In September, when India banned 40 mobile-based games with links to China including popular games such as PUBG Mobile, Clash of Kings, and Game of Sultan, the move upset quite many game players, but also brought a ray of hope for Indian game developers.
The ban on PUBG, among other popularly played games in India, was part of the 118 Chinese apps banned by India citing cybersecurity reasons. This was the third round of ban imposed by India due to the geopolitical tension between India and China.
The tension between both countries resulted in a pervasive anti-China sentiment in India, which in turn lent much strength to the country’s growing nationalism wake-up under Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in the past years, and led to advocacy of adopting locally-made products over Chinese goods and services. Indian technology entrepreneurs that compete with their Chinese counterparts have since then been trying to milk this sentiment in their favor while the ban on Chinese games has opened a new avenue for Indian game developers.
Before the ban, the Indian gaming market has largely been dominated by China-based developers. Among the 40 apps that were banned, the top five apps had around one billion collective downloads world-wide.
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The ban on these Chinese mobile gaming apps comes at a time when India’s mobile gaming sector is witnessing a rise in adoption from users.
Of all the banned Chinese gaming apps, PUBG, which claims to have 600 million worldwide downloads, was the most downloaded mobile game in India. The country accounted for around 24% of its total downloads, according to Sensor Tower.
Much like the ban on short video app TikTok resulted in a sudden rise of similar apps in India, industry analysts believe it might have the same impact on the gaming sector.
A few days after the government banned PUBG, Indian gaming company nCore Games announced FAU-G, a battlefield game much like PUBG. The game is in pre-launch phase and is expected to launch by the end of October.
“Our focus is to develop and publish high-quality mobile games for the Indian market. Indian gaming landscape provides great opportunities to build games for the Indian players,” Vishal Gondal, founder and chairman, nCore Games told KrASIA.
He added that games published by nCore will match the scale and grandeur of popular global games and customize the content to suit the local brand.
Industry rushes to capture RMG Players
Though India was the largest market for PUBG with 24% of all downloads, its revenue share from the country stood at a paltry 1.2% of global revenues, according to Sensor Tower.
“For such players who were only interested in battle games, the traffic has moved from PUBG to other games such as Call of Duty, Modern Strike, and other similar games,” said Nitesh Salvi, CEO and co-founder at Pocket52.
He, however, added that besides battle games, Indian users have started showing interests in real money games. The online skill-based real-money gaming (RMG) market in India is estimated to grow to become USD 3.8 billion by 2024, according to RedSeer Consulting.
The rise of real money games in India can largely be attributed to online fantasy sports that allow players to earn money based on the real score of ongoing sports such as cricket, football, hockey, and others. According to a report by Quartz, investors have pumped in USD 112 million in fantasy sports companies over the last five years. The RMG space has seen a surge in usage in the last couple of years, with the current year contributing the most. Apart from fantasy sports, poker is also a form of real money game that has become popular in India.
Pocket52 is an online poker playing platform which also helps other online gaming firms integrate with its plug and play tool and launch online poker gaming as an offering on their respective platforms. Salvi said that he can gauge the sudden growth in demand from his company’s growth. The company has clocked 25% month on month growth and 5x growth in its user base in the last three months.
He reasoned the growing prize money and real people winning such a huge amount have been the biggest inspiration for users. The winning amount in real money games goes up to INR 20 million (USD 271,563).
Crisis gave a thrust
While the gaming industry was already growing in the country, it was fast-paced when India went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Industry experts say that the Indian gaming market is rapidly scaling and is poised for unprecedented growth.
As per App Annie data for the period March 25 to May 3, download of gaming apps peaked at 197 million in the week leading to April 18—when the lockdown was extended—up 75% from the weekly average in Q4 of 2019. During this period, downloads of non-gaming apps increased by 30%.
The revenue of gaming companies has nearly doubled between 2014 and 2018, reaching INR 43.8 billion in FY18 and are expected to reach INR 118.8 billion by FY 23, according to a KPMG report.
The report added that the increase in online gaming activity driven by the growth in gamers by nearly ten times over 2010-2018, also led to a similar rise in game developing companies over the same period. Besides, the proliferation of affordable smartphones and the availability of high-speed internet at dirt-cheap prices are primary catalysts for this rapid growth.
“In the past 6-8 months, there has been an overall increase in demand. People are becoming more serious about gaming. This has resulted in the growth of the gaming industry in India,” said Manvendra Shukul, founder of Lakshya Digital. The company works with game developers to create design, visual effects, and animation. Its clients include Disney, Microsoft, Sony, Warner Brothers, Square Enix, and others.
Shukul added that besides focusing towards acquiring local users, Indian mobile gaming companies have a huge scope to cater to the global gaming market and emerge as a service industry for the world.
“While India was already on its way to become a major hub for game art outsourcing, COVID-19 has proven to be a catalyst as multiple major international game developers and publishers are increasingly looking at working with Indian companies,” said Shukul.
Local or global: Future is bright
While the likes of Lakshya Digital are focusing on the global market, nCore and other platforms first aim to capture the burgeoning Indian market.
Gondal told KrASIA, that if developers want to make it big in India, they will have to focus on quality, build games with great storyline and exciting gameplay.
“In any field of entertainment, having locally relevant and quality content works, and the same goes for the gaming industry. Indian developers will have to take note of this and develop games that are of top-notch quality,” said Gondal. nCore will also bring games from top global studios for the Indian market, he said.
Roosh Interactive is also taking an Indian approach and focusing on local Jio gaming platform for publishing its games. “We are the biggest publisher on the Jio gaming platform and aim to connect with the Indian audience via the platform,” said Ail.
“India is the second-largest potential market after China. The next growth chapter of the gaming industry will soon be written in India as potential is turning into real opportunity,” said Shukul.