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What could an Indian videogame identity look like?

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.

Indian game development is booming—or at least it is compared to where it was just a decade ago. Shailesh Prabhu, founder of Yellow Monkey studio and a lead designer on their isometric puzzle game Socioball, says that, “When I started working in games eleven years ago, there were about four game studios. When I started Yellow Monkey eight years ago, there were maybe eight? Right now, there are too many to count.”

That’s in no small part due to the fact that, despite the lack of formal avenues for developers, quality creators emerged throughout the years regardless. Last year Vidhvat Madan, for example, single handedly developed and released the adorable shooter Lovely Planet to critical acclaim. Arvind Yadav raised $36,000 (a right side more than its original $3,000 goal) to Kickstart Unrest, an RPG about Indian mythology. “When I was starting, the only place I could talk to other Indian developers was on a tiny Facebook group,” says Yadav. “Now, we have conferences, meetups, and game jams that happen throughout the year in major cities. It’s exploded.”

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Aside from the more independent creative endeavors of Madan, Yadav, and Prabhu, mobile gaming in India continues to be a financial success as well, with titles like Star Chef and Teen Patti Gold each surpassing a million downloads. But while there’s a lot to be excited about, Prabhu views some of the more monetary successes as something of an obstruction for those who might want to deviate from the norm. Many of the financially viable games being made in India right now follow the free-to-play business model that targets a speculative Indian market. While these games, are by all means, fun and entertaining, “I’m still waiting for the day when we can start treating the medium as an art.”

Indian mythology has the potential to make incredible games

Yadav got tired of waiting. Having grown up playing games and reading a lot of Indian mythology, “I was sad that no one was bringing that unique approach to storytelling to videogames. I wanted to see something that I’d grown up with explored in this medium I loved.” So, after completing his second game, he decided he’d just do it himself. What he found was that Indian mythology—and Indian culture as a whole—has the potential to make incredible games. “Giant battles between armies of gods would actually make a phenomenal Total War game,” he says for example, “while more low-key stories about morals and ethics can provide a foundation for a Telltale style adventure.”

On the other hand, different aspects of traditional Indian culture can also prove a hindrance to this kind of expansion. Prabhu says that, “as a whole, we’re a very utilitarian country with very specific habits in regards to entertainment, which can make for a lot of problems in the gaming scene as a whole.” Spending on games isn’t a very common practice, especially for ideal demographics like teens and adults. Yet, despite the roadblocks ahead, both designers imagine an Indian videogame identity that takes advantage of all the culture has to offer. Prabhu envisions pulling from “our rich history of amazing art styles, music, and wonderful use of color. I’d also love to make an original soundtrack using Sitar, Flute and Tabla.”

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Aside from mythology, Yadav believes creators might find inspiration in Bollywood, Cricket, dance, and theater. “Considering the sheer amount and diversity of the source material Indian developers have at their disposal, I do hope we do start to develop more of an Indian identity.” Unfortunately, at this moment, studios like Yellow Monkey still need to play catch up. Prabhu explains that the lack of infrastructure in the Indian games industry is a huge problem for them, presenting the team with many logistical headaches. “Right now we’re having issues getting dev kits for consoles for our next game. That’s just one thing designers often take for granted in the west.”