2021 Key Figures of the Indian Gaming Market and How to Build the Strategy to Enter
India is a country with an enormous population of over 1.3 billion people. It has more than half a billion internet users and is currently the second largest online market in the world, behind only China. The fact that India is more open to western content than China makes the market all the more lucrative.
Historically, the country has been slow when it comes to adoption of smartphones. But over the last few years, this has changed very significantly. The growth in India’s middle class and the availability of cheaper smart phones (made locally or in China) has led to a massive boom. This, coupled with the fact that data plans in India are now the cheapest in the world (approx. $0.09 per 1GB of data), mobile devices are by far the most preferred devices for accessing the internet and downloading games.
This spurt in internet usage and availability of smartphones has led to a massive boom in the market for mobile games. As per Statista, the number of mobile gamers in India will be 368 million by the year 2022, up from 201 million in 2016. The growth in revenue has been even more significant. From generating USD 1.1 billion industry in 2017, revenue from mobile games has grown three-fold to USD 3.83 billion industry in 2021. This number is expected to cross USD 6 billion by 2025 (see below).
Compared with the rest of the world, the revenues generated through in-app purchases in India have been less. Being a largely cash-based economy, the appetite for digital payments is yet to fully develop. But with the introduction of newer payment interfaces such as UPI that are reliable and extremely easy to use, things have slowly started to change. While ad-monetisation will remain the primary means to generate revenue, the volume of in-app purchases is expected to increase significantly over time.
In order to be successful in a unique market like India, a radically different approach becomes very necessary. With the in-app purchase monetisation being on the lower side but the overall population being so huge, the core strategy of every game developer/publisher needs to be to achieve massive downloads. This is where the importance of localization of mobile games kicks in.
Localization of a game means adapting it to the selected locale (country or region) by translating the user interface into the target language and making adjustments for cultural, religious, and political factors.
According to the latest statistics available, India is home to more than 120 major languages, with 11 of those spoken by a combined population of nearly a billion people, more than the United States and Western Europe put together. A well-strategized roll-out with relevant customizations catered for the Indian palate can result in a runaway success, just due to the mighty size of the Indian population. In this article, we shall explore some key strategies one can keep in mind if one intends to launch a game in India.
Key attributes of the Indian Mobile Gaming Market
When it comes to the entire gaming sector, it is absolutely clear that the most effective channel to bring any game to the Indian masses is through mobiles. As per Statista, the number of smartphone users in India is expected to cross 760 million in 2021. Comparatively, the penetration of PCs and consoles has been on a much lower scale. The vast majority of console gamers are male teenagers. Smartphones on the other hand open up a much wider audience which cuts across people of all genders and ages.
Android is the dominant operating system for smartphones in India, with a whooping 90% market share. Thus, Android games and apps are key to the Indian audience and should ideally be the focus area for all publishers/developers. Nearly 75 per cent of mobile gamers use phones below INR 20,000 (~ USD 270). These value or budget phones have limited processor and device storage configuration. Hence, mobile games should be designed with limited processor requirements in order to succeed in a place like India. Creating a scaled down “lite’ version of a processor heavy game is an alternate option which has also been quite successful in this market in the past.
The majority of Indian mobile gamers are first-time players and they tend to start with casual games. Puzzle, casino, action, and adventure are the most preferred genres. E-sports is also significantly gaining popularity, which viewership of e-sports tournaments rapidly increasing to 17 million in 2020.
While VR gaming is evolving slowly and steadily in India, AR games can also potentially generate more interest due to the pre-existing availability of the AR capable hardware – which is the average smartphone. Like the rest of the world, the breakthrough AR game, Pokémon GO had millions of Indians hooked.
How to Localize for the Indian Market
In order to appeal to India’s young gaming crowd, one could think that a mixture of only two things: creating appealing local content and language-based localization is the holy grail for successful localization. But that is only a part of it. There are a lot more other things that one must keep in mind when localizing for a unique market like India.
1. Effective local language translation strategy
Unlike countries like Russia and Japan, India is a country with multiple regional languages. Nearly every state (province) in India has a different official language. Another thing that is different from China is that a significantly large population in India is able to read and comprehend basic English.
Among the 23 official languages (which also includes English), Hindi is the most commonly understood language. Hence if providing multiple language options is one’s strategy, adding the Hindi language option is an absolute must. Hindi internet users are most likely to outgrow English users in 2021. Currently only around 20% of the rural population (mostly non-English speaking) is covered by the internet, and their fraction online is only bound to increase. If one aims at reaching millions of gamers whose mother-tongue is neither English nor Hindi, the target languages should include Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu. Indians who speak those as their first languages are predicted to be the most digitally engaged.
Ideally, a mobile game title for India should not be too heavy on the narrative content. This would facilitate easier translation and provide an easy way to provide multiple regional language options. Also, given that the English language proficiency in India is mostly very basic, creating titles that are “just pick up and play” is a more effective strategy. In some cases, adding a mix of Hindi and English (referred to as Hinglish in India) can be useful and can win over Indian gamers. It is important to note that a catchy phrase in English when translated into a local language, may not sound so catchy after all. For a game to be more engaging, one may incorporate Indian references and phrases which would be more appealing to the average Indian consumer.
2. Localization of visual content
Cultural theme integration is also an effective tactic to conquer the Indian digital gaming market. Media content in India is often dominated by the so-called ABCD categories: Astrology, Bollywood, Cricket, and Devotion. Generally, it’s recommended to apply ABCD elements in the games or apps. Taking cultural context into account can very effectively help with user acquisition.
The US company Zynga developed Rangoli Rekha: Color Match specifically for the Indian audience. Instead of publishing yet another puzzle game, the company decided to cash in on the patriotic sentiments and national elements. Zynga incorporated traditional rangoli patterns drawn to decorate the floors of most Indian homes and linked the game to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Subway Surfers by Kiloo, an endless running smartphone game came up with an update that incorporated the streets of Mumbai. Kiloo also replaced Christmas trees or pumpkins from the original game with lotus, the national flower of India in the weekly hunts.
However, in order to make a game more appealing, unnecessary changes to the names of characters or a redesign of character costumes are not required. Clash of Clans became one of the top-grossing games in India despite having no Indianized elements in it. The Indian Mobile Game market has been dominated by Western publishers for years, as a result, the target audience is also very adapted to Western themes. India is a developing country which a large young population and huge aspirations. Being able to experience certain aspects of western civilization and culture gives the youth a way to connect better with the rest of the world.
Culturalisation takes localization and brings it to the next level. It is the process of evaluating the suitability of the game's creative elements and adapting them for the relevant market. Culturalising a game enables users to better relate to the content and more meaningfully engage with it. It helps create a perception that the game makers are attentive and sensitive towards specific requirements.
Games can monetize pan-India festivals like Holi, Diwali, and Independence Day by creating special festive offers and exclusive customizations. Hosting special festive events or in-game tournaments can also be a very effective strategy.
Festive Tie-in’s created 200-300% growth in month-on-month billings for PUBG Mobile. This was one of the key factors which made PUBG Mobile so successful in India before it was banned.
4. Establishing Strategic Partnerships
Establishing strategic partnerships is an effective way to reach out to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 regional markets. It is critical to partner with colleges, influencers, celebrities, and most importantly with two of India’s national obsessions – Bollywood and Cricket.
When brand ambassadors come on board, they bring in trust and credibility factor with them. A major problem faced by gaming companies entering India is that people do not spend money because of a lack of trust. Hence, companies rope in celebrities to bring the trust factor so that people start depositing money for companies to earn.
Our parent company JetSynthesys for example has developed the mobile game Sachin Saga Cricket Champions in partnership with India’s cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar which has been a huge hit in the Indian market. It appeals to the fans of Tendulkar and incorporates not just his personal endorsement and photos but also elements of his long and illustrious career for India within the game. Jetsynthesys in the past also collaborated with Bollywood superstar Salman Khan to launch his game “Being Salman”.
Similarly, games like Ludo King have added the faces of Indian celebrities Sonu Sood and Mika Singh within the game to make it more appealing and exciting for the average Indian consumer.
Coupling this localization strategy of adding celebrity endorsements within the app with a focussed cost-effective marketing campaign through social media apps with the help of celebrities and influencers can serve as a highly effective and successful strategy for publishing games in India.
5. Providing adequate space for advertisements
As discussed earlier, in-app purchases and user spending in India are on the lower side in India. In order to counter that, one has to be very reliant on ad-monetization in order to generate profits. Hence games have to be designed keeping in mind what would resonate well with Indian brands. Providing a seamless ad-banner experience that does not hamper the flow of the game is critical. Additionally, in-game ad spaces in the form of billboards and accessories within the game can be created. This can serve as a very valuable way to monetize a game better.
6. Being sensitive to public opinion and the state apparatus
Although India is a vibrant democracy that guarantees to its people freedom of speech and expression, it can be a bit sensitive when it comes to religion, historical information, and national elements.
In 2016, there was a petition against one of the major international titles for placing virtual eggs (non-vegetarian products) in the temples. It however did not result in any restrictions being placed on the game. However, it is important for developers/publishers to give close attention to flags, maps and religious symbols when they are publishing a game for India.
Given the sheer potential that India offers as an emerging market and its uniqueness, ignoring it completely would be a terrible decision for anyone in the Mobile Game business. Given that English is very much comprehensive to a significantly large population and westernized themes are generally viewed positively by the masses, highly effective localization strategies can be developed for individual mobile games which would not be too much of a financial burden for international game developers.
We at PlayIzzOn Games offer a gamut of services including publishing and localization services which can help developers monetize their products better. We also have a strong network with local influencers and celebrities in India. Feel free to reach out to email@example.com or start chatting with our sales rep for inquires.