Donald D'Souza, 22, lights up when conversation steers around motorbikes or console games. A hardcore gamer, he owns a portable Sony Playstation and a Microsoft Xbox too. He is now looking forward to playing games based on Indian themes, which include characters from Amar Chitra Katha and historical heroes such as Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya.
"Though I am mostly into racing, if the quality of India-themed games matches that of international ones, then it would be a huge draw," said D'souza.
D'Souza and many like him are the target customers for Sony Playstation. Ever since it first launched Hanuman: Boy Warrior, based on the hit Indian animation film Hanuman, Sony is increasing its focus on developing games with Indian themes, including heroes from the history books and comics. It is looking at similar tie-ups with Bollywood.
"We are developing India-specific games and building on a portfolio of India-specific titles. The idea is to make Indian storylines accessible to the gaming world and bring in more local flavour. The tie-up with Amar Chitra Katha is a step in that direction and hopefully, there will be more such associations. Possibilities of future tie-ups with Bollywood for console gaming are high as it offers potential for long-term business," said Atindriya Bose, country manager (PlayStation), Sony Computer Entertainment.
"While India has a decent gaming population, there is no significant localisation in terms of content. The mobile space has made some headway in this context, but overall, there are limited options when it comes to games with Indian themes," said Jehil Thakker, leader media and entertainment, KPMG.According to Ernst & Young, the Indian gaming industry was estimated at $167 million (Rs 750 crore) in 2008 and is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 49% to reach $830 million (Rs 3,730 crore) by 2012. Currently, console-based gaming is estimated to have a 35% share and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are in this space in India.
"The numbers in India are still low, compared to the developed economies. The gaming industry has proved it will grow to a sizeable size in the near future and is already growing at 30-35% annually. At present, in terms of units sold, console gaming stands at 3,50,000 units on an annual basis and this will double in less than two years' time," said Bose.
The gaming industry exists in silos catering either to the top end or the bottom end of the consumer spectrum. At the top end is the console and at the bottom end are the mobile and online gaming. There is interplay of all, but the online and mobile gaming reach out to the widest audience. However, they have an indirect business revenue model - they are attractive to advertisers.
Bose believes that the potential for growth is high, as the console prices will come down. "The excitement is still around console gaming and this is the business that will drive growth further; its predominance will only grow. We expect rationalisation of duties in a year's time. If it does not happen, then we will be holding back the gaming potential that India offers," he said. Playstation consoles are priced between Rs 5,990 and Rs 19,990.
Just like console, the online gaming world too is moving beyond international action, sports and adventure and adapting to local fare.
"Cricket works best in India. We have the largest portfolio, and these games are replicated by Yahoo. Games around the romance and matrimony genres have also become popular in India. We are now converting our best-played games into Android and iPhone apps and are trying to create revenues from consumers (via downloads, iTunes and the Android marketplace) over and above advertisers," said Alok Kejriwal, co-founder and CEO, Games2win.
While online gaming is a relatively new phenomenon, it has the widest reach in terms of numbers. According to industry estimates, the number of online gamers in India has soared from 2.8 million in 2007 to 7.2 million by 2008 to 15 million in 2011. Social networking is driving online gaming.
"Consumer trends are optimistic towards online and mobile gaming and there will be good industry growth. Console gaming has not reached critical mass as it is limited to the higher income group. But social networking is spurring online and mobile gaming to decent new numbers and this is where local themes are making contribution," observes Thakker.
"The volume of social games is big compared to console. Social networking is opening up in India and, in turn, bringing in more gaming volumes. 40% of Facebook users indulge in social gaming and this is one area where there is significant localisation," said Ashish Kashyap, CEO, Ibibo.com. The company claims success with local themes such as Great Indian Parking War, Mumbai Underworld and others.
"Localisation can be in terms of language or themes or game concepts. Language does work to the advantage of a particular region or country. But games around localised themes and concepts are not as popular as universal-themed ones. However, games around cricket are extremely popular in India and Zapak has invested heavily in this space across various platforms (PC, online, mobile)," said Deepak Abbot, VP - product, Zapak.com.
"Online gaming is still very underserved as compared to other countries. With more internet penetration, there will be more conversion. All said and done, it is still considered a hot word among advertisers but they are not yet willing to use its potential to the maximum," adds Kejriwal.
"Different people have tried various things with local themes and the mobile space is where the maximum action happens in this context. A lot of content is created around cricket, Bollywood and television shows. The gestation cycle on mobile is much faster compared to the console and online," said Sameer Bangara, COO, UTV Indiagames.