Sony Computer Entertainment Europe published a compilation of culturally-tuned games in India, developed by Indian game development studio Gameshastra. One of these, titled Desi Adda: Games of India — which takes place in a rural Indian village setting — is available for both the PS2 and the PSP, and focuses on traditional Indian sports like Kite-fighting, Kabaddi, Pachisi (which is a board game) and Gilli-Danda. Now, keep in mind that no one in an urban society here actually plays these. Cricket, Tennis and Soccer are the sports that interest most kids.
The game even has its own little storyline, involving you overthrowing a corrupt village head and helping out a couple in love that can’t get married. The whole thing sounds a little bit like a melodramatic Bollywood movie and is probably exactly the feel the development team was going for. Gameshastra believe that Desi Adda: Games of India will help broadcast the usage of Playstation products as well as knowledge of the games contained within it amongst young Indians. The question is, will it work?
Why it probably won’t:
I’m certainly not privy to whatever conclusions may have led SCEE to their decision to publish the game. Keeping the PS2 alive as long as possible is probably part of it, but being Indian myself and living in the country, I did find it a very odd decision. Before we go any further, here’s something you should know about India.
India is a country where piracy runs rampant in every segment of the entertainment market imaginable and there hasn’t been much of an effort to change that. Part of the reason for this is that you can’t change it. There are simply too many people in the country — yes, India is grossly overpopulated — and when it comes to entertainment, a lot of them are used to getting things for "free." Furthermore, part-time jobs aren’t as common here as they are in the West, so unemployed youngsters and students that aren’t lucky enough to be born into rich families are usually faced with the choice of either pirating things or not having what they want.
Coming back to Games of India in light of this fact, the first flaw one could find with the game is that one SKU is on the PS2 — the most widely pirated console in the country. In fact, the PS2 is popular in India because it’s so easy to pirate games on the device. Up against the gigantic library of the PS2 — the entirety of which is essentially available "for free" to the average Indian gamer — I’m a little surprised that SCEE think the game stands a good chance of selling on the system.
Here’s another fact about India: the people that can afford to buy games and actively do so have higher standards than a budget game developed by an Indian game studio. They also have no interest in learning about Kabaddi. Now, this isn’t a knock against Gameshastra in any way. What I’m getting at is that they don’t have the reputation that Activision or Take-Two or Ubisoft do, and games by those publishers are the ones that the people who can afford to buy games play. Just like the mainstream American or European consumer, your average Indian gamer loves big explosions and fancy particle effects. Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto.. .those are the popular games.
Let’s come back to Games of India once again, in light of this new knowledge. The second SKU of the game is on the PSP, priced at 999 INR ($21) — twice as much as the PS2 version. Now, a thousand bucks is a fair bit of money and a far fewer number of people own PSPs than PS2s. The chances of it selling on the PSP are even lower. So, my question is, just who is this game aimed at?
Your upper-middle class consumer isn’t going to buy it because he has higher standards. Even if he is interested in checking it out, chances are he’ll just pirate it instead. Your lower-class consumer likely doesn’t own a videogame console at all and is probably more concerned about being able to afford life’s essentials than splurging on entertainment. You could argue that India is so overpopulated that someone’s bound to buy it, but the question is, how is that small number of people helping SCE break into the software market here in any way?
I’ve written about breaking into the Indian games market once before at another site, so if you’re interested in reading further on the subject, you can do so here. But here’s the gist of it in bullet points:
- The majority of gaming in India is done on PCs and mobile phones.
- The key to selling anything here is selling a high-quality product at a reasonable price. GTA4 for 700 bucks on the PC sells OK. GTA4 for 2,000 bucks on the Xbox 360 probably doesn’t sell as much.
- India is undergoing westernization rapidly. The tech-savvy consumer expects more or less the same products and quality western countries enjoy.
Why they’re doing it:
Keep in mind this is strictly an opinion piece. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not privy to SCEE’s marketing and research, and maybe they’re spot on if they feel this will help them break into the market here in the long run. This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted to release what they feel is a more "culturally relevant" game in India. In the spirit of fairness, let’s try and look at this from a more positive perspective.
Another title named Hanuman: Boy Warrior — based on the God in Hindu mythology — developed by Aurona Technologies, was published by SCEE earlier in the year. The advantage that game had, though, is that it was promptly met by outrage from the usual religious fanatics that demanded it be withdrawn from store shelves. Hey, any kind of publicity is good — and that it was (and still is) bundled with new PS2s at retail.
That said, Games of India has also been blessed with a retail bundle, although it’s with the PSP, which kind of defeats the purpose. But at least SCEE are getting the game out there in some form other than the standard box. Who knows, maybe enough parents will notice and buy Games of India as a cheaper alternative to a western-developed game for their kids. It should be noted that both the Hanuman and Games of India bundles are displayed prominently at every Sony store I’ve visited of late.
Perhaps this is all part of some ongoing experiment to see what does and doesn’t work here. Outsourcing development work to India is cheap, and everyone does it. It’s likely that the low investment was cheap enough for SCE to justify putting another "Indian" game out to get a feel for the market.
I just personally feel that, eventually, the key to tapping into the games market in India is going to be high quality at an affordable price. Microsoft seem to understand this to some extent — they’re bundling an Xbox 360 Arcade unit with five games for less money than even the cheapest Playstation 3 SKU. To the average consumer that’s interested in value for money, it’s a very appealing deal, and the kind of thing I think will get more people into the habit of buying games, rather than pirating them.