Future of Work: Beating the odds, online gaming industry eyes the next milestone
Featuring among the Top 5 gaming markets in the world, India offers a booming ecosystem for game developers looking for a dynamic scene to unleash their creativity.
As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic was, it forced people to stay at home, and offered gaming enthusiasts more time to explore online games. Almost a year later, the popularity of online games is yet to hit a plateau.
On Day 2 of YourStory’s Future of Work 2021 summit, industry leaders spoke about the challenges that were holding the online gaming industry back from scaling ahead.
Sharing their insights on ‘Solving for scale and complexity in gaming,’ were Mitesh Agarwal, Director, Customer Engineering, Google Cloud India; Sandeep Agarwal, CTO, Games 24x7; Arpit Chaudhary, CTO, GreedyGame Media, and Shubh Malhotra, Co-founder, MPL.
Lessons from the pandemic
Games 24x7 CTO Sandeep Agarwal said that with a large smartphone user base and cheap data prices, there are a lot of tailwinds that could create a huge gaming ecosystem in India.
Talking about the pandemic’s effect on Games 24x7, Sandeep said, “Because a lot of people were working from home, we saw a huge growth trajectory.”
According to Shubh Malhotra, Co-founder, MPL, two massive trends surfaced during the pandemic in the sector — multi-player gaming and users adopting a lot of local content.
“With more and more people being stuck at home, people took to multiplayer gaming in a big way. At the same time, users opted for a lot of local content — be it games like Ludo, card games, or localised word games. The gaming industry is going to see cumulative growth in the future. I also feel that we are going to see a lot of local content coming our way in 2021-2022,” he added.
The panellists said that there was no better time than now to capitalise on the increasing number of smartphone users, penetration of data services, advancements in delivering low latency, and high-performance games to mobile users, which are accelerating the growth of the industry.
Mitesh Agarwal, Director, Customer Engineering, Google Cloud India, however, highlighted that over the last one year, while the consumption of games grew significantly, the production of new games slowed down.
He also recognised the importance of openness for game publishers to accelerate new game development and publishing. Google has published a standard called Agones — an open-source-based system — that everyone can access. In simpler terms, Agones is Kubernetes for gaming — an open, simple, and flexible platform that can run anywhere.
Fighting the odds
While the COVID-19 pandemic might have accompanied an unprecedented surge in user traffic, it was a major challenge to ensure things were running smoothly. From expanding teams to scaling operations, the gaming sector put in long hours to ensure a seamless experience for the users.
Talking about his experience of dealing with backend operations as traffic surged, Sandeep said, “When the lockdown began in March last year, we had a 100 percent increase in our traffic monthly, and it was just organic traffic. We had to find out ways quickly to deal with it.”
Shubh said that as traffic grew from around 4x to 6x during the lockdown, MPL had to overhaul some of its games, but its experience of organising IPLs in the past helped it weather the massive surge in user traffic.
Arpit Chaudhary, CTO, GreedyGame Media, said that working with a remote team posed a major challenge during the pandemic.
“We had remote teams that were looking at distributed systems and ensuring that everything works together. While you are working in an office, you have a sort of ease of access to resources, but that’s missing when you’re working remotely,” he added.
Why innovation is important
“We are in, what I call, a content business and content gets old at a breakneck pace, so you have to continuously churn out new content. Hence, it is important that when you architect your systems, you keep scalability and extensibility in mind,” said Sandeep.
He added that decisions like investing in platforms like Big Data systems could be a step in the right direction.
Growth drivers for the industry
“Hyper-casual gaming has seen massive growth over the past few years for various reasons, including being a great way to connect and being a stressbuster. I see hyper-casual and multi-player gaming growing big over the next few years with interesting strategies. As data models evolve, you will see a lot of better content come up. This could include interesting ways of gamification mechanics that were previously unknown. Maybe, there would be something like Angry Birds coming from India as well,” Arpit predicted.
Discussing the growth drivers from a more technical perspective, Mitesh said, “There is a huge spectrum of AI/ML in the online gaming space. I see four key areas, and the first of them is increasing the game development speed and using AI/ML to do that. The other end of the spectrum is the user experience.”
He added that Google is seeing some interesting areas emerging in the user experience space, including player toxicity. “We feel that it would be an important area to solve using AI/ML.”
Another growth driver he outlined was cheat detection, especially if one has money involved in the game. “For instance, how do you use ML-driven matchmaking, especially if you have players across the world wanting to collaborate. Google has partnered with an open match developer — Unity — to develop an open-source and secure platform to enable this.”
Other areas include increasing the efficiency of user acquisition and real-time player engagement that are likely to drive growth in the industry.
Is regulation really needed?
“Gaming industry is bigger than the OTT space around the world. This industry is large enough, where the government does realise the scope for tax revenues. In India, the gaming industry pays $200 million in taxes to the central government,” says Sandeep.
Given the way games like Rummy have faced heat from courts, he said the right way would be to have a regulatory framework. “If we get a regulatory framework, it would not only enable the industry to do better in terms of growth and advertisements but also ensure a better user experience,” he added.
The panellists said the industry has been self-regulating itself for years, but it was high time the government came up with a regulatory framework.
Mistakes game developers should avoid
Sandeep said he often sees homegrown developers believing they know what they want to build. “That’s a cardinal mistake. It has to be backed with the right amount of data. The right mix of gut/intuition with data can lead to a great product.”
Agreeing with Sandeep’s views, Shubh said, “Game design is very important. You need artists, but those artists need strong game design principles. It is one talent that every team should have. Another thing that I noticed is that there is a lot of appetite for local talent. There is a lot of indigenous stuff in this country, and people should build games around it.”
Arpit said, “Indie game developers can start with something very simple and fine-tune it with the data. You will tumble and make, but till the time you are learning from those mistakes, you are good to go.”
The road ahead
Referring to the gaming industry as the ‘next billion user opportunity,’ Mitesh said things are likely to look up for gaming studios as well.
“Around six years back, there were just 25 gaming studios in India. In 2019, there were around 280, and last year, it rose to 350. The number is expected to grow 10 fold over the next few years. This is a massive opportunity,” he added.
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A big shout-out to our Future of Work 2021 Co-presenting Sponsors Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Unique Solutions; Digital Excellence Partner Google Cloud; Associate Sponsors HP and Intel; and Sponsors Atlassian, Freight Tiger, Archon I Cohesity, TeamViewer, and Pocket Aces.
Edited by Suman Singh