Monday, September 19, 2005

Indian Gaming Industry - Lessons from Bollywood?

by Anand Ramachandran

With the game development industry in India seemingly in a growth phase (albeit in fits and starts), it is time for developers to think ahead and look for ways to achieve global acceptance for their products. With a reasonable Indian market still years away, most developers seem to be focused on making games that western ( and perhaps Japanese and other Asian) audiences will buy, and they’re quite justified in this outlook.

The question is, just what kind of games from India will global audiences like? Perhaps there are important clues in the route taken by the Indian Film and Music industries.

Of late, we have seen several instances of Indian films making their presence felt in UK and US movie charts. Indian music also seems to be slowly but surely gaining a following in global markets. Importantly, though the growth was initially driven by the expatriates or diaspora, this is a market that increasingly comprises honest-to-goodness locals. The John and Jane Does.

“It is surprising and encouraging that other audiences are showing some interest. Mainstream newspapers are showing interest in reviewing films.”, said Tanuj Garg of UTV Motion Pictures, in an article in Screen International a leading trade publication abroad.

What seems to be common among products that do well abroad is that they are without exception extremely Indian in character – offering audiences glimpses into Indian Culture, Aesthetics and Value Systems. We’re talking those family and romantic dramas with Indian morals and song-and-dance routines. Horror, action or thriller titles don’t work. Karan Johar or Yash Chopra will outsell Ram Gopal Verma.

Even the Japanese are, unbelievably, tripping on Rajni films. You can do a double take now.

Consider the top grossing Bollywood films in the UK :

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

4.5 million USD

Veer Zara

3.6 million

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

3.17 million


3.16 million

Kal Ho Na Ho

3.12 million

Among the films currently doing great business are ‘Bunty Aur Babli’, ‘Parineeta’ and ‘Paheli’, which have all crossed 2 million.

From even a cursory glance at this list, it becomes clear that overtly, unabashedly Indian films do far better business than Bollywood films which try to be more ‘western’ in garb and content. No ‘James’. No ‘Dhoom’. No ‘Kaante’.

Even if you consider the music industry, it’s not the early ‘Rock Machine’ type bands that are getting western feet tapping, it’s Bhangra Pop, which manages to bridge the east-west divide better than most other art forms I’ve seen.

These are all products that are undisputably Indian, not just in appearance, but in soul. They offer the global movie-goer or music fan something that is at once unique, distinctive and interesting beyond mere novelty value. Of course, they all have production values on par with world standards.

It certainly looks like Bollywood has made world audiences sit up and take notice by being true to its roots, making quality ‘Indian’ products, and using global Indian audiences as a channel to reach out to the international mainstream. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening now.

A message there for game developers?

I would like to see an industry that has the vision and confidence to take the route of making original, Indian content as opposed to churning out job work or me-too products that are Indian purely by virtue of being made here. I am convinced that the talent and ability abound – it’s only a question of taking the leap of faith.

Yes, it’s risky. Job work certainly pays off much better in the short run – and I’m certainly not suggesting that companies drop lucrative contracts to chase vague ideals. What I’m trying to say is that companies who manage to find the resources and will to make high quality products free of preconceived and rigid notions of what will work internationally and what won’t, will be rewarded with much larger long-term profits and respect from the global industry.

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