Mumbai: The Bollywood hero dispatches one opponent before casually vanquishing another with a left hook and a series of karate kicks in an action sequence typical of Hindi cinema. The scene is not from a film, however, but is part of a new-generation video game aimed at transforming India’s gaming landscape through the reach of cinema.
The recent release of Ghajini: The Game, India’s first 3D commercial video game, which is modelled on the film starring Aamir Khan, by Eros International Plc. and Hyderabad-based FXLabs Studios Pvt. Ltd marks an escalation in an offensive by game developers and film studios to produce homegrown video games for an emerging generation of gamers.
“The challenge in gaming is to expand the community, and the way to do this is through sports or movie-led content,” said Biren Ghose, executive director at Eros International, the film studio which has outlined plans to launch up to five video games this year in 3D format, including one based on its upcoming Amitabh Bachchan starrer Aladdin, and double that number every year. “The reason we are developing games is because they are integral to our future…and a huge part of the entire strategy,” Ghose said.
3D action: A screen grab of the recently released video game Ghajini: The Game.
The push by Eros comes as UTV Software Communications Ltd spearheads a move into gaming with a tie-up with Indiagames Ltd, India’s biggest mobile-gaming developer. Meanwhile, Reliance BIG Entertainment Pvt. Ltd has established a foothold in the industry through Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd, an online gaming developer, and Jump Games Pvt. Ltd, which develops mobile games, amid forecasts from industry body Nasscom for gaming revenues in India to increase to $600 million (Rs2,988 crore) in 2012 from $150 million last year.
Among the most popular India-made games are Bhagat Singh by Mitashi Edutainment Pvt. Ltd, as well as a mobile game based on Dhoom 2 and Orampo, an auto-racing game based on a Tamil film of the same name.
“Games like Ghajiniwill extend the reach of Bollywood to the young audiences that love games,” said Sashi Reddi, founder and chairman of FXLabs, the developer of the game, which has sold 20,000 units. The company, which has also developed a 3D game based on Dhoom 2, says it is in talks with up to six film studios about making 3D games for all the major releases in the coming years, but refuses to disclose further details. Although Dhoom 2 released in cinemas in 2006, the video game based on the film, which was subsequently developed by FXLabs, still hasn’t been released into the market by Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd, the studio behind the action thriller, for unspecified “strategic reasons”.
“We are evaluating these opportunities from studios which are keen to have us build a game based on one of their upcoming films,” said Reddi. “It is a turning point for the industry in terms of how seriously production houses are now taking gaming. There has been a dramatic shift over the past six months. I would say that the revenues from games will remain insignificant to Bollywood for the next two years. However, five years out, games will be an important segment in any large entertainment company. Also, games on their own will be even bigger, since I see the Bollywood connection only as a launching pad for games in India.”
Industry analysts note that although gaming in India is still nascent, with the bulk of the industry focused on outsourcing, film production houses are gradually beginning to appreciate the opportunities offered.
“Gaming in India is at a very nascent stage,” said Achyuta Ghosh, research manager at Nasscom. “The domestic market right now is very small for Indian gaming companies and the main problem it faces is the long development time of a game. Also, though gaming has still not caught the fancy of Indians, the market can grow provided the games meet international standards.” Adds Ghosh: “There have been games based on movies over the past year, but very few people have really realized the potential that this market holds. Some people have seen this as an untapped segment so far in India, but the developers need to put more thought and effort into developing games instead of copying Western movie tactics.”
K. Rajesh Rao, a veteran of the industry in India and chief executive of Dhruva Interactive, the country’s longest-established gaming company, agrees that mediocre quality games and long lead times pose significant obstacles to the industry’s development.
“At a conceptual level, gaming is still trying to establish itself as a mainstream form of entertainment,” said Rao, “but film is a good way to attract audiences as the familiarity of fans can be leveraged to another medium. The film guys need to understand that games take a lot longer to make than movies and to do justice to a game, you need anything from six months to a year for the development period. We are slowly starting to see more and more meaningful collaborations as developers and studios get involved far earlier.”
The spectre of piracy also acts as a deterrent to players in the industry, according to Vishal Gondal, chief executive of Indiagames, which recently released a game based on the film Dev D.
“The largest business within gaming is mobile, (that) is where the bulk of the revenues come from,” says Gondal. “Cricket, action and racing are the most popular games, but a lot of gamers now come from smaller cities and so, for a lot of them, Bollywood has a lot of appeal and this is the reason we are moving into Bollywood games.”
Adds Gondal: “The bulk of the games in India today are Western content... To make games from Bollywood films is a good beginning, but original intellectual property is important, like Indian themes and mythology. The future is there.”