In 2006, Microsoft kicked off a landmark campaign across India for its Xbox 360 console. In a country generally overlooked by console and handheld manufacturers, the new marketing push saw, amongst print and retail promotions, commercials starring two popular Bollywood and cricket stars, the latter of which featured in an exclusively branded 360 cricket title, Yuvraj Singh Cricket 2007
To find out more about the general state of the Indian consumer games market both historically and currently, as well as the effectiveness of Microsoft's campaign, Gamasutra talked with Gunjan Bagla, managing director of market advisory group Amritt Ventures
Can you tell us generally about the state of the consumer game market in India?
Gunjan Bagla: Consumer games are very much a young city-dweller's phenomenon in India today. Indians are voracious consumers of both domestic media and American media (print, TV, online and cinema), and games tied to media properties will do well. The market is still in its infancy and the local software trade organization forecasts growth at 78% compounded annually for at least the next two years.
How would you characterize the breakdown of mobile/PC/console/handheld prevalence in the market?
GB: India now has over 100 million cellular phones, and most connections were installed in the last three years. This in a country where there are only about 50 million land lines. As a result, mobile games do quite well. The cellular carriers are generally entertainment savvy, but their management is sometime distracted by the very rapid growth.
Like other emerging economies, there are a large number of internet cafes in most Indian cities. Young people will often play PC games (single user, LAN-based, online casual, and some MMORPG) at these internet cafes. One chain in particular, Reliance Webworld, has equipped many of their PCs with joystick and other game paraphernalia. These locations are shared by gamers, job hunters and the odd business person who comes in to do email, so the atmosphere is not quite what you might expect! In some large cities like Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, you will find game parlors that have consoles.
Online portals like Hungama have been around for many years and offer games in addition to other content. A recent game portal entry is Zapak.com, notable due to its funding source, the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, which has interests in film-making, mobile games, movie theaters and cellular service.
How has each respective console manufacturer historically supported the market?
GB: Nintendo has been absent and continues to be absent. While you will see the occasional GBA or DS that was bought overseas by a traveling Indian, or grey-marketed, I haven't yet seen a GameCube or Wii in a consumer location.
Sony offered the PS2 through one dealer in Mumbai, though additional grey-market PS2 were readily available in major cities. The PSP and PS3 are not visible and Sony has not offered them through legal channels either.
Microsoft made a big splash in Fall 2006 by launching the Xbox 360 just ahead of the major Indian holiday of Diwali. Today you can find the 360 at upscale retails stores in major cities.
Which consoles appear to be or have been the most popular?
GB: Considering the small footprint prior to Fall 2006, I hesitate to use the word popular
to describe the PS2 in India; but it was surely the market leader. Today, that position is likely eclipsed by the Xbox 360.
How often does India get region exclusive games - is Xbox 360's Yuvraj Singh Cricket 2007 one of the first major examples of this?
GB: With the exception of Madden
, most mainstream American titles can translate well into the Indian market. Most region-specific work is driven by the two big local fascinations: Bollywood, and cricket. For many years India has produced more movies than Hollywood; stars like Shah Rukh Khan and music composers like Bhappi Lahiri are higly admired. Mobile and PC games based on their characters have natural appeal to a vast audience.
If you combine the American passion for football, baseball and basketball you begin to approach the depth of feeling that Indians share for the sport of cricket. It is not surprising, then, that Microsoft chose a cricket game as their first special Indian title. There are also other cricket based titles on most platforms that are liked in India.
Does India often get properly localized versions, or are most titles brought in as English versions?
GB: While there are more than 23 official languages in India, the gamer demographic in India is quite comfortable with the English versions of imported games. I expect consumers might prefer Indian localizations like Chennai Chase
or Mumbai Mayhem
instead of LA Rush
, featuring Indian environments or characters but still played as an English version -- but that is more of a 2009 trend, in my view.
Which games have seen the biggest recent successes in the market?
GB: This is not based on scientific data but I see Quake
and Age of Empires
a lot, both in people's homes and at the internet cafes. Some kids play FIFA Soccer
. On the mobile platform, games cycle through very quickly, much like the US.
Can you tell us more about the import grey market in the country? How prevalent is the pirated goods market?
GB: Pirate software is readily available in India, and so are pirated PC games. There is also a strong supply chain for grey market goods which are not illegal or counterfeit in India, but for which no authorized dealer exists. Some of these stores also sell chipped or modded consoles but it does not appear to be a high-volume business.
Can you tell us more about Microsoft's push with the Xbox 360? Is its marketing campaign likely to resonate with India's gamers?
GB: For those old enough to remember the launch of Windows 95, it seemed that Microsoft was trying to outdo itself in India [with the Xbox 360 launch] last year. Events, TV, print and in-store promotions to the target market have been in full play.
The sales price is similar to the US, making it quite expensive to Indian pockets -- perhaps some region-specific educational games could assure parents that their money is being put to some good use. Besides parents, the other groups that may fork out over INR 20,000 ($453) for a basic 360, would be young workers in information technology businesses.
The TV commercial
featuring the two Xbox brand ambassadors (as celebrity endorsers are called in India) was well received. Akshay Kumar is a Bollywood star trained in martial arts who does his own stunts; he leaped off a high stage at a live performance in Los Angeles last year. And Yuvraj Singh is a popular cricketer. Microsoft chose its celebrity team effectively.
What is the retail market like? You have previously talked about 2007-2008 being the beginning of a larger retail push - has it traditionally been handled by privately owned specialty shops? Are there smaller recognizable chains of game shops?
GB: American-style retailing is a very recent phenomenon in India, where over 90% of all retail stores are single-location. There are no Wal-marts or Best Buys in India and no shops that sell games only. Most games and game platforms are sold at locations that also offer books, music, electronics or other products. There may be a company store that sells Xbox 360s in Gurgaon, near New Delhi but I have not visited it.
However many Indian retail chains are seeing dramatic success, whether its Pantaloons that sells clothes, or Cafe Coffee Day (India's answer to Starbucks). As this trend accelerates, the game industry is likely to benefit.