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Gaming studios devise major plans to fill PUBG space


NEW DELHI : As the Indian government banned the mobile game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile (PUBG Mobile) in 2020, Pune-based SuperGaming got to work on a similar game called Indus Battle Royale. With a projected release date sometime this year, Indus Battle Royale aims to fill the void left by the bans on PUBG Mobile and its subsequent India version Battlegrounds Mobile India.

Unlike games produced in India, the ‘battle royale’ genre requires a lot more investment in game development, which Indian firms have often shied away from. SuperGaming isn’t the only firm attempting this either. Gaming unicorn Mobile Premier League’s (MPL) Mayhem Studios is set to release a similar game called Underworld Gang Wars for Android users in May.

And such investments are set to grow, leading to the development of what is called ‘AAA games’ in the industry — games which rival movies in terms of the investments needed to make them. Indian studios like Lakshya Digital have done artwork for many AAA games, like Just Cause 3, Elden Ring, and Metal Gear Solid, but most of the actual game development work is done at studios in North America, Europe, South Korea, and Japan.

“What has changed is that gaming is now seen as a career. Many of the people in India who are building these games have gone and worked for some of the global gaming companies and studied game development in some of the best universities abroad,” said Roby John, CEO and co-founder of SuperGaming.

The change has also been driven by global game publishers entering India over the past few years. For instance, French game publisher Ubisoft has developed parts of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (Remake) from its studios in Pune. Other big firms like Rockstar Games have also set up India units.

John attributed the limited game development work in India to the lack of exposure as a large section of people in India grew up without access to PCs or consoles. “They were very good at engineering but never played enough AAA games to build it from scratch,” he said.

“The cross-section between art and engineering is where a lot of talent is lacking. There are specialized roles like technical artists where talent is missing. India has got great artists and great engineers but not enough people who are working in between,” said Oliver Jones, co-founder and CEO of Bombay Play.

Firms like SuperGaming, however, have greater aspirations. The company has also developed shooter games like Mask Gun, which has bagged over 67 million players over its lifetime.

It also collaborated with Google last year to offer its game development engine to other firms through the Google Cloud platform. Game engines are software frameworks designed to develop video games and are usually owned by large companies like Epic Games. SuperGaming’s platform has five large customers, including Japanese studio Bandai Namco.

That said, Anurag Khurana, CEO of Penta ESports, warned that developing games is still complicated. “Devising the whole game and running LiveOps, which is critical for any battle royale game, getting updates out on a monthly basis, is a different challenge from building a shooter game,” he said.

Dayanidhi MG, founder and CEO of nCore Games, which developed the action game FAU-G in 2020, said many popular games such as PUBG Mobile and Fortnite, were not overnight hits, and had matured and evolved gradually over several years.

SuperGaming is also in talks to raise a Series B round of over $15 million, said people familiar with the development. The company raised $5.5 million in its Series A round in 2021.

“They can build a AAA game and get it to the Alpha stage on a budget of $5-10 million. But they can’t market it and sustain a team of 100 persons on that budget for more than 2-3 years,” said Jones.

“Battle royale games are typically large-scale projects. It requires seasoned teams that have developed, published and handled live ops of mid-core and hardcore games. It requires world-class talent in all key departments like engineering, design and art to come together to plan, iterate, prototype and develop these highly complex games that run smoothly even on mobile phones,” Dayanidhi said.

Though India’s gaming industry is at a nascent stage, it has seen massive growth in revenues and time spent on games. The country has 507 million gamers, out of which 120 million were paying users as of FY22, according to a report by gaming-focused investment firm Lumikai. The industry’s overall revenue is expected to clock an annual compound growth rate of 27% to reach $8.6 billion in FY27.

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