Remya Lakshmanan & Aarushi Aggarwal
Netflix’s recent hit show The Queen’s Gambit has reportedly driven up the sales of chess sets across the world. Chess is also not the only game to have seen an uptick in popularity. Board games, and tabletop games (ludo, monopoly, scrabble) in particular, are creeping back into adult social gatherings. Major cities in India already host gaming clubs and cafes with memberships in hundreds. Convo@C20 café in Chennai, Creeda and Pair a Dice Cafés in Mumbai, and communities like ReRoll, Victory Point and Tabletop Nerds attract serious players of new, more complex board games.
Recent lockdowns exacerbated the growing demand for board games in the country as people looked for respite from screens and new cultivated family routines. Despite this upsurge, however, the industry’s vast opportunities in India remain mostly untapped. India poses a unique opportunity for game developers to capture and eventually monetize their products in a vast market of over 1.3 billion people.
The global board games market size was valued at $13.1 Billion in 2019, growing at a CAGR of 9 per cent during the forecast period 2019-2025. North America, followed by Europe, are the largest markets for boardgames, especially strategy games like the highly popular Settlers of Catan. Asia-Pacific (APAC) is home to the fastest-growing market, thanks to the increasing interest in China and Japan. India, too, has a rapidly developing interest in board games with a market size of $45 million. But in a market where low-cost options are a priority, there are very few options to choose from. Upcoming game-developers hope to change that.
Developing Games in India
Zain Memon is the developer of a recently launched strategy boardgame called Shasnand co-founder at a new media studio, Memesys Culture Lab. “There is a serious lack of strategic boardgames in India. Most people know of Ludo and Monopoly, but strategic games can be a powerful tool to educate and inculcate important cognitive skills in children and adults alike,” he told Invest India. According to Memon, strategy games like Shasnexemplify the convergence of education and entertainment media.
Even so, developing the game in India was a challenge because game designers, particularly for tabletop games, are virtually absent in the country. Memon believes this initial challenge can be overcome by creating local demand for casual games. Indian game developers must focus on exporting casual gaming intellectual property (IP) to generate brand recall and positive cash flow in the sector. This can be leveraged to build infrastructure to train a generation of game designers which is imperative to this industry, since the true value lies in creating, owning and exporting original gaming.
India holds another advantage: subcontinental folk tales, aesthetics and philosophy provide a rich tapestry on which games could be based. Incorporating elements from Indian heritage will give developers a chance to export India’s cultural identity and place it on the global map. By creating transmedia IPs like Marvel, Indian game publishers can also have deeper engagements with consumers. Our skill is in the narrative, and games are the new narratives.
The Manufacturing Potential
For all except one version of Shasn (produced in Jaipur), Memesys had to look outside of India to countries with readily available cost-effective production setups. While profits can be easily accrued on intellectual property alone, there is merit in manufacturing locally as Memon shared. For starters, India possesses most raw materials like wood, paper and plastic in abundant quantities. This can help it generate low-cost options for the booming domestic market while also leading exports to larger, more established gaming markets. Moreover, toy manufacturing clusters provide easily adaptable technologies that will allow India to manufacture in greater numbers and increase its share in the global value chain as an export hub.
Robust investment structures are as indispensable to producing high-quality games as efficient manufacturing capabilities. American crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter that supported Shasn are popular among emerging game developers because of their low entry barriers. Almost 80 per cent of the revenues Kickstarter earns are from board games, thus highlighting both its favourability and the sector’s potential.
However, India does not yet have policies monitoring crowdfunding and Kickstarter is, therefore, not active here. Game developers like Memesysmust create foreign subsidiaries to secure funding legally. Instituting policies that protect investors and developers will allow crowdfunding platforms to function with ease in India. They will also foster institutional investments into the gaming industry and aid the growth of boardgames market in the country.
In April, amidst a pandemic economy, Frost Haven, an upcoming board game raised nearly $13 million crowdfunding in pre-sales—the largest Kickstarter campaign ever. Perhaps, this is an indicator of the evolution of board gaming into a vibrant industry and to be taken seriously.
Note: The authors are with strategic investment research unit at Invest India. Views are personal