The first ever Unite conference in India was held in Hyderabad from 8-9 November. The conference was held alongside the annual NASSCOM Game Developers Conference at the same venue and saw over a thousand from all over India attending the event.
The Unite conference, called Unite India 2017, represents an opportunity for Unity developers, artists and others to gather and share their knowledge and skills amongst each other and other, budding developers.
Unity is one of the most popular game development engines around. The bulk of the mobile games you play today are likely to have been developed in Unity.
At the conference, attendees and participants were given the opportunity to attend workshops on various aspects of game design, show off their wares and even participate in competitions like BYOG (build your own game).
At the venue, we encountered 7th grade school kids showing off their game development skills, well-established studios demoing their games and quite a few companies showing off various enterprise and commercial applications of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality).
In fact, the most exciting demos we saw at the event were from non-gaming applications. Some that stood out included a Microsoft HoloLens-enabled flight tracker, an AR-based visualiser for mechanical engineering subjects and so on.
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To find out more about the Indian game developer and gaming scene, we interviewed several people involved in the creation of this event. These included Rajesh Rao, Chairman of the NASSCOM Gaming Forum, Hubert Launderine, President – Asia Pacific, Unity Technologies and Quentin Staes-Polet, Director – South Asia Pacific, Unity Technologies.
What they painted was a fascinating and insightful picture of the Indian gaming scene.
The last bastion
If there’s one thing underlying the whole interview, and the reason for Unity’s presence in India, is that NASSCOM and Unity see India as the “last bastion” — the last big, untapped market in the world today. As Rao and Quentin pointed out multiple times, the rate of acceptance of gaming as a legitimate form of entertainment has been growing at an exponential rate in the country. Launderine even went on to add that the question right now isn’t even about when India will become a major market for gaming, that threshold has already been crossed. It’s already happening.
The challenge for developers now is to create content for an Indian audience. Story-driven games, for example, will work better with the Indian audience if they tell Indian tales. Whether this content comes from Indian developers or from outside developers looking to get a foothold in the Indian market is a different matter entirely.
When asked why they feel this way, the spokespersons told the media that this is because of several key factors. The rise of the Jio network, which democratised data access, and the influx of cheap, yet capable Chinese smartphones was a major contributing factor.
Infrastructure a non-issue
As Rao explains, infrastructure is not an issue in India. He thinks that there is a minimum threshold for offering a great gaming experience, and that the threshold has already been crossed. Download sizes, which were a restriction just a couple of years ago, are not an issue now owing to the massive bandwidth that 4G has enabled.
The speakers explained that with dedicated game consoles, it was difficult to convince the Indian market that they were worth it. The same applies to AR/VR headsets. Why would anyone, even a small or medium-sized business, be willing to spend a couple of lakhs on hardware for, say, AR-enabled training? In India, the HTC Vive retails for Rs 76,000, for example. A HoloLens dev kit costs $3,000 before you even consider import duties and fees.
Rao points to devices like the Google Cardboard, which enables an entry-level VR experience and states that the baseline is going up. As the devices and bandwidth improve, the quality of the experience can only improve.
Non-gaming applications: AR/VR for all
While Unity is primarily designed as an engine for game development, it’s use outside of gaming use-cases is a big deal and attracts a growing audience. In fact, the Unite India conference attracted several non-gaming entities. As mentioned earlier, we saw several AR/VR demos that were directly targeting the enterprise and educational sector.
When asked about this, we were told that the Unity engine has a number of tools for AR and VR work and that many of the processes in the engine are designed with limited resources in mind. A smartphone, after all, isn’t as powerful as a PC. The same limitations can apply to VR. Game developers are also the first to adopt new and emerging technologies.
To top it off, many games are designed to recreate reality. This experience and the tools on offer seem to have made Unity an easy option for enterprise application development.
Even in the India context, AR/VR is a good thing, says Rao. Referring to the rapid digitisation of India this past year, he says that the machine-human interface will change. Indians will not necessarily interact with a keyboard and mouse, that this will happen via AR/VR, video and other such means.
Payment: India’s biggest challenge
The only thing holding India back right now appears to be the adoption of digital payments. Unity and NASSCOM see three factors as key to India’s growth in the gaming field: Mass-market adoption, the beginnings of habit formation and acceptance of gaming as a mainstream form of entertainment.
The former two aspects are not an issue as everyone from our grandparents to mothers at home are increasingly seeing games as entertainment. The latter aspect is something that’s ongoing and something that will happen eventually. There are already people who would rather play a game than watch a TV show, says Rao.
These factors will help India grow as a gaming market, and it is growing, but all will be for nought if sustainable revenue generation doesn’t happen.
While newer, more approachable payment options are available to more people, it’s people’s willingness to pay that will be the ultimate test.
Here again, Rao isn’t too concerned. He likens the current scenario to the dawn of the pay TV era. He explains that initially, people weren’t willing to shell out money for TV content. They were used to free content, after all. It took time for this to happen, but today, free TV content is almost unthinkable, and we don’t bat an eyelid at paying upwards of Rs 800 for our TV subscriptions. In fact, many of us are probably paying for multiple streaming services alongside our regular TV subscriptions.
To put the Indian market in perspective, Launderine explains that globally, around 4-5 percent of gamers pay for their games. In India, that figure stood at 0.5 percent last year. That figure is growing, however.
Fifteen years ago, the Chinese gaming market was non-existent. Today, it’s the largest gaming market in the world. Last year, India was the ninth largest market in terms of game downloads. Today, it’s third. How long do you think it’ll be before India overtakes China?
At the rate at which India’s market is growing, that future can’t be that far off.