When the largest markets in mobile gaming are brought up, an inevitable comparison between China and India occurs. Both have massive populations of more than a billion people; both are emerging markets with hordes of excited new smartphone users.
China seemingly leads the two with $15 billion in mobile gaming revenue last year. But Western developers struggle to compete in the highly regulated and hypercompetitive Chinese market. India, a much more similar market to most Western countries, presents no such obstacles and has already become the second largest driver of mobile game sessions in the world.
Yet India also has expected revenue smaller than some analysts predicted three years ago, and it might only bring in $2.4 billion by 2020. It’s a big enough market for some developers — but should you be in it? Here’s an overview of where India stands in 2018.
Indian mobile gamers are getting ready to pay
The biggest barrier to India is spend; many Indian users just don’t, particularly on Android. Credit cards, the ubiquitous way of paying for apps in first-tier markets, are used by only 33 million people out of 1.3 billion total.
With this problem in mind, companies started implementing carrier billing in 2015. Carrier billing is now an option for millions of Vodafone, Airtel, and Idea subscribers, and companies like Paytm now offer easy ways to top up Google Play accounts. As a result, spending rates have increased by 110%.
Even with carrier billing, the typical Indian user is still unlikely to pay. But the habit is being created, particularly in higher-end games. Nasscom Chairman and Dhruva Interactive founder Rajesh Rao likens the transition to the journey of Indian cinema, in which improved production quality and theaters led to Indian consumers accepting higher box office prices over time.
It’s a game of partnerships
In China, Western developers need local partners just to get required government approvals and app store positioning. Those obstacles are nonexistent in India. But developers are still well-advised to look for local partners to help culturalize their game, as well as tap into local talent; for instance, Mark Skags, the Farmville co-creator and current director of the Indian studio Moonfrog, hires writers who have worked in Bollywood to truly capture the Indian taste.
Locals can help navigate the dizzying changes taking place in the local app market. Currently, Indian users cycle through 40 apps a month. Games are far more likely to surface in such a frothy market — but also quite likely to sink back under the waves, unless something makes the game feel personalized for Indian users.
Nazara Games, another homegrown Indian publisher, provides a case for another type of local partnership: working with consumer brands, both to increase reach and boost revenue. The studio has incorporated brands including cleaning goods company Dettol and snack company Parle G into their Chhota Bheem series, a popular children’s animated character.
The winners aren’t clear yet
At first glance, the top charts in India seem split between strong local developers and the top companies from the West. Octro and Moonfrog are elbow-to-elbow with Westerner’s King and Supercell. In the top free charts, games about cricket and a derivative of an ancient Indian boardgame are sharing space with Temple Run 2 and My Talking Tom.
Yet unlike mature markets, the top ranks aren’t frozen by incumbents. Smaller studios still do well; Korea’s SUD Inc, for example, is parked in the top ten with Dr. Driving. Swedish indie studio Snapbreak just blazed their way up 38 spots to land in the top ten with puzzle game Faraway 2: Jungle Escape. Many of the games that do very well are ad-supported rather than relying on more traditional IAP-heavy designs.
Many developers still have good reason to hold off entering the Indian market.hile the country is definitely significant, it’s not nearly as lucrative as other major markets. On the other hand, India has become large enough to at least cover the costs of a successful local strategy. And those who do focus on India today will have a leg up in future years, when the country’s massive user base finally comes into its own.