This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.
You can play Teen Patti just about anywhere these days. A half-sister to Texas Hold’em, Teen Patti games were once mostly contained to the felt tables of Indian casinos. All that’s changing. With the use of smartphones soaring in the country, mobile games are becoming accessible to millions for the first time.
In 2014, smartphone use in India more than doubled. Experts are also projecting the number of smartphone owners in India to surpass the US as soon as next year, with 219 million smartphone owners in the country. The advent of low-cost smartphone alternatives like The Freedom 251 (with a price tag of 500 rupees) is also priming India to become the next mobile market powerhouse. “Data is becoming better, more cell phones are coming in, and the technology is becoming better,” says Akshat Rathee of Indian game promoter, NODWIN Gaming. “There are more people [playing] games on cellphones.”
Although the country’s fledgling gaming community has only just begun to spread its wings, it appears new mobile titles can’t come fast enough. According to Anila Andrade, Assistant Vice President at 99Games and the lady behind hit game Star Chef, “48% of app usage time on mobile phones is [spent] on gaming.” So although the majority of Indians may not consider themselves traditional gamers, the country appears to be warming up to accessible titles quickly. As a result, India now houses a number of local mobile development studios creating distinctly Indian titles. In general, most games made in India gravitate towards “the ‘ABCD of Indians’—Astrology, Bollywood, Cricket and Dance,” according to Andrade.
Until recently, almost all of the mobile games played by Indians had originated from studios outside the country. As with the rest of the world, games like Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga,and Clash of Kings dominated Indian charts. But local talent is slowly changing that. According to Andrade, more and more Indian-made games are populating the top-earning mobile game lists in the country. Local game producers are tapping into Indian culture for inspiration. Teen Patti, for instance, had their players splash each other with brightly colored dyes during Holi, or the Festival of Colours, which is usually celebrated in spring. Diwali, the Festival of Lights, also received a similar treatment focusing on its iconic diyas. Bollywood, meanwhile, is also finding its way into the gaming scene.
99Games has launched a first attempt to court the motherland by partnering with a Bollywood production house. The result was a racing game based on the motorcycle chases in Bollywood action flick Dhoom: 3. The response was beyond their loftiest expectations. “We got 20 million downloads from within India,” she said. “We realized India was a massive market and we needed to target this space.” The thriving market is already drawing the attention of some of the world’s biggest leaders in technology.
Tim Cook heaped praise on India’s smartphone surge, labeling the growth of mobile in the country one of Apple’s most important opportunities at the conclusion of a company-wide Town Hall. In February this year, Farmville co-creator Mark Skaggs jumped ship to Bangalore-based Moonfrog Labs from free-to-play mogul Zynga. There’s no doubt that India is an exciting player to watch in the mobile marketplace. As long as India’s tech-savvy population grows, so will their affinity and appetite for games, locally-produced or otherwise. By the end of this year, over 200 million Indians will own at least one smartphone. Nobody wants to ignore 200 million people. You simply can’t afford to.