16 months after starting our own indie studio, we are under the spotlights of success with Real Cricket 14. We are the sport game leader for Android in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and we are growing in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and UK.
And we made it from the most uncommon place you would think of to start a video game studio: India. Let’s face it, the country suffers from a bad reputation: the level of poverty is sky-scraping, corruption is endemic, and civil disorder is recurrent. I would like to expose a few false ideas about the country, as well as helping to explore what comparative advantages India can offer for our industry.
- The changing India :
First of all, poverty is going backward in India, only 10% of the Indians now live below the poverty line. Despite the difficulties, India is adding 40 million people in the middle class every year, and it will reach 600 million people in 2030. So far, only a handful of companies dared to come and exploit this humongous potential of customers.
Second of all, corruption is not affecting our activities, since we only make business through the intangible online world. For sure, a cop can stop a truck and ask money to let it go, but you can’t ransom the money that is made on Google Play or App Store.
Finally, concerning civil disorder, I can say that I have seen a lot in the Medias, but almost nothing in the streets. I was leaving since 2 years in Andhra Pradesh before opening the Nautilus, and the State was already shaken by secessionist movements. These movements have driven fear inside business executive heads, and Foreign Direct Investments have plummetted. But, to be objective, there were no operational disturbance for the studio: Employees managed to reach the office, and to go home; electricity, and internet were working continuously.
This being said, let’s talk about India’s comparative advantages. I hope this will help to give a more honest vision of the country, and help foreign companies and entrepreneur to have a better view of India’s fantastic production and internal market potential.
- The first competitive advantage, the workforce :
You will never find better workforce than in India for video-games. The country is producing every year 1.5 million engineers, which is 12 times the US, and 100 times the UK. They all speak English, and the price-quality ratio is great. We are only a handful of video-games studios in the countries, so there is not much choice for wanna-be developers. Sure it is still hard to find the correct person, and human resource demands to be constantly looking for new talents, but you will never be in shortage of qualified staff.
I know difficulties are there, the first one being insuring a high level of quality production. I was as well concerned about this issue, but we came to solve it.
When Den Xiaoping opened China economy, Chinese business men flow to the West, and studied our products. They brought back home containers of goods, and their local staff studied them. This strategy helped Chinese employees to understand the standards of quality the West was familiar with. It is maybe what Indian business-men failed to do. Even today, many Indians companies have not been able to increase the level of quality the West is waiting for. To avoid falling into such nightmare, we regularly play and discover with the team the new games that are out, as well as the old games. It gave our team a better view of the history of the industry, as well as the standards users are now used to. If a build crashes at launch, 1% of the time, this seems good if you compare it to the average Indian production. But it is not enough for the global market. You need to make your staff understand why it is not good enough, and why we need to do better. It took us some time, but we made it. Our studio has reached the level of quality of other Asian countries. You can do the same.
Many other issues you will face with your staff can be taken care off with the same strategy: give a meaning to what people are doing. Once you manage this, Indians can make anything happen. They are extremely hard working, and, being used to a very chaotic environment, resist incredibly well to pressure. There are always big problems to solve in our industry, a small mistake can lead the studio on the edge of the abyss. Be sure than when it will come, Indians won’t faint. You will be amazed of their capabilities of resilience.
- The second competitive advantage, the running costs :
Renting is still cheap, 250sq meters in a premium location can be as low as 500$ monthly. If you are looking for a good investment, you can even buy your office, prices being at their lowest point in many cities, and going nowhere but up.
Another low cost concern the acquisition of licence for software. To counter the endemic level of software piracy in India, third party software sellers have lowered their prices. Some can be as cheap as a third as what it would cost you in the US, when they are not free. Microsoft has granted us with free licence for most of their products when we launched the studio. As experience studio heads will know, you will make big economies here.
Also, the cost of living for you and your staff will allow you to reach a standard of leaving you could not even dream of in the West. Restaurants, bars, entertainment centres are growing fast, and they are keeping their prices low to attract new customers. When we take our 10 people staff out for party, it costs the same price as 3 beers in Singapore.
Then, I want to finish by praising the creativity of the workforce. Indians are used to a very competitive environment. It can be tricky to achieve things that encounter no difficulty in the West. This competitive environment forced Indians to become more creative. Working in a innovative market, where knowledge become obsolete really fast, creativity is a key factor of success.
I could add other competitive advantages, such as the quality of the infrastructures, the proximity to key markets, and the technology readiness, but I hope these few lines will already help.
- Your eyes might trick you, don’t get influenced by your first impressions :
A few days after my arrival, 3 years back, I remember walking to the office, surrounded by trashes, beggars, and broken sidewalks. I looked at all this and thought: “What am I doing here?”
The truth is, when you are building homes for 40 million people a year, you are going to make a mess. I suppose London in 1900 was no different. Also, some Indian companies manage to offer a fast and reliable service, despite the difficulties. It took me 4 days to get my mobile phone line, and when you know India is opening 5.5 million line a month, 4 days is actually incredibly fast. You need to find the good suppliers, so listen to locals.
- Why and how to find partners in India :
To summarize the problems the cultural gap with India can cause, I will write about how I got connected to internet:
The ISP technician came a Saturday morning, 15 minutes after he entered my flat, internet was working. But 45 minutes after that, the connexion shut down. I called the technician and ask him to come back. He answered that he would come “tomorrow”. The next day, since I was not seeing him coming, I decided to call him back. Again, he assures me he would come “tomorrow”. And the story could have continue eternally, if I would not have given my phone to one of my Indian friend. The technician was here in less than 5 minutes (he was leaving across the street), and fixed the connection once and for all.
What did my Indian friend do? He used the ground knowledge a foreigner can’t have.
Goethe said: “If you add a tongue to your tongue, then you add a soul to your soul”. Let me explain you how this sentence can save you valuable time in India.
In Hindi, the word “kal” has been translated by the English word “tomorrow”. But the real meaning of “kal” in Hindi is “tomorrow” and “yesterday”. I would even say that, in the mind of Indians, “kal” actually mean “not now”, and his opposed to “abhi”, that means “right now”.
First lesson of India, never take a “tomorrow” for an answer. You always must ask for a precise date.
I hope this little story, apparently meaningless, will help you to understand that finding local partners is definitely a key factor of success in India. It will save you time, letting you focus on what you are good at.
- How to build strong relationships :
India has been cut from the outside world during the colonisation, but not anymore. Everybody has a relative who study or work abroad, and international news are mass-followed. This said, India has his unique social structure, and the interaction between humans are fundamentally different from the West.
The main component of the West social structure is the individualism. It results in a society composed of “strong” individuals, with low connections between each other. But India is still a collectivist society, the social structure is composed of “weak” individuals, with strong connections between them. I will not enter in the detail here, but be sure you understand what is important when building relationships in India is also a key factor of success.
It is not as simple as it looks, but I think that in India, you must become a friends first, like a member of the family, then you can make business. As a result, making relations takes a lot of time, but on the other hand, I found them to be much stronger than in the West.
- Attitudes toward work :
During meet-up , I often met managers in India who complain about their employees: They are lazy, they quit easily, and they are not innovative…
I have only good things to say about my employees. When in production cycle, they work late, come on time the next day, don’t answer to the phone, and don’t browse on facebook or on linkedin. I would like to summarize the main problem I evaluate to be, when it comes to organisation performance in India, and how I think it can be solved.
My 10 years of experience as a manager prove me the crucial “role of exemplarity of the top management”. People follow a leader acts, not his speeches. And maybe some managers still miss that point. I don’t know many top manager in India who work more than 15 hours a week. But they all expect their employees to work day and night, while they are chilling in their swimming pool.
I call this the “maharaja phenomenon”. India is deeply an inegalitarian country. People are divided by gender (misogyny is not an insult, it is a way of life), religion (you will rarely meet a Muslim manager with Hindu subordinates), caste (another complex matter), or other ethnic groups (1652 mother tongues objectively divide people).
As a result, managers are mostly males, Hindus, from the dominant ethnic group of the region, and from a high caste. In clear, you rarely have the best person on top, since fitting the cultural requirements is predominant for obtaining such jobs.
This create a feeling of superiority, and untouchability among the top management, which is greatly counterproductive.
And as we know, meritocracy is an important factor of motivation within an organisation, so if you want your employees to give you their best, show them that the best is rewarded. We have found an incredible margin of productivity by doing so in the Nautilus.
I don’t say it is easy, as susceptibility need to be managed, and building a social order inside your company that work opposed to the one of the country can bring you a lot of headaches.
But understanding this kind of social behaviour, and their implication for your company, can surely feed your reflection when recruiting and monitoring your management.
- The Indian video game market potential :
Currently, most of the 900 million mobile users in India are using featured phone, and only 15% of them are using internet regularly. But this is changing, and fast.
India had currently 156 million smartphones, 224 million will be sold in 2014, making a base of users of 380 million by the end of this year. 33% Indians are already playing games, despite the absence of specific content for the Indians users. Indians are already more active on their smartphones than their Western counterparts.
And don’t forget that Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri-Lanka are following a similar path, leading to a potential market of 500 million smartphones users in the Indian sub-continent by 2015 end.
This should be enough to start a reflexion on the opportunities you could find in India.
- The ABCD of India :
I don’t know how will be the segmentation of the Indian video game market for the future. So, to start understanding how and what to sell to Indians customers, I will start with the basics, I hope it will help you to start understanding the uniqueness of the Indian market, and the necessity to adapt your product to your target :
Adoration: It is a complex matter, but religion is everywhere in India. All the faiths are feeding each other: when a Hindu temple is build, the Muslims build a mosque, the Christians build a church, creating an infinite circle of efforts, money, and devotion. I don’t want to talk too much about this sensitive matter, but be aware religion is a major part of life of every Indian. There are already companies providing games religious based games, but there is a huge potential of improvement here.
Bollywood. Never in the world have I seen a market so hermetic to American blockbusters. The young and urban middle class will surely go to see the last “Hunger Game”, but more as a symbol of differentiation. At night, everybody is watching the same movies, and they are all local ones. Finding partner in Bollywood, or in any other local movie industry will be a strong competitive advantage, and cinema based games are always big hits.
Cricket: Cricket is not only the most popular sport in India, it is the only sport that exist. The different federations are incredibly powerful and rich, and I don’t think cricket domination will stop anytime soon. But 99% of the cricket related products are or fraud (only a few screenshots, or viruses) or of very bad quality. There is definitely way of improvement here. The heart of the cricket fan is yet to be taken.
Dance: It is crucial part of social life. It is the main point of many cultural and religious event. Once again here, the potential is tremendous, especially when you look at the current offer on the market. Even Ubisoft, the market leader with “Just Dance” has failed to offer a product adapted to a local audience of more than a billion people.
- Conclusion :
I hope these few lines will help you to feed a reflexion on the potential you could find by operating in India. There are thousands of other aspects I would have love to introduce (means of payments, relations with investors, management of innovation…) but lacked the time to do so. I would love to hear from you to exchange business practices and other information regards making business in the Indian subcontinent, and its 1.6 billion customers.
Managing Director and co-founder, Nautilus Mobile App Pvt Limited.
About Nautilus Mobile App Pvt Limited: We have been incorporated in 2013 in Hyderabad. Our last game is n#1 sport game in India, featured in Google Play, got 55 000 ratings, makes 30 000 downloads a day, for a total of 1 000 000 downloads, and counting. We are now working on new game modes and on porting the game on other platforms. We also have many other projects on the way.