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India rising: games going up on the sub-continent

Recent years have seen Indian gaming rise from virtual non-existence to specialist retail, midnight launches and local PS3 game production. Debabrata Nath finds a trade enjoying steep growth but facing tough challenges.

"The introduction of new technologies in the global gaming circuit has had a domino effect in India. The domestic market is witnessing a constant rise in demand for new innovations from customers."

The notion of an ‘Indian gaming scene’ even a few years ago was borderline absurd. The market for video games on the sub-continent, a country where some industries are booming while others face stagnation due to tough laws and other challenges faced by developing nations, was virtually non-existent.

Today, however, things are changing rapidly in Indian gaming, as an increasing amount of larger companies have taken note of the huge potential on offer.

Let's enumerate. Global video game market revenue, not including mobile games, will around $70 billion in 2013. With mobile included, the figure's more like $78.5 billion, close to 15% growth year-over-year.

The Indian gaming industry is currently worth about $250 million, which doesn’t even account for 1% of the annual global market. Based on numbers alone, it's easy to dismiss India as irrelevant to games; an error, as the country's industry is growing rapidly. The Indian games market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 32.1% in the next five years. Many believe it is at an emergent stage.

Kiran Khatanhar, marketing head of Indian retailer and distributor e-Xpress Interactive, agrees that India is being catapulted by the world trade.

"The introduction of new technologies in the global gaming circuit has had a domino effect in India," she says. "The domestic market is witnessing a constant rise in demand for new innovations from customers."

The last couple of years have been especially healthy for games in India, with the emergence of specialist retailers like Games the Shop and Game 4 U. E-commerce has also emerged, with the introduction of specialist online stores - such as Flipkart and Nextworld - helping distributors reach gamers in more than 200 towns and cities across the country.

Publishers have been quick to take advantage of the retail upswing, says Khatanhar.

"There is tremendous growth towards game promotions and launches. For example, there were midnight launches for games like Assassin’s Creed 3 and Hitman Absolution last year, which have been a unique experience for the Indian audience."

And the names are coming. Ian Livingstone, for example, recently visited India to promote Square Enix’s Tomb Raider reboot.

GTA India

India's games growth hasn't been limited to the traditional specialist sectors. Major Indian TV and lifestyle brands have been willing come forward and associate with gaming software.

Rao notes that e-sports, too, is having an impact on growth.

“There has been a lot of experiential marketing around games," she says. "Gaming communities are coming forward and participating in various competitions in India and abroad, and there are big ticket prizes associated with it."

Specialist games retail is now an Indian reality.

Given India's gaming scene is edging towards the mainstream, the country's taste in software isn't so surprising. Rockstar’s Max Payne 3 and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed III were among the best-selling titles of 2012. In general, franchises such as Assassin's Creed, FIFA, Gears of War and Need for Speed move the biggest numbers in India.

e-Xpress tells VG247 that pre-orders for Grand Theft Auto V has already broken all previous records, and it looks set to be the biggest title of this generation in India.

In terms of platform popularity, PC wins. India has around 11 million gaming PCs. Console-wise, PS3 is the clear leader in this generation.

This is part of the reason that Sony has now started manufacturing PS3 games in-country, bringing down the costs of its products substantially. The average PlayStation 3 game used to cost $55 in India, but, after setting up a local production unit, Sony is offering some of the most popular PS3 titles for as little as $20 in India. The result is obvious: people are buying more games.

High costs are a major problem for Indian games retail. One chain told us that the biggest challenge faced by distributors and publishers is high import duty on gaming products. This results in excessive prices, sometimes making games unaffordable for the average Indian consumer.

Sony has been able to skirt India's duty problem, but other major challenges exist for the Indian games market. India has a fragmented supply chain, a lack of good nationwide logistic facilities, high retail rentals and lack of experienced individuals in the retail management sector. While the numbers are going up, it's obvious the potential is higher than is being realised.

Despite the downsides, most publishers and hardware-makers acknowledge the Indian market has a strong future, and things look lucrative for both retailers and publishers in the coming years. The biggest winner, however, will be Indian gamers, as they’ll increasingly have access to software day-and-date with international launches at an affordable price, something which seemed like a distant dream until a few years ago.

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