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A sizeable young population is driving the rising interest in gaming.

Turning point

Gaming is growing. But it needs investment to get to the next level.
By Anjali Kapoor Gaba

In 2012, Rajiv Vaishnav, vice president, Nasscom, was at the association’s annual Game Developer Conference in Pune. He recalls that he was stopped by one of the visitors there, who had his son, a first-year engineering student, in tow. The man had a seemingly simple request of Vaishnav: He wanted his son to meet experts from the industry for advice on gaming as a career. 

The request, says Vaishnav, is one that more and more people have been making over the past few years. “When we started in 2005, our focus was on the animation industry. Gaming was just an hour-long session. But we saw a buzz developing around it and decided to shift our focus,” says Vaishnav, who will be hosting the sixth edition of the event at Pune in November. 

“Go to any school and ask how many kids are into gaming, and every hand in the room shoots up. When we ask students to submit gaming ideas, we see Class VI and VII students come up with fascinating ones,” says Vaishnav. Nasscom has held five such gaming jam sessions in schools so far. 

Clearly, gaming has gained some respectability if parents are seriously considering it as a career for their children. It’s really not surprising, given how everyone seems to be some kind of gamer.  Casual gaming is accepted social behaviour; the number of people playing Candy Crush on their smartphones is proof of that. Serious gaming, however, is a little more niche—and a little more expensive. It needs heavy-duty processors, great graphics and sound, and even special gaming accessories like joysticks and mice. And, of course, the games.

That’s what attracts students, like the one at the Nasscom conference, to the industry. Most games are made abroad, but the interest in developing games in India has been growing. Two decades ago, there were just one or two game-developing studios in the country; today there are 200, and the number is growing rapidly. 

According to the FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2014, India’s gaming market was pegged at Rs 1,900 crore in 2013 and is growing at a CAGR of 25%. 

Add to this the fact that more than half of the country’s population is in the twenties, and it’s easy to see why hardware companies such as Logitech, Dell Alienware, WD, and NVIDIA are taking note. “The gaming industry in India is about to boom. We are doing more business than ever before,” says Ashok Jangra, cluster category manager, India and South West Asia, Logitech, which has an extensive gaming portfolio. 

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Contestants at the India eSports League in New Delhi earlier this year

These companies are also actively sponsoring events. “Earlier, we had to go around with a begging bowl for sponsorships, but now the companies want to one-up each other,” says Vaishnav. 

Across India, gaming cafés are drawing crowds. Ashish Gupta, co-founder, Xtreme Gaming, which runs one such café in Delhi’s Ramesh Nagar and another in Noida, says they get around 200 visitors daily, with the number going up to 500 during weekends. “Serious players spend five to seven hours,” he says, and regulars spend between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 a month. Besides Xtreme Gaming, there is ESC in Bangalore, Blur in Chennai (at 15,000 sq. ft., one of the country’s largest), and Reinforcement in Mumbai, to name a few. 

Gupta says that most gamers who come to his gaming centres do so because they like the Internet speeds (many gaming cafés like his have leased lines for fast and uninterrupted Internet access), and because they like to play multiplayer games with their friends. In fact, he says, people come from neighbouring states on weekends just to play. “I call it gaming tourism,” says Gupta with a laugh. 

Serious gaming has also led to the growth of gaming entrepreneurs. Some gamers start learning to write their own games, and others set up gaming centres. ESC Gaming’s B.N. Subramani, who started gaming in 1996, opened a café in Bangalore’s Jayanagar in partnership with two friends in June 2013. 

He says opening a gaming café needs an investment of at least Rs 35 lakh (his has 25 machines). And that’s only the beginning. Upgrading the hardware and software and introducing new games are critical to making sure that gamers keep returning. 

The problem now is investment, which industry experts say is a huge hurdle. “The segment is likely to stay unorganised for some time. [At least] for developers, India still remains a tricky market as people are unwilling to shell out money for games,” says Jehil Thakkar, partner at consultancy firm KPMG.