Game expos in Asia all seem to bunch up towards the end of the year. And following my trips to Malaysia and Singapore in October as detailed in Gamer's World in October, this month I found myself in Hyderabad for the 15th edition of the India Game Developer Conference. IGDC is an industry conference that draws over 4,000 attendees. They are mostly from India but also from elsewhere: people who work in the videogame industry, or adjacent to it, or want to break into it.
From November 2-4, this year's three-day event threw together hundreds of seminar panels, over 100 booths with dozens of playable game demos, an awards ceremony, plus parties and lunches and drinks galore.
An Industry Waiting to Explode
It was my first time to attend IGDC — and indeed to visit India. Until now, I knew very little about India's game industry. I have some friends and some colleagues there, yes — including our IGN India team, who are based in New Delhi and Mumbai and whom I got to hang out with at IGDC. I knew a few games, most notably Raji: An Ancient Epic, an independently developed action game shot through with Indian mythology which I hugely enjoyed when it was released in 2020. And I was aware that PlayStation is looking to replicate the success of its China Hero Project with a similar India Hero Project. The project will see Sony offer training and investment to developers in India to encourage them to release games on PlayStation 5.
But I learned a ton more during my trip. India has recently overtaken China as the world's most populous nation, with some 1.43 billion people. But its game industry has not grown in quite the same way. China has become one of the top three markets for games, where cash-rich giants such as Tencent and NetEase are buying up countless Western and Japanese studios to hugely expand their presence in the console and PC gaming space. India's game industry, on the other hand, feels like it's just about to explode.
The Slow Rise of PC and Console Games
The gaming market in India is currently worth an estimated $868 million USD in 2023 according to analyst firm Niko Partners. And it is expected to nearly double by 2027. Currently, an overwhelming majority — something like 90% — of gamers play on mobile. Major titles include cricket games and gambling apps (or "real money games," as they are euphemistically called there). But the PC and console game share is slowly but surely growing, and gamers in India want to play the same kinds of game genres as everywhere else.
India's major cities are flush with every modern concession, and the government has invested heavily in infrastructure. India has some of the world's most affordable mobile data rates, which is ideal for mobile gaming. And everything is trending upwards — that is, gamers are expecting ever higher quality from their games, and ever better platforms to play them on.
India's Rural Challenges
But the reason mobile is so much more popular than console/PC is simple. India is a huge country, and in a large number of rural communities, infrastructure and income are not so great. The democratization of cheap and high-spec phones has meant a major boom for India's game scene, but consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are still very much luxury items.
(After IGDC ended, I visited Delhi, where I saw both boundless affluence and endless poverty in equal measure. The sheer number of people with nothing was heartbreaking. For many in India, a game controller is far out of reach.)
Still, for India's young and ever-more affluent population, gaming is clearly on the rise.
Initiatives by Xbox and PlayStation
Xbox head Phil Spencer has previously said that he plans to target markets including India. This is part of the reasoning behind Xbox investing so much in its Game Pass all-you-can-play platform that you can use without buying a console. Xbox has also acquired mobile game heavyweight King (as part of Microsoft's recent $69 billion USD purchase of Activision Blizzard King).
Indeed, Xbox ran a whole day of seminars at IGDC aimed at bringing developers to its platforms, just as PlayStation talked up its India Hero Project in a seminar in the room next door.
Upcoming Game of the Year
I played a lot of games at IGDC. For one thing, I was on the panel of judges for the Upcoming Game of the Year category for the IGDC Awards 2023. I played all of the nominated games and helped present the awards for this category at the prestigious ceremony on the last night of IGDC. The winner was Sojourn Past, an action-adventure/bullet hell game with gorgeous pixel art graphics. The runner-up was Fishbowl, a cozy slice-of-life adventure game set during lockdown in which an ordinary young woman's world collides with fantasy.
Both of these games are early in development but show a ton of promise. They are being developed for PC and console platforms — not mobile.
Top Picks at IGDC
Other excellent games I played at IGDC included Winds of Arcana: Ruination, a Prince of Persia-style Metroidvania game with high-skill platforming action. It succeeded in nailing a genre that is really hard to get right. I also played Indus, a battle royale game for mobile that makes use of Indo-Futurism visual design to create a compelling world that feels different from anything else.
Additionally, The Palace on the Hill is a laidback adventure game that offers a glimpse into daily life in a rural Indian farming village. Mechanical Fury is a very fast-paced first-person shooter with parkour elements and super-precise controls that feel like a blend of Doom Eternal and Mirror's Edge. Marked is a brilliantly hard puzzle game in which you must maneuver the knight piece from chess in L-shaped arcs around each level's grid to reach the exit.
Any of these games have a shot at finding a healthy global audience. And that is why I think India's game industry is about to explode. Yes, the domestic market is growing rapidly. But beyond that, there is also a slew of excellent new games that will soon be discovered by gamers all around the world.
India's Role in Global Game Development
Similar to places like Malaysia and China, India has served as a source of inexpensive labor for the Western game industry for many years. AAA games from global publishers often outsource part of their development to studios in countries where costs are lower. After all, just like Hollywood movies, making a big-budget game employs many hundreds of people. And labor-intensive tasks such as building in-game props and character models can be easily farmed out.
This has fostered a healthy outsourcing industry in places like India. In recent years, the hurdles for independent game development have lowered to virtually nothing. Now, we're seeing more and more of these highly skilled developers pursue more creatively rewarding projects and dream up their own worlds.
Just as China has delivered global megahits like HoYoverse's Genshin Impact, there will surely be such a game from India. But also, once you start to look at a global scale, even smaller indie games have a huge, huge audience. Raji: An Ancient Epic is a case in point. This highly acclaimed Indian game first launched on Nintendo Switch in August 2020. It has since added versions on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, iOS, and Android, becoming a long-seller and setting up its developer Nodding Heads Games for future success, even among the indie margins. And Raji's success has set a blueprint for others to follow.
I learned so much from my visit to IGDC — about India's game scene, about games, about humanity, about humility. I came away with a sense of limitless potential. Nearly all of the games I've mentioned in this article are set for release in 2024 at the earliest, and some of them are two or three years out. But I'm certain you'll be hearing more about these games, and others from India, very soon.
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Author: Daniel Robson