Over the past year, the game development industry in India has changed dramatically. Already one of the biggest markets for online games, developers have been venturing into new frontiers to reshape the gaming experience.
Players will soon be able to create NFTs within games developed by Indian studios, exchange them for digital currency, use such currency to socialise, compete and run virtual businesses within and across gaming worlds.
OneRare, for instance, is a food-themed game universe set to launch later this month that will allow players to traverse a foodverse and collect ingredient NFTs across a series of small games. They can then combine them to make dishes, and use the NFTs (ingredients and dishes) to play more games.
These games will, at least initially, be free to play. Revenue for the makers will come from transaction fees on each sale conducted in-game, and from in-game sales.
OneRare (the company and the game) was founded by husband-wife duo Gaurav Gupta, an electrical engineer and marketing professional, and Supreet Raju, a UI/UX designer, a year ago, to capitalise on the growing interest in NFTs and the use of blockchain in gaming.
It’s a shift that seemingly happened overnight, Raju says. “People are excited to play and earn, and be able to claim ownership of assets for time spent.”
PLAYING TO EARN
Game developers are excited too. The Indian gaming market is expected to triple over the next three years, to an estimated worth of $3.9 billion, according to data released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in partnership with OnePlus and internet advisory RedSeer in October. This is a market overwhelmingly dominated by casual gamers playing mobile games (see graphic at top), but 50% of gaming revenues come from the hardcore gamer.
Growth in the hardcore gaming segment is expected to be driven by “metaverse” projects such as OneRare, as well as Tamasha, a platform currently creating a gaming universe; Zion, a platform that lets users build and monetise their own NFT avatars and build their own games; and Bolly Heroes, where players can write and act in their own films and produce characters they can own as NFTs. All their parent companies were set up in India over the last two years.
“The idea is not to stuff NFTs into gaming, but to build games that have NFTs as an application. Anyone aged 8 to 40 who plays some kind of game should be able to play it,” says Dhruv Saxena, the chief strategy officer for Fantico, a platform which it sells NFTs of India’s celebrities in art, music , cinemas and sports, which is soon diversifying into the gaming metaverse as well.
“Any tech undergoes three cycles – awareness, acceptance then adoption,” says Saurabh Gupta, co-founder of Tamasha. “We have been in the awareness phase for the last couple of years. Now is the acceptance phase, where the government, institutes and investors have started accepting the blockchain revolution and regulation frameworks are being discussed.”
Gupta expects the play-to-earn factor to drive the multiverse gaming segment. “Players play hard, evolve a character in a game, and sell it in the open market where people can buy it to help them play the game at a higher level. This phenomenon is very popular in South-East Asia, but has not yet happened in India.”
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
Gaming services are a growing segment too. Around the world, players who would rather not invest in their own hardware — most hardcore games require laptops or PCs with special graphics cards and high-end processors — pay subscription fees for access to cloud gaming services.
The past two years have seen such services launched in India too: The Gaming Project and Ant Play, set up in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Players can pay from ₹199 per month to ₹999 per week, to use a laptop with a basic configuration and play via the cloud.
Here, as with the multiverse games, competition from global outfits is fierce. Platforms in the US, for instance, host more games on their cloud services. Similarly, multiverse platforms such as Roblox have a significant headstart in brand tie-ups and user numbers.
But what concerns the Indian studios most, they say, is the lack of regulation for cryptocurrencies. In the US, for instance, cryptocurrencies are now taxed. In September, El Salvador became the first country in the world to legalise Bitcoin. In India, a crypto bill is now in the works, but could take years to pass. Meanwhile, many Indian companies in the Web 3.0 space are setting up shop in Singapore, where cryptocurrency is regulated.
“We still have a way to go,” Gupta says. “We are not transacting with crypto on a daily basis in real life. But it’s like the internet in the 1990s. It was so slow, and hardly anyone had it. Then, over the years, it became an integral part of our lives.”
The same will happen with cryptocurrencies and multiverses, Gupta predicts. And eventually, “in the coming years, social networks will be replaced by more gamified versions of themselves.”