Putting 'India' in the game: Sony Playstation's Atindriya Bose

By Money Sharma & Mrigank Dhaniwala, Bollywood Hungama News Network

Sony Playstation recently released its first localized Indian game, Hanuman: Boy Warrior for the PS2. According to Sony, the game clocked a sale of 10,000 units on the first day itself. Riding on this recent success, Sony is working with a number of Indian gaming studios on a slate of localized games. In an in-depth tête-à-tête with Bollywood Hungama, Sony Playstation Country Manager Atindriya Bose talks about why he is adding gilli danda, kabbadi, and dance and gang wars to his games; how Sony can help game developers go global and why Bollywood is still a tough game...

Tell us about the other games after Hanuman.
We have quiz-based games for the joint entrance exams for engineering and medical on the PS2. I had to go back to my college days and figure out what a student could want. It's quite interesting actually; if you are in class 8-12 preparing for any competitive exams. With these games, we are checking out education genre for the India market, and if we can crack the genre, these games will work as a content management system (for further games).

Which Indian gaming studios are you working with?
For the quiz game we are working with Candela, Bangalore. Besides, Hyderabad-based Gameshastra is working on a title based on Indian games for the PS2 and PSP. The game will have an Indian village setting, where a boy (the player) will come across people competent at different local Indian games, right from simple board games to pasha to kite flying, gilli danda and kabbadi. As with every true Indian storyline, you will get the chance of winning the most beautiful girl in the village besides dancing with her. We are working on the dance; it'll either be bhangra or garba.

Another PSP game by Gameshastra will be based on a gang war theme, like the gangs on Mumbai. There is lot on the platter, at various level of materialization and it will take us some time to make the announcements. Moreover, we are working with Aurona (Hanuman), Candela and Gameshastra and are in talks with several other studios as well.

Hanuman is the first localized game on any console. Do you think that the market here is mature enough for local content?
There are two things. We internally say that India is the largest untapped gaming market in the world and with the literate, internet-savvy youth attuned to what's happening in the world it's just a question of when they will start adapting to games. We have done our experiments and they have resulted in a number jump in sales. Whether it is (change in) the price point, distribution enhancement or marketing on TV, all our efforts have received a positive response.

Secondly, we feel this is the time ripe for studios to invest in local content development- as a platform owner, we have decided to take the lead. Neither is the market easy and big nor is the government starting to support such game development effort, because it is not seeing game development as an industry yet.

Does that imply that game development is not a viable option?
Someone has to take the lead. As a platform owner we felt that the onus is ultimately on us, let's take the lead. If this thing starts happening, the government will realize its huge potential. It's a two way process. Which is why we are taking on the onus of publishing the games. We look at it as an investment because in a couple of years, there will be a huge market for gaming consoles. In fact, if our competition also becomes more active, the consumer gaming market will grow even more rapidly.

At the same time if I look as what has happened with Hanuman; there were pressures and questions. We had estimated a day one sales number of 5,000 units, which is better than what a FIFA does. We decided to give it a push. We ended up with a good figure of 10,000 units for day one. Now, the distribution channel is ready to stock and position the game. If we give it a push, the game will do 50,000 units in one year, which is fantastic. If many such titles come in and the market grows, 50,000 units will be an easy number.

We would definitely expect more projects with the Aurona Technologies after the success of the Hanuman: Boy Warrior. The second objective of the projects will be to fast forward the skills of the game development studios for the Playstation platform. We have seen that competence, process and talent-wise Indian studios are right at the cutting edge of what they do. Many of them can also jump into the international platform and add value to the global game development market. And in the process I get some good Indian content, it will allow us to broad base the market in India. This is our long term objective, developing the game development market. We do not want studios to take on projects and then outsource them.

What about next generation consoles, don't you think these will overshadow the PS2?
The PS2 lifecycle is long; India will give a long tail to the PS2. The PS2 is an entry level console and is very important for India as the country has entered the gaming cycle very late.

If someone has just started playing games, he doesn't want to invest 25K for a next gen. He enters through the PS2 route and checks it out. With this huge range of PS2 games he will remain interested in the gaming habit. Give him another 2-3 years and this guy will move to the PS3, because it's not like an economically backward guy is buying a cheap product. The gaming habit in India is still very elitist. Any guy who is not internet savvy does not play a console game. It is the English speaking guys (who are driving the market).

The PS2 is happening because it is a very good experimental entry level console for the consumer. The (proposed) Indian games will broaden the market with language options.

What about doing localized PS3 titles?
We had never expected that Indian studios will give us next gen games, whereas they are already working on games for the PSP. The PS3 with 35,000 only units in India is too much investment and time to push studios. But if everything goes well, nothing will stop us from green lighting localized games for the PS3. There are certain storylines which we want to do on the PS3. For instance, why waste a Mahabharata on PS2 than saving it for the PS3?

Bollywood is big property these days. Are you planning anything on that front?
Bit of a problem on the Bollywood side, although we are in talks with producers and directors. Maybe one or two projects may come in just for experimentation. See, even with the huge investment in a game at 50,000 units the money that will go to the producer will still be tiny. Producers are right now habituated to the typical mobile game, where they handover the storyline or the ring tone 15 days before release of the film and pocket their share. For the mobile VAS companies also, it's important to keep refreshing the contents for their business and valuation points.

When we approach producers, we face two problems. They do not want to come on to the co-production model as of now, which is what happens internationally. And even if we are ready to pick up the license, they do not want to share the story, or give us a parallel story for the game. They just won't give it 10 months in advance. Due to this, you cannot have a meaningful game launch with the film. In which case, you have to adapt a few successful stories like Dhoom, and create a Dhoom 2.5 before Dhoom 3.

What about games on celebrities?
There have been some attempts at this, like a game on Bipasha. Bollywood celebrities are larger than life, if Sony comes on board this idea will work. Although it doesn't usually happen that you take a celebrity but not the film story. In India if I get a Shah Rukh or Hrithik, I can create a pseudo-film sort of game, but the stars cannot come in with the kind of price tag that works for Bollywood. They have to realize that it's still a lower budget model.

Getting back to Hanuman when do you expect break-even on the game?
We will break even this year. We are taking Hanuman to UK and South Africa. We are also looking at Dubai, but are apprehensive about people's sensitivities there.

See, when we are trying to break even, we are looking at developmental costs only not the marketing costs. While we are doing a lot to support this game it is also a platform pusher. It will also push the PS2 platform strongly.

Your competitors have reduced prices?
It is good if competitors do good marketing, because the market will grow. We need to work together to push the console platform. Three years down the line we should be cutting each others throats but at this point of time we should focus on growing the market. I still find Xbox prices are more despite the number of games they bundle with it.

On the other hand, the PS3 or PS2 bundles work well as the Indian consumer begins with one game.

Besides the gaming market, there is also a service sector market for game development. It's a very consumer durable approach. You reduce the duty structure and grey sales will fall. If duties are reduced, while the console markets will grow definitely. But this will also pave way for the game development market in India to grow into a $5 billion industry (around 10 - 15% of Global game development market estimate).

We are taking some risks, but with successes we will perhaps notching numbers in the range of 1 lakh units for PS2. Initial success is always toughest base is small and new concept. Once that happens u are on a roll.

When is your outlook for the gaming market and community?
Research is showing that the vibrancy of the gaming market is good. There are a lot of people ready to get into the gaming habit. The community will happen in 3 years time. 17-18 year olds are deeply into gaming. When they start earning, the market will spurt. There is a huge amount of excitement. People are taking up gaming as a career.

Early adopters (of a trend) must also be early promoters but the gaming community is creating a wall around themselves. Communities can also be built on the net. We have not been actually used the net to the core. My immediate challenge is to get more peripheral gamers get in the habit which requires a concerted effort.

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