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 tale.
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 values.
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 of nowhere!
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 need.