Guest column: The Pursuit of IP-ness

Mumbai-based indie games developer Yellow Monkey Studios is set to release its third game this month. Mobile puzzler Huebrix follows 2011’s award-winning It’s Just a Thought, and continues the studio’s focus on original IP.

In this guest column, co-founder and creative director Shailesh Prabhu sheds some light on the issues holding the Indian game development scene back and stresses on the importance of original IP.

The games space in India is going to grow rapidly in the next five years”, is what I have been hearing about the Indian games development scene for the past eight years. Yet, not much has seemingly changed. We still have the handful of big home grown studios we had then – some of them have been acquired by larger overseas companies, and a whole plethora of small studios. But what is everyone doing? Where are those awesome games?

To understand this scenario, it’s important to understand the two kinds of people operating in the industry – the game developer and the game entrepreneur. Neither of the two works for charity. The game entrepreneur is happy making money off anything in the game space, whereas the game developer is the one who has a vision that his money is going to be made from a hit premium game made available throughout the world on Steam (or iOS or Android or retail, if you like).

A lot of the big Indian studios and many of the small ones have grown in the past, and continue to do so today by finding their niche in the market. It could be catering to specific platforms like DTH or online games, to a specific genre or IP like cricket or Bollywood games, or through doing work for hire and services. They have built thriving businesses. Their products might not attract the same amount of glamour that the release of AAA titles do, but it seems that they have made their money and the game entrepreneurs have done their job.

What we are looking for is the game developer’s success; the hit premium game that will take the world by storm. Firstly, very few developers are actually trying this approach. Among them, even fewer show the patience and perseverance needed to come up with original titles, and polish them enough so that they are relevant at the global stage. Moreover, the kind of talent needed to pull this off is rare and for the talent to stick to these companies through an entire development cycle is even rarer. What further complicates the matter is that these companies may not have the cash flow to sustain themselves through these development cycles. Many of these factors lead to incomplete or unpolished games that don’t even make a small splash upon release.

Then there is the question of marketing, promotions and PR for the global audience. With digital downloads, the world is every developer’s playground, but only if you have the right toys. Otherwise, the playground is a hellish recess full of bullies and name-callers waiting to get to you.

If developers are looking to create their own IP, they must be realistic about their skills and earnestly estimate the time their team would need to get to a title that stands a chance in the market. This will help them plan out their cash flows for the entire development phase, whether it is through project work or funding or through collaborative development. We must also plan ahead as to how we intend to get the word out about our games. Reach out to people who have already done similar work, be it in India or overseas. You will be surprised to know that many people will be willing to help you. Also, with the advent of indie”, there are so many options for almost all solutions, which are pocket-friendly, including global PR and promotions.

We hear a lot of the 10x principle, where investors invest in ten companies and one or two of them pay them back for all the others. The same is true for the whole industry. The ten can be any number representing a critical mass of failures for every success. Unfortunately, I can’t give you an exact figure. But the Indian games industry needs to have a lot more developers (small or big) try, fail and hopefully succeed eventually at getting out their own IP. But whether you fail or succeed, you and the whole industry will be richer with the knowledge and experience, and in the long run, that can only be a good thing.

Yellow Monkey Studios’ Huebrix is set for release on iOS and Android this month.

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