Television

Indian gaming scene to be mobile driven

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MUMBAI: Estimated to grow into a $30 billion business worldwide by year 2006, gaming is a full-fledged industry in the making. That is good news for those looking at gaming as a serious business. Add to that the fact that about 60 per cent (145 million) of all Americans and 40 per cent of all Europeans play games. What is better news still is that India could well be on its way to becoming a worldwide gaming destination.

But before gaming starts looking like the next big wave to hit the Indian market, here is a low down on what is fuelling the optimism around this small but growing industry and what is dragging it down from the heights that it could achieve.

First, the good news. With 50 thousand plus gamers in the age bracket of 15 to 45, 2.5 thousand plus registered serious hardcore gamers in the 15 to 30 age group and approximately 500 plus people employed directly or indirectly by the gaming business here, the nascent Indian gaming community has much reason to dream and plan about.

* Gaming to be mobile driven

* 20 million game enabled handsets by 2004 end

* Price points will decide the size of the business

* Gaming is bigger business than movies

* Gaming console base grows 50 % with each generation

In what appeared to be the consensus among the panelists in the Interactive Gaming session at the FICCI Frames 2004 on day one, it was clear that the mobile platform is going to be the biggest driver for the gaming business in India. There are an estimated 20 million game enabled handsets to hit the global markets by 2004 end. For India, it is still too early to talk about such figures.

Also, the success of the gaming business would depend more than anything else on price points offered to the Indian market. But given the low labour and production cost advantage that the Indian markets offer, price points may not exactly be the worst worries of the Indian gaming businesses.

Also, the Indian community involved in serious gaming has some healthy credits to boast about. Vishal Gondal's India Games Ltd is one such which managed to strike a mobile gaming license deal for a huge entertainment property like Spiderman. Then there is Rajesh Rao's Dhruva Interactive that struck a big-ticket deal with Microsoft Studios.

Further buffering the optimism is that the gaming console base grows at an estimated 50 per cent worldwide with each generation, according to Electronic Arts business development director Steve Miller.

Also, there have been instances where the gaming industry has performed almost at par with the movie business. Compare the two - while the movie Matrix Reloaded netted $288 million, Madden 2004, the game, collected $ 236 million, informed Miller.

But if it is all hunky dory for the gaming businesses in India, what is keeping them from becoming an industry? Plenty.

For one, the biggest driver of the gaming business in India faces a big hurdle in the first step itself - the mobile devices available now are not good enough to facilitate gaming and of the few that exist, there are not enough.

* Piracy is the biggest constraint

* Perceived as a non-serious career option

* Hence not enough skilled talent

* Lack of formal training facilities

* 500 plus employed currently

* 3000 plus required in the next two years

Next and more importantly, there is a shortage of skilled and quality manpower. This in turn is because there are barely any formal training facilities or dedicated teaching courses available to those who may want to take up gaming as a career. "Gaming is not a casual business. It is not possible for someone to teach Java in the morning and teach gaming in the evening," clarified Dhruva Interactive CEO Rajesh Rao. Not helping the business in any way is also the deep rooted psyche of Indian parents that gaming is not a serious career option and which is hence discouraged.

That raises critical questions about how the Indian market would cope with industry requirements of 3000 or more people in the next two years. Also, can an industry grow in absence of skilled talent?

Notwithstanding the depressing questions of survival and growth, as Gondal puts it, foreign gaming studios are looking at India as a gaming destination and the price that the handful of known gaming businesses charge in India are at par with the European counterparts.

In fact, in the more developed markets, gaming is a concept that is now being integrated with music, sports (using real sports personalities in games) and of course films. The more developed markets such as the US and Canada have started thinking about convergence even as the Indian gaming businesses are fighting off barriers of qualified manpower and focused education.

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