In September 2016, Reliance launched Jio in India and disrupted the telecom industry. By offering high-speed 4G data and other services, even mobile phones, at economical prices, it made the internet accessible and affordable for many, setting off a digital dynamite across the nation. Combine that with a range of inexpensive smartphones that flooded the Indian market and you have an environment conducive enough for a large-scale digital revolution. The one space that has been feeling the ripples prominently ever since is India’s gaming segment.
With data usage per telecom subscriber growing from about 0.4 GB per month in 2015 to about 10.4 GB per month in 2019, the country has climbed to the second spot in terms of consumer base for online games in the world, standing second only to China, said a 2021 KPMG report. In FY21, India had about 420 million gamers—more than the entire population of the US—in the casual gaming segment who added Rs 60 billion to the country’s total gaming industry of Rs 136 billion. Today, India, one of the youngest countries in the world with an average age of 29, ranks among the top 10 largest gaming markets of the world.
In terms of e-sports, India already has over 150,000 professional players and a viewership of 17 million across 14 broadcast platforms, said a 2021 FICCI-EY report. This is expected to grow to 1.5 million professional players, 85 million viewers and 20-plus broadcasters by FY25.
The pandemic, which forced people indoors, only acted as a catalyst for the gaming industry. The average weekly time spent on gaming went up to approximately 3.6 hours during the lockdown months from about 2.5 hours a day before the Covid lockdowns, found a study by Lumikai Capital, a venture capital fund focused on gaming and interactive media, and consulting firm RedSeer.
India’s Gaming Glitch
While the numbers seem promising and indicate sustained growth, India’s gaming industry faces the issue of sustenance. To start an industry, we need demand and, for gaming, there is demand galore in India. However, to run an industry smoothly, we need human resources and infrastructure. What the country lacks is proper educational and training infrastructure that can nurture individuals to produce virtual games.
The challenge that the industry faces today is the lack of talent available to conceptualise and have the imagination to design and develop a game, says Soham Thacker, founder and CEO, GamerJi, one of the fastest growing esports companies in India. “This is primarily because gaming or game development was never considered a mainstream subject in colleges up until three years ago,” he says.
“Since the industry is evolving, the talent availability, from a gaming perspective, is limited. The challenges, principally, are experience of talent and functional scalability. So, everyone is looking to nurture talent sourced from another industry. This, in a way, limits the experience of talent within the industry and will take some time to build,” says Rajiv Kumar, head of human resources of gaming technology company Witzeal Technologies.
Other issues that plague the industry are lack of awareness and orthodox mindset. “Gaming is considered timepass by many and, therefore, is often not taken seriously as a possible career path. At the same time, the available opportunities are not easily known to potential candidates,” says Dr. Chitra Ravi, director, school of science studies, CMR University, Bengaluru.
Educational efforts are underway across the country with more and more institutes offering degree and diploma courses related to the gaming industry today. Institutions like ICAT Design and Media College and CMR University in Bengaluru, VIT Bhopal University, Whistling Woods International in Mumbai and centres of MAAC Institute and Arena Animation have been focusing on game design and development.
Currently, there are no government institutes that offer courses related to the field. In 2018, it was reported that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation was gearing up to set up India’s first design university for gaming in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam. It had even signed an agreement with Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB) which was followed by a meeting with then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu. As of today, the development status of that university remains unclear.
However, in Union Budget 2022, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced plans to set up an animation, visual effects, gaming, and comics (AVGC) promotion task force that will look into the promotion and development of gaming industry-related ethos in the country. At the state level, the Karnataka government had launched an AVGC centre of excellence in Bengaluru in January this year.
CMR’s Ravi says that with the right support towards specific skills in game design, programming and animation, students can make themselves better candidates for prospective employers.