, CaféWorld and FishVille, last month opened its India office in Bengaluru. The India operation will focus on games and large-scale infrastructure development to support Zynga's games.

According to Shan Kadavil, country manager for Zynga, the online games market is rapidly expanding in India. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, 41 percent of active Internet users played online games in 2008, up 89 percent from the previous year.

"With more than 81 million Internet users, India is projected to become the third largest online market [behind China and the U.S.] by 2013," Kadavil said in a phone interview. He explained that Zynga decided to open its local operations due to India's high-tech computer talent, fast-growing market and visual designing and creative capabilities.

Mobile games are also picking up in India at a rapid pace. Noting that Asia-Pacific has seen significantly stronger growth compared to Europe and the United States, Rohit Dadwal, Asia-Pacific managing director of Mobile Marketing Association, attributed this growth to increasing mobile penetration, higher adoption of smart phones, and a large segment of young mobile phone users.

Dadwal told ZDNet Asia that revenues for the Asia-Pacific mobile games market increased from US$1 billion in 2002 to US$2.3 billion in 2008, making it the largest region worldwide. The figure is projected to reach US$3.4 billion by 2011.

He added that India has been leading the way in terms of growth in this space. Between 2007 and 2008, the number of local mobile gamers grew from 153.4 million to 237 million.

According to a report by Nasscom and Ernst & Young, the Indian games industry was estimated to be worth US$150 million in 2008 and will grow at 53 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) to reach US$830 million by 2012.

Games made in India, for Indians
According to Kadavil, games that carry an Indian flavor can gain much popularity. To tap this user preference, FarmVille features Indian trees such as the Gulmohar, while CaféWorld offers multiple Indian cuisines including lamb curry and kebabs.

While Zynga is currently not developing games exclusively for India, Kadavil does not rule out that possibility.

"We want to do end-to-end game development in India and are relocating game experts based in the U.S. to India. They will help develop the India seat," he said.

Local games development studio GameShastra Solutions built Desi Adda: Games of India, for Sony Computer Entertainment's game consoles PlayStation2 (PS2) and PlayStation Portable (PSP). The game can be played in three Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi.

Gameshastra is also developing new games for the Indian market.

CEO Prakash Ahuja said in a statement: "We working on a new genre of games based on Indian martial arts, along with multiple titles for the PSP Minis platform for the global market." It is also building an Indian mythological game Ekalavya, for Sony's PlayStation3 (PS3) platform and Cart Kings, a bullock cart racing game on dusty rural tracks, for the Indian diaspora.

Gameshastra has also opened a 1,000-seat games design studio in Hyderabad to cater to the growing demand for its services worldwide. Over the last three years, the games publisher had invested US$7 million (INR 330 million) in its operations.

According to Dadwal, mobile games such as cricket, soccer and bowling, are the most popular genres and played by 40 percent of all mobile gamers. Arcade or puzzle games such as Soduku, come a close second, played by 37 percent of mobile gamers.

With over 50 percent of its population below the age of 25, India is an attractive market for the games industry, he said. "The average consumer of mobile games is the tech-savvy younger generation of urban India. Kids and young adults from the top eight metros of the country are currently driving growth."

Citing a recent survey, he added that some 40 percent of all mobile gamers are between 22 and 35 years old, followed by those between 13 and 21, and above 35 years of age.

"The Indian mobile games industry has also been fueled by Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters," Dadwal said. "Action-based games are in big demand. Mythological games have also become popular."

This market is dominated by players such as Indiagames, Mobile2Win, Mauj, Dhruv Interactive and Hungama Mobile.

With a growing pool of mobile games developers and better integration among mobile operations, handset manufacturers and software providers, an ecosystem has been established to make this increasingly popular value-added service easily accessible to Indian consumers.

"The share of gaming in mobile would get a further boost with the launch of 3D mobile games," Dadwal added.

Growth not without challenges
Despite the significant progress, the Indian games industry faces many challenges, according to the Nasscom-Ernst & Young report, These include a lack of trained manpower with the skillsets to develop end-to-end games, infrastructure-related issues such as the high cost of consoles and inadequate network bandwidth, piracy, high import duties for games hardware, and the absence of well-defined polices to chart market growth.

Dadwal said: "There are some fundamental challenges that hinder mass usage of content on mobile phones. These include lack of knowledge among users, mobile browser constraints leading to poor content experience, and data charges associated with the use of Internet over the phone.

Moreover, there are differences in the types of mobile phones used and varying applications available, which mean content providers will have to develop content that suit different phones with different capabilities.

However, Dadwal was optimistic that, with the launch of 3G spectrum, speed for downloads will no more be an issue. The availability of more sophisticated mobile phones in the market will also ensure better user experience, he noted.

"Game options over mobile are less mired with piracy and duplicity issues than other platforms," he added.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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