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Piracy and Gaming in India

A quick, generalized view at how young and old Indians view gaming along with an explanation as to why piracy is so prevalent here.

In my last article I promised that I would expand on the general perception that surrounds games in India and also elucidate why exactly piracy is so rampant here. In doing so, I hope to provide some amount of insight into the gaming community here in the hopes that it might lead to a better understanding of a place I believe could become a noteworthy market for the industry.

To begin with, I’ve already mentioned that in India, we don’t quite look at games and gaming as something you’d want to do as an adult with the exception of cricket, which we love as much as Europe loves football. That being said, I believe I’ve just found myself a good starting point.

 

Culture –

Playing games is just not something an adult is ever expected to do in India. You grow up and have all the fun you want while you are (in between monumental amounts of studying, of course) but once you’re out of college, you get yourself a job and start supporting the family that enabled whatever fun you may or may not have had till that point. Ours is a culture that likes family ties and likes to stick together (even if we’re at each other’s throats whilst under the same roof!). This also happens to be the primary reason behind why playing games is seen as something for kids. Being an adult is all about responsibility and ensuring that you give back to the family. You could call it fair trade for all the fun you had while you were in school and college. That isn’t to say that adults never have fun, they just find more socially acceptable ways to have it – like playing cricket.

Another major aspect of why video games had some trouble breaking into the market here is because playing a game here is always more of a social activity. You go out and play cricket with your friends (or any other sport (… if any happen to exist) or you play cards at home or the occasional board game if you’re in a slightly unorthodox family. The fact remains, is that video games have always been seen as an anti-social activity here, especially by adults who never quite knew what they were (that does, sound oddly familiar). Moreover, with arcades and the very first generations of games having never really made it to India, we’ve found ourselves not entirely knowing what it was like to go to an arcade and try to beat someone’s high score or what it was like to sit around a system at your friends house taking turns at a game. So, the fact that video games could ever be social, has never really seeped into the culture here. Also don’t get me started on table top RPG’s…

Now, that was the state a good 10 years ago when video games first began to trickle into the Indian market. It has slowly but drastically changed, yes. This change was brought to you by – the liberalization of the Indian market in ’91.

It began with PC gaming becoming more available (and by that I mean, the pirated CD’s entered the market and spread faster than a zerg creep) and the same goes for some of the old consoles. Worth mentioning is that the consoles were generally cheap rip offs of the sega genesis and others of the same time. Also, and not surprisingly, the game that really got kids into PC games was Alan Borders Cricket along with a handful of Sega games ported to DOS, like Aladdin.

Shortly, after that, gaming here progressed to newer titles though at the time, the PC was the only medium to game on and still limited to upper middle class households.

A few years after that saw the fateful advent of the cyber café, followed by the introduction of a gaming center along with Counter Strike and DotA taking a hold over the Indian gaming scene. That was approximately 5-6 years ago when PC’s got cheaper and a much more viable investment. That slowly snowballed into the hardcore CS and DotA scene of today.

Finally, we have the advent of consoles becoming much more readily available in the market along with the ability to crack them so you could, once again, buy the pirate copy for 1/20th the price and still be able to game.

 

Pricing-

That moves us onto the pricing of video games here. Video games cost about 60 dollars on average states-side and the marketing convention seems to be direct conversion. So, we’re looking at a single game costing Rs. 3000.

That’s a lot of money and makes buying a game fall into the ‘investment’ category. I’m of the firm belief that if you can afford a game console or PC then you can very well afford the original game. Of course, you can’t play every other new release but then that can’t possibly be a bad thing. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, gamers here would give their game more thought then; appreciate them more. But that’s a whole other rant.

 

Availability –

I’ve mentioned this earlier – video games, good PC’s and consoles were never easily available to the masses in India. Before ’91 video games were unheard of much less a rarity. Ever since different platforms and even the video games themselves have become much more available. While I still bemoan the passing by of the arcade phase, it was inevitable.

Also worth mentioning is how obtainable, especially consoles, were to begin with. Point in fact – they weren’t. Unless you lived in a metropolitan city, the chances of getting a console were slim anywhere else. This did change quickly, but there were a few years where I remember friends talking about going all the way up to Bombay just to get a PS2 (Bombay being a state away from where I lived).

Of course that has changed now but we’re still plagued by availability issues. Games don’t release here on time. While the EU generally gets their games after the American launch, Indian game enthusiasts have to wait longer. The argument that we can just pre-order, annoys me because that’s akin to saying that you can just as easily download an e-book rather than agonize over not finding the issue of the book you wanted.

 

Putting it all together –

Ok, so we’ve looked at how Indians view games and gaming in general and seen what can be considered the major drawbacks to the way games are marketed in India. All of this had lead to and seen the viral growth of a very prominent piracy scene in the country. One, I believe, was one a reason why Nintendo only markets its goods here as an after-thought (how bad is it when you can just barely find a store that sells Gameboy cartridges but realize that 95% of their stock are pirated ones?)

Think for a moment, that you firmly believe that video games are an all around waste of time; especially when there’s a lot of studying for a myriad number of ‘life ascertaining’ tests and exams. Now, if your hypothetical children suddenly ask you to spend 3000 rupees on a video game. Not only do you know for certain that this is a waste of money, but it’s also going to lead to your son/daughter wasting precious study time on an activity that gets them nowhere closer to landing themselves a successful job. For that matter, it has no conceivable benefits. With that, we rule out the average parent as a source of income. (Interestingly enough, its far easier to convince a parent that your PC needs a newer, high end graphic card than it is to convince them to let you get a game.)

As for the kids, college students and working young adults who game, spending their own allowances or salaries on games? Not likely when buying a game would rob you of the money to eat out, pay for transport (in whatever form), go watch movies and in general do anything social that might involve any amount of spending for a month at the very least. If you’ve got an entry level job, the option is downright stupid.

The answer? Piracy. Fast net connections have become increasingly cheaper here and the logic that would follow more or less is – If I can spend less than a game on a reliable net connection per month and download any game I want and still play it, then why even bother buying the game?

The fact is, games are seen only as an entertainment option. There is no want for an experience, brand/franchise based loyalty or an acknowledgement that these games actually require a lot of work to build. Why be denied games simply because you can’t afford it? Why be bothered about not having multi-player options when you just want to play the game and be done with it? Frankly, the list of reasons is long. I may not support them, but I understand them. In my last installment of this series of articles, I’m going to look at possible fixes to this problem.

Before I end this piece, however, there’s one last observation to make. The easy access to pirate games whether self downloaded or bought at dirt cheap prices (50 rupees, for a PC game and 100 for an Xbox or PS3 game) leads to a culture of gamers who’ll play what their friends tell them are good games and in turn those ‘friends’ are influenced by what a quick google search will tell them. Quite honestly, the flashiest and heavily marketed games will affect what gamers will play the most, leaving aside the stubborn obsession people have with CS and DotA. Games are seen for their graphical excellence and review score before anything else is ever considered. Since that’s the type of market most AAA titles shoot for these days anyways, they’ll find that the Halo’s and Modern Warfare’s here are roaring successes… even if they might not benefit from the rabid clandestine sales their games generate.

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