Sunday, February 2, 2014

Yet to be conquered by the Gaming World !!

The other day, while I was strolling through a popular shopping mall in the city, I came across a Video game store. Social instinct told me to walk away. ‘C’mon get a move on. You’re too old for this stuff. Get real!’ my brain told me. But as I looked on, the child in me beckoned, “Aww, one little peek won’t do any harm. After all, who’s going to buy anything anyways?”. For a few minutes the battle between brain and heart raged within, and after what seemed like an eternity, the heart triumphed. Putting all social inhibitions aside, I walked in.

There were stunning games with jaw dropping graphics and cutting edge gameplay on display from various genres. There were adventure games, strategy games, Role playing games (RPG’s), 3D games, first person and third person shooter games, racing games, simulation games, gambling games and the lot. But there was one point standing out like a sore thumb. None of these games were ‘Indian’ games. And by an ‘Indian’ game, I mean any game developed and published in India, featuring Indian themes and storylines containing Desi locations and characters.

If you are an avid video game enthusiast from India as I am, you will find this fact painfully apparent in all gaming stores across the nation and even online, for that matter. All the leading bestselling video game titles are disappointingly alien. The ‘God of War’ series is based on characters taken from ancient Greek mythology, the ‘Rainbow Six’ and the ‘Call of Duty’ series are based on US Covert Ops and same is the case for other bestselling games such as Tomb Raider, Metal gear etc. A few brave efforts have been made by Indian companies such as Ghajini – The Game, Ra-One and Don2 respectively, but they really haven’t been successful enough to start a gaming revolution in our nation. How nice would it be if major game publishers such as Electronic Arts(EA), Activision etc. made games containing Desi themes? 

Sadly, such a situation seems a bleak possibility given the current and future Indian Gaming scenario. Despite being the world’s largest democracy and the second largest nation in the world in terms of population, we have a very insignificant presence in the world gaming map. Indian Gaming companies are few and far in number, with most of them barely making enough revenues to stay afloat. Gaming giants such as EA have set up development centres in India but are yet to launch a major ‘Indian’ game. Most of their work remains outsourced. To sum it up, there is a general apathy of sorts towards games and gamers in India.

So why this Kolaveri Di towards video games, fellow countrymen? What have they done to earn your indifference? Why does India occupy such a miniscule position in the world gaming map despite a huge potential market and a large talent pool? Seeking answers to these questions, me and couple of my friends, all die hard gaming enthusiasts conducted a root cause analysis of sorts and came up with the facts elaborated below:

First and foremost, despite the huge advances to technology and changes in the attitude of the traditional Indian mind-set, Video Games till this date are considered items of luxury and leisure, adding little or no value to our lives. True enough, how often have we been chided by our near and dear ones for wasting too much times on “those useless video games”? Even today, when I set up my console for a gaming session, my wife gives me the ‘Oh no, not those video games again. When will you grow up?’ look. I have lost count of the ‘n’ number of times I got a lecture from my mother on the ill-effects of playing one game too many. But the best undoubtedly came from my father. “Arre, why do you waste your time playing such useless games? Will they get you a job?” he would state passionately. You just can’t argue with that kind of logic. Sure enough, this kind of attitude has contributed in no small measure to the unpopularity of games in India.

The second factor, as I mentioned earlier is the very few or practically non-existent number of games based on Indian themes. A majority of the video games in today’s market are foreign-published. The language, locales and characters are mostly alien to the vast majority of the populace who identifies readily to desi themes. Let’s take movies for example. Hollywood movies enjoy a good reception all-round the globe with India being no exception. However, even the highest grossing foreign films released in India have generated comparatively lesser revenues as compared to any Indian film deemed as a commercial success these days. Foreign films, particularly those from Hollywood, despite being excellent in quality and visual appeal lack penetration in the domestic market. Language and culture are the major limiting factors. The Indian audience finds it difficult to relate to alien themes and story-lines. Similar is the case with video games. To change this trend, publishers must start making games with Indian themes. Imagine how nice it would be to play a game on the lines of ‘Grand theft Auto’ set in the streets of aamchi Mumbai. How nice it would be if we had a game similar to Age of Mythology or the Age of Empires based on Indian kingdoms, kings, queens, handsome princes, magicians, wizards, beautiful princesses, demons, monsters and the lot.         

Then there is also the financial aspect to consider. The prohibitively high cost of gaming equipment and related accessories makes the average Indian consumer think twice before purchasing them. Buying a top-notch gaming console such as the PS3 or the Xbox 360 would cost you anywhere between Rs.20-30k. Now many people will apply conventional wisdom and say that such an amount of money can be put to better use and I am compelled to agree with them. Each gaming CD for any of the above mentioned consoles (or even the latest game PC-CD ROM for that matter) costs around Rs.2k on an average. Spending that amount for a game is a huge proposition for the average cash-strapped Indian. Now, console games can be best enjoyed on a high-definition television of minimum 32 inches display which easily costs around Rs.40k. Yet another expensive proposition for the Indian Consumer! All in all, gaming is an expensive passion, one which very few consumers can afford. Video Game giants please take note!

Socio-economic factors also contribute in a major way to the popularity of video games in our nation. Consider the example of a giant turtle giving birth to eggs on the beach. As soon as the eggs hatch, thousands of baby turtles make their way to the sea. But only a lucky few make it to the waters. Thousands are carried off by predators or are eliminated by other natural causes. In a similar manner, youngsters are discouraged from playing video games right from childhood. Video games are considered as objects of no value. Parents blame video games for inciting violence and other form of anti-social behaviour amongst kids. The first wave starts then. Then comes teenage and college, where students are engrossed in studies and making a career and hardly have time for games and other luxuries. After graduation starts the great Indian job hunt. Needless to say, with career insecurity and similar factors looming large, video games surely do not figure on the high priority list of most. After finally landing up with a job, people are then engrossed in making a mark for themselves and climbing up the corporate ladder. Activities such as games are usually placed on the back-burner during such a phase. Then comes marriage and kids along with a heap of additional responsibilities. As we become parents ourselves, we ironically discourage our children from playing the same video games we ourselves loved once upon a time. And so the vicious circle continues. Probably, the only time we have free for playing games would be in our ripe old age, with nothing left to live for.   

But whatever the negatives, there are also a few positives. The smartphone and android revolution is changing the scenario, albeit a bit slowly. Mobile gaming has become a new hobby and passion amongst youngsters brandishing large smart-phones and tablets. Hopefully, with the right incentives this should emerge as one of the new and exciting major career opportunity in the near future. We might not see a huge spurt in the sales of next-gen consoles and games but with technology now coming in the reach of the common man and rising income levels, we might just see a change in attitude and trend. For every nine anti gamers, there is and always will be one pro gamer born like me who will spread the gospel “Love thy games!” and try to covert anti to pro. Here’s hoping for the best!

Srinivas Pavan Addanki  

Edit: A few mature and enterprising souls seem to have heard the desperate please of die hard Indian gamers like me and have taken the bold step in developing games based on India and Indian themes. See the links below for more details:

Five made-in-India games to look forward to in 2016.

Top 10 Mobile games made in India

Here's wishing them all the very best in success.