This trend, which follows the rising popularity of India-focused content — both contemporary as well as drawn from folklore and mythology — that is visible on television shows, music, animation and comics is pushing gaming companies to also follow suit, say industry executives.
Game studios such as SuperGaming, Giga Fun, NoddingHeads Games and Studio Sirah have in the last few years created games that either use characters from Indian mythology such as Bheem and Arjun or are set in a distinctly Indian setting — whether futuristic or mythological.
Typically, the most popular games have so far been based on Western themes and have Western tropes like trolls and orcs.
“(But) people now want to play games that are set in a familiar context or with familiar themes,” said Aabhas Sharma, co-founder of Studio Sirah, maker of Kurukshetra — a card battler game where players earn cards and attempt to outplay their opponents in online duels.
The game is big on strategy and includes a mix of gods and mythical monsters as well as other fictional characters, battling it out as the story progresses.
Discover the stories of your interest
NoddingHeads Games, which created Raji that was among the first Indian-themed console games, has recently signed up with Netflix. Set in ancient India it is among the few console games to come out of the country. It draws inspiration from the Mahabharat and Ramayan, with the in-game architecture modelled after medieval Rajasthan. This will now be available on the streaming services’ gaming platform globally.“Back in 2017 we had to contact practically every publisher in the Western hemisphere to get our game out, a lot has changed since then,” said Avichal Singh, co-founder, NoddingHeads Games.
A study released earlier this month by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Lumikai — a gaming and interactive media focused fund — found that 82% of gamers are interested in playing games based on Indian mythology while over 40% of non-gamers are more inclined to start gaming if games are based on Indian themes.
This has made the Indian theme gaming space one of the fastest in the country’s gaming industry which is estimated to be worth over $2.6 billion.
Introducing Indian themes isn’t just restricted to the mythologies. Pune-headquartered SuperGaming has created Indus, an Indo-futuristic battle royale game. “In addition to storytelling through the game, it’s also about visualising India in a way that hasn’t been done before. Indo futurism has familiar elements but reimagined in a modern avatar which appeals to gamers,” said Roby John, co-founder, SuperGaming.
So while the game follows the familiar battle royale format, the locations feature popular Indian sites and motifs, reimagined with a futuristic twist.
The demand for Indian-themed games is also leading to the launch of new studios focusing on this segment. Mostly being set up by founders who have worked with larger gaming companies in the past and have seen how the Indian market has evolved.
“We tried to create Indian-themed content in our earlier roles, but the market wasn’t ready then,” said Krishnendu Mukherjee, co-founder, Giga Fun Studios. The founders earlier worked with larger gaming firms, but struck out to set up Giga Fun which is looking to tap into the casual gaming market in India. According to the Lumikai study, 50% of gamers are willing to pay for casual games, highest across all segments.
This growing preference for Indian-themed games isn’t surprising, said Justin Shriram Keeling, founding general partner of Lumikai.
“We’ve seen the popularity of Indian TV shows, movies, music, animation and comics. These are all mediums where domestic themes and culture have dominated the market, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing this in gaming,” he said.
The huge success of Ludo, which had over 250 million downloads in the first phase of the Covid-19 lockdown also points towards the preference people have for games and themes that are familiar to them.
While the themes may be Indian, these companies have realised that there is a lot of interest globally as well. While the non-resident Indian community is one big part of it, the epics, and other themes tend to resonate with non-Indian gamers, said the developers.
When creating content based in Indian mythology, game developers are cognizant of the fact that this is a sensitive subject. “We’ve taken some measures in terms of being respectful of these,” said Sirah’s Sharma. For instance, a person can’t play the game as god, or a god can’t get killed and so on.
Going ahead one can expect to see a lot more gaming content across familiar mythologies and epics as well as casual games one may have played while growing up, just on a different medium.