Indians are well and truly addicted to PUBG thanks to affordable broadband access all over the country. The success of this online multiplayer game is clearly an inflection point for the Indian gaming industry. Will desi titles finally succeed?
Earlier this month, I went to my home town in Rajasthan and played PUBG in the overnight bus from Jaipur to Bikaner. I thought I would play one game while the bus was still in Jaipur as the game requires high speed data to play with 100 players synchronously. To my surprise, I ended up playing for four straight hours through the night while the bus travelled through rural Rajasthan – and the game worked throughout!
It was just one example of how India is now truly connected and how things that we thought were unimaginable not so long ago are a reality today. When Jio rolled out its nationwide network and slashed wireless broadband prices, it unleashed – among other things – the tailwind needed for the development of the Indian mobile gaming ecosystem. Global games with a massive following in other markets have been waiting on the sidelines for a long time.
PUBG, from Tencent, has not only taken the lead in gaining the Indian gaming mindshare but is leading the way for the creation of amazing games for India over the next decade.
When I was moving back to India two years ago, one thing was clear to me – India’s masses have a lot of free time. Whenever I spent time at my cousin’s shop in a Tier 3 town, or in my village in Rajasthan, I could see that people had at least 3-4 hours to kill during their work day. This is excluding the 5-6 hours they have after work when there is little to do in these small towns. This insight made me a firm believer that if a company could provide a credible way for people to kill time on their phones, adoption would be massive. Again, from global experience, I felt that video consumption and mobile gaming would get maximum traction.
We have seen the early signs of growth for the mobile gaming ecosystem in India for the last two years. Game downloads have increased 8-10x, with the active mobile gaming population growing to approximately 200 million. [Source: ET Bureau and App Annie]. This number is expected to grow to 450 million by 2021. Even though the numbers seem large, these are still early days of gaming in India.
Gaming in India: big on downloads, low on revenue
India has become the fifth-largest country by game downloads but remains far behind on gaming revenue. The most widely adopted games in India have, at best, been sub-100MB, single-player or turn-based games. Here’s the thing: games are much more exciting when you play them with others, compete with them and gain recognition among friends and other gamers.
Most of India has not experienced this sort of multi-player gaming as yet; people who have played Age of Empires (AOE) or Counter Strike or Quake during their undergrad days are a small subset and would relate to this format.
I remember getting addicted to AOE during my IIT days and playing it over LAN with seven other players in teams of up to four (there are three modes – solo, duo and squad). The experience of playing it with other friends just made the game so much more interesting that we would play 14-16 hours a day at times and also watch the recordings of the game to improve our game. I remember reading about how (Flipkart Co-founder) Sachin Bansal was a pro Quake player and played competitively during his IIT days.
And that’s how it was – pockets of players. In parallel, most mobile game developers I have spoken to have been very wary of developing multi-player and graphics-heavy games for India. Their scepticism was based on their experiences from the last decade when India was truly crunched for data and, until recently, for phone space. This was the state until PUBG hit our screens.