Why Indians are rushing to jump on-board the gaming bandwagon

Last year, 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf made headlines by raking in USD 3 million at the Fortnite world cup. In the same year, at Valve’s official Dota 2 global tournament, Team OG collectively won USD 1.12 billion, with each member receiving a whopping USD 3.1 million. That’s the largest prize in esports history, and probably the greatest individual sum ever to be given to each of the five players.

To put these numbers into perspective, Wimbledon singles champions Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep each took home USD 2.9 million at the tennis tournament last year. At the same time, Tiger Woods pulled in just USD 2.07 million at the 2019 Masters.

This stark comparison paints a vivid picture of just how lucrative and mainstream the gaming industry is.

Fortnite became so popular in 2018 that it made it to the New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York’s Times Square that year – an astonishing feat and a first in gaming history. 27-year-old Tyler “Ninja” Blevins engaged the enormous crowd that came from all over with a nonstop 12-hour live stream of the game on Twitch.

But gaming wasn’t always the behemoth it is today. The industry has come a long way and is now enjoying its time in the sun.

The industry had picked up steam on the back of the battle royale craze, and the current lockdown has further propelled it, clocking in numbers like never before.

From a global perspective, the gaming industry currently stands at USD 148.8 billion, as per global gaming insights firm Newzoo’s latest report. In India, this segment, which grew 40 percent in 2019 to reach USD 887 million, is expected to reach USD 2.5 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 43 percent, as per the latest EY Media & Entertainment report 2020. And, digital gaming has been at the helm of this phenomenal growth.

With the increased penetration of smartphones, low data costs and improved bandwidth, rising disposable incomes, a thriving entrepreneurial community, and investments from international giants, India is well poised to become a global gaming powerhouse.

Investments in this sector

Currently, there seems to be no dearth of investments in the Indian gaming industry. Investors opine that the online gaming industry presents the next multi-billion dollar opportunity for start-ups and enterprises. We already saw a huge spike here, and the lockdown is helping accelerate this even further, with no signs of stopping anytime soon.

According to Venture Intelligence data, VC investments in online gaming start-ups rose 114 percent to USD 376 million in 2020. What’s important to note is that the gaming industry in India is not just limited to gamers.

Online game development companies have risen from a mere 25 in 2010 to 275 in 2019, as per a report by KPMG. And, many of these are already partnering with global companies to develop games here. India is increasingly being recognized as a provider of exceptional skill and talent required to develop modern-day games.

Furthermore, global biggies are also making a beeline for India. Tencent, one of the largest multinational technology conglomerates, announced a PUBG Mobile India Series last year with a prize pool of more than USD 65,000.

At the same time, Qualcomm recently partnered with Garena Free Fire to host an esports tournament in the country. And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

A career in gaming

Given the enormous success of this sector, mobile gaming in particular, and the immense corporate funds being pooled in, Indians have begun to look at gaming as more than just a pastime or a way to blow off steam.

With advancements in technology, gaming enthusiasts can now convert their hobbies into a viable mainstream career – a previously far-fetched dream! Let’s take a look at e-sports as an example.

As prize money of tournaments continues to rise, more people take the plunge into the gaming battlefield. This surge in the number of professional gamers has catapulted this vertical into the league of professional sports. So much so that there are speculations around esports’ inclusion in the 2024 Olympics.

You don’t need to be a professional gamer to reap this sector’s benefits; the plethora of jobs in this field are endless. The gaming industry has a variety of domains, each requiring a different kind of skill set.

From game conceptualization to development, coding, designing, and training, everyone is vying for a piece of the pie, with the industry attracting the best talent across the value chain. Because of the growing pool of talented IT engineers, India is also becoming a popular backend development centre for gaming companies globally.

The government involvement 

While we’re already seeing significant headway in the gaming industry, government backing becomes truly imperative for it to thrive as a feasible career option. Strides are being taken to create an atmosphere that will draw the nation’s immense talent pool towards a sector ripe with potential.

Earlier this year, amidst concerns around the growing pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his vision for an “Atmanirbhar Bharat” – an ambitious goal to achieve economic self-reliance. In an address soon after, he said that India should lead the international digital gaming sector by developing games inspired by Indian culture and folk tales.

In line with this, PM Modi also launched an Atmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge, encouraging its finest talent to put their best foot forward, which saw tremendous innovation across sectors including gaming.

The Union Ministry of Education is also taking initiatives to support students in online gaming to create employment opportunities for them. And, that’s not all. Representatives of the ministry of information and broadcasting said they are working with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay to develop a centre for training and content creation in animation and gaming.

The centre should come up in a couple of years, but the govt is also drafting a national AVGC (animation, visual effects, gaming) policy. All this is expected further to add impetus to the flourishing industry in the country.

The road ahead

India is a market which presents more hope and opportunity than others. As Mukesh Ambani rightfully said, “Gaming will be bigger than music, movies, TV”. This may seem unbelievable, especially in a country with one of the most vibrant cinema landscapes, but it’s the reality we live in.

It is already evident that the ecosystem for gamers as well as game developers is increasing rapidly; according to a report by Statista, the market size of the employees within the gaming sector would be over 40 thousand by 2022. Furthermore, for Indians, mobiles are the primary device.

With India being the second-largest smartphone market globally, mobile gaming is expected to skyrocket as this industry flourishes. This mobile-first culture and macro drivers such as government investment, broadband growth, infrastructure development, reduced hardware costs, and subsidies, will help us truly harness the full potential of this industry in driving job creation and fuelling the country’s economy.

Right now, India appears to be at the cusp of a radical change. This includes the market size, number of players, age, profile, demographics, and social attitudes toward gaming.

The next five years could well be the defining moment for digital gaming as it increasingly finds relevance across various industries. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

—Rajan Navani is Vice Chairman and Managing Director of JetSynthesys. The views expressed are personal.

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