Gaming in India has come a long way in the last couple of years. Console-level mobile games such as PUBG Mobile have turned many casual gamers into gaming aficionados and fostered a competitive gaming culture. Pandemic disrupted many eSports tournaments, but it also led to a gaming frenzy at a scale that was unseen. Within days, gaming platforms reported a record jump in new signups, spending on in-app purchases. The boom in gaming triggered a wave of funding into Indian gaming startups, gave birth to new gaming unicorns, caught the eye of large tech companies and is now motivating many cash-rich gaming startups to venture out into global markets.
Though the last couple of years have been exhilarating for the Indian gaming industry, it has also been tumultuous and frustrating for many. The sudden ban on PUBG Mobile disrupted mobile eSports overnight, leaving many pro gamers high and dry. Also, the lack of regulation in gaming has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the future of real money gaming.
Where India stands
Currently valued at $930 million, the Indian gaming industry is poised to grow at 41% annually, as per Maple Capital Advisors. The online gaming market in the country alone is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2021, states a joint report by Google and KPMG.
Though the growth has been astounding and expectations are high, the Indian gaming industry still has a long way to go to cause a dent to the gaming industry in China and the US. According to Newzoo, China, with an estimated revenue of $44,263 million, was the most prominent gaming market in 2020, followed by the US which had an estimated revenue of $42,107 million. Though India is nowhere in the top 10, experts believe the opportunity for growth in India is tremendous, given its burgeoning millennial population.
“With one of the world’s youngest populations, India’s gaming market has immense potential to grow. The vast avenue for India to become a world leader in gaming is very evident, and we will soon see more professional gamers from India battling it out at global gaming forums,” said Khalid Wani, Senior Director – Sales, India, Western Digital.
Role of 5G and improved devices ecosystem
Internet access has become intermittent for modern day gaming. Fast broadband connection and devices with high refresh rates, long-lasting battery are prerequisites for an optimum online multiplayer gaming experience. Games such as PUBG Mobile became household names in India because of access to 4G mobile broadband at shoestring prices and the availability of devices that of fered flagship-level performance at midrange prices.
But there is still room for improvement. 5G can take the gaming experience a notch higher by bringing down the latency. The average latency in 4G networks is around 50ms. With 5G, it will drop to under 10ms. Telcos in India have already started testing 5G networks, and a roll out is one the cards sometime in 2022-23.
In September 2021, Bharti Airtel conducted India’s first cloud-gaming test on the 3500 MHz spectrum band and reportedly demonstrated a gaming speed of 1GBPS and latency of 10ms.
“Cloud gaming will be one of the biggest use cases of 5G thanks to the combination of high speed and low latency. Imagine enjoying real time gaming on the go with someone sitting in another part of the world. This is just the beginning of an exciting digital future that Airtel will enable for its customers as we prepare to roll-out 5G in India,” said Randeep Sekhon, CTO, Bharti Airtel.
Though the device ecosystem has matured a lot, there is still room for innovation and adoption. For instance, Western Digital recently conducted the NextGen Gamers’ survey, which showed that 57% of PC Gamers found slow storage as the most significant pain point for a poor gameplay experience.
“With the Indian gaming market poised for future growth, the industry is extending its technological sophistication faster than ever. Consumers need better gadgets to enhance their experience and quality across platforms. Therefore, brands are relentlessly working in sync to bring alive immersive experiences for the customers. In line with this, at Western Digital, we have an unequivocal focus on the gaming industry. We continue to innovate and introduce storage solutions built from the ground up, catering specifically to gamers,” added Wani. Some of the new gaming devices including the PS5 are taking advantage of solid state drive (SSD) storage, which offers faster read speeds, resulting in faster load times and an overall improved gaming experience. Many of the entry level gaming notebooks now also offer SSD storage along with HDD storage.
Rise of eSports, streaming and gaming as a career
eSports started in India way back in 2016 with ESL. The arrival of PUBG Mobile and the huge popularity in India provided eSports a huge boost. PUBG Mobile was the top drawing game for eSports in India. The ban on the game by the Indian government was a big blow, however the industry has recovered since then and moved on to other games.
This resilience is what makes India an attractive growth market for eSports. The eSports industry in India is expected to grow fourfold at 46% CAGR from INR 2.5 billion in 2021 to INR 11 billion by 2025, according to a June 2021 report by EY.
“Esports in India tells a great growth story. As a game of skill accessible indoors and on the ubiquitous mobile phone, it has gained popularity during the lockdowns witnessed in 2020 and 2021. Consequently, it has become an attractive option for brands to connect with young and empowered audiences,” Ashish Pherwani, Partner and Media & Entertainment Leader, EY India said in a statement.
According to EY, Indian eSports is growing faster than the global eSports industry, as a result, the prize money pool in India is expected to grow at 66% CAGR to reach INR1 billion by 2025.
Estimates show that India has eSports 150,000 players and around 60,000 teams. As the prize pool grows, so will the interest, resulting in more gamers taking eSports as a dependable profession. The inclusion of eSports in the upcoming Asian Games as a medal sport is also likely to drive interest.
EY expects the number of eSports players and teams in India to grow to 1.5 million and 250,000, respectively, by 2025.
Role of fantasy and real money gaming
Apart from eSports, gaming startups offering real money, fantasy and skill gaming platforms also saw record growth in time and money spent on gaming. Paytm First Games witnessed a 200% jump in user base and a 4x increase in gameplay in the first half of 2020.
WinZO Games recorded a 10x increase in the volume of paid users in 2020. Revenue from in-app purchases in games on Google Play Store and Apple App Store also grew by 51.3% and 30.2% YoY, respectively, in 2020, reported Sensor Tower, an app analytics firm. This affirms the growing interest in gaming in India and the willingness of the millennials to spend real money into games.
A 2020 consumer survey by CyberMedia Research also found that 6 out of 10 serious gamers are likely to purchase gaming apps.
The increased spending on games is a significant shift in the Indian gaming industry, which has traditionally been a free-to-play market driven by advertisements. Industry experts, however, pointed out, the growth in spending on games is more to do with the growing volume of users and paid users, rather than the existing users spending more than what they used to. That shift is yet to happen.
During the epidemic, many serious mobile gamers also upgraded to console and PC gaming for a better gaming experience. This was evident in the growing sales of gaming PCs and consoles—for instance, Sony reporting doubling of PlayStation 4 sales during the initial lockdown months. In 2020, PC brand Asus reported a three times increase in the sale of gaming laptops compared to the pre-Covid-19 era.
Entry of big tech companies and investments
The interest in eSports and gaming has also attracted the attention of large telcos and technology companies such as Airtel, Reliance Jio and Tech Mahindra. The entry of big tech companies can be a big boost for gaming in India and can lead to more innovation and growth.
IT major Tech Mahindra is conducting a global chess league in 2021 with chess maestro and former world champion Viswanathan Anand as the official mentor. Likewise, Reliance Jio organized a mobile eSports tournament on Garena Free Fire in partnership with chip company MediaTek.
Meanwhile, Airtel joined forces with eSports company NODWIN Gaming to create India’s first national ranking system for eSports players based on their performance in major tournaments such as Call of Duty Mobile India Challenge and ESL India Premiership among others.
In addition to interest from tech companies, the gaming boom has also caught the attention of major venture funds. Several homegrown real money, eSports and fantasy sport gaming platforms have raised millions of dollars in VC fundings in the last few months.
For instance, fantasy sports startup Dream 11 raised $225 million in September 2020, while mobile eSports platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) raised $95 million. MPL recently received an undisclosed amount of funding, making it the second unicorn from the gaming industry after Dream 11. Access to more cash enables these startups to innovate and bring talented developers on board to create new games that are unique and fun and can generate more revenue in the long run. This can give a huge boost to mobile game development in India.
The funding has also made it possible for many of the Indian startups to venture into foreign markets. For instance, Games 24×7 is reportedly eyeing the North American market, while Gamezop will use its find to launch products in South-East Asia and Latin Amer ica. Considering the massive popularity of mobile gaming in Southeast Asia, MPL is also working on expanding its presence in Indonesia, where it reportedly has close to 5 million users.
Role of small time gamers
A major contributor to India’s gaming boom has been its small-town gamers. Many new signs up for many fantasy sports, real money gaming platforms have come from India’s tier-2 and tier3 cities. The likes of WinZO reported a three times increase in users from smaller cities in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Participation fee is usually very small and the proposition of rewarding players with real money prizes running in thousands and even lakhs is hard to resist for many.
Millennials in small towns will play a crucial role in India’s gaming growth story. The emphasis put by some of the gaming firms on offering services in local languages has been a key contributor to their growth story in smaller towns.
Key issues that can slow down growth
Despite the growth, the gaming industry in India is relatively new. There are still plenty of issues that need to be sorted out. One of the key concerns is the lack of regulations around gaming. Though Niti Ayog has proposed setting up a self-regulatory body for online fantasy sports, it is limited in scope and doesn’t cover the entire gaming industry, including real money and other online multiplayer gaming platforms.
To make matters worse, many Indian states have been demanding a ban on real money gaming platforms for allegedly promoting gambling and gaming addiction.
Lack of regulation was one of the reasons for the tussle between Paytm and Google. Most of the real money gaming platforms have been banned from Google Play Store as Google considers them gambling apps.
Paytm reportedly called Google’s policies arbitrary and above the laws of the land.
Experts believe India is on the cusp of a major gaming boom. Advent of 5G, an improved devices ecosystem, and a burgeoning gaming population which is willing to spend time and money on games will play a game-changing role in this growth story. However, to make this growth work for all, India needs to address the regulatory gap in gaming and develop rules that would make the Indian gaming industry a more appealing career opportunity for millennials and investment destination for the rest of the world.
Devices That Amp Up Your Gaming Experience
Asus ROG Phone 5 Rs 49,999
Though most flagship phones can handle high-end mobile games, a full-fledged gaming smartphone can take the experience to the next level with its gaming-centric features. A case in point is the Asus’ ROG Phone 5. Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, the phone has a 6.7-inch AMOLED screen that supports HDR10+ and offers 144Hz refresh rate and 300Hz touch sampling rate for an optimum touch, visual and gaming experience. It’s other highlights include two front-facing stereo speakers with 32bit audio, a massive 6,000mAh battery with support for 65W fast charge, in-built ultrasonic sensors called air triggers that can be used as additional controls in games. Not to forget, the phone also supports a bunch of cool accessories such as AeroActive Cooler 5, an external cooling fan, which can be clipped on the back to lower the surface temperature by 15 degrees (Celsius).
HP OMEN Laptop 15-en1037AX Starts at Rs 1,64,999
If you are looking for a more portable gaming notebook that you can lug around easily (2.36kg) and use for everyday tasks, HP’s OMEN gaming laptop is one of the top options. It has a 15.6- inch display with QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution and 165Hz refresh rate. AMD’s top of-the-line Ryzen 7 5000 H series processor is driving the notebook coupled with NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3060/3070 graphics. The laptop also packs in dual speakers by none other than leading audio tech company Bang and Olufsen.
Sony PlayStation 5 Rs 49,990 (digital edition Rs 39,990)
Though gaming on a smartphone has improved a lot in terms of quality and variety of games, a console gaming experience remains unmatched. If you are looking for a dose of high-end AAA gaming, Sony new PS5 is the best option out there. It runs on upgraded AMD CPUs and GPUs and uses faster SSD-based storage. Its other major upgrade is the new DualSense controller, which offers haptic feedback and has adaptive triggers for a more intuitive gaming experience. The new console also supports 4K gaming at 120Hz, which is a big deal for gamers and can lift the gaming experience by a few notches. However, many games still don’t support 4K at 120Hz.
Alienware Area 51m Starts at Rs 3,42,989
To call the Alienware Area 51m a beast of a gaming laptop will not be entirely inaccurate. It is big and burly and has a massive 17.3-inch display with Tobii eye-tracking and 360Hz refresh rate offering a more immersive gaming experience in a portable form factor. The Area 51m is unique and different from most gaming laptops because it runs desktop-grade hardware, including Intel’s overclockable Core i7-10700K CPU alongside NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER (8GB GDDR6) GPU, which boasts 10% larger fan blades. The laptop also uses advanced cooling tech to keep the temperature under control during heavy gaming.