This article is part of a series focusing on the 3D industry in India. Read more here.
The popularity of mobile gaming is surging in India. Mobile gamers in India typically spend over an hour on their device each day – more time than they will tend to spend streaming movies or TV – and various estimates place the mobile gaming revenue for 2020 somewhere around the US$ 1 billion mark. India is in large part a ‘mobile-first’ country – that is, people first get online via a handheld device, and it remains their primary way of accessing the internet. Other factors have also notably contributed to the growing popularity for mobile gaming, including: a growth in households’ average income across the country; increased connectivity speeds over the past few years; and a roll-out of effective online payment solutions, following Prime Minister Modi’s demonetization efforts in 2016. In the ensemble, these elements contribute to a steady increase that shows no sign of slowing.
Plus, mobile games are just getting cooler. Everybody knows that.
To learn more, we were recently able to talk with Huzaifa Arab and Biswajeet Barman of Hypernova Interactive, Tim Fields of Kabam Mobile Games, Eric Yoon of Meerkat Games and P Suresh of BornMonkie about the current state of mobile gaming in India, as well as expected future trends, and the specific challenges and opportunities of creating mobile games, and particularly games aimed at players in India.
The Market for Mobile Gaming in India
Huzaifa Arab (Co-founder and Creative Director) and Biswajeet Barman (Art Lead), Hypernova Interactive
Biswajeet: The 3D industry in India has been evolving at a steady rate over the past 2 decades. The first foray into 3D as a tool and medium was through animation studios making TV series and feature films. As the gaming industry entered the Indian market, a lot of 3D production houses also popped up. The majority of the production studios were outsourcing houses like Dhruva Interactive (now acquired by Rockstar Games), that churned out world-class 3D assets for a lot of leading developers from all over the world.
In the past half-decade or so, we’ve seen a rise of indie studios making their own games like Asura and Raji in 3D with in-house artists, and the production quality has increased every year. People are being exposed to global trends and industry standards, and there’s a rapid rise in the quality of the upcoming talent in the Indian 3D industry due to that.
Huzaifa: The mobile gaming industry is still nascent in India – from the standpoints of both market potential and maturity of the industry.
Five years ago, the landscape was very different – games for India had to be less than 20 MB in size and had to run smoothly on low-spec budget phones on bad connections. Then a 4G revolution along with a phone craze hit India, and today we’re a country of 1.3 billion people with over 600+ million internet users and at least 250+ million mobile gamers. This figure has surpassed all projections. Even our mobile payments infrastructure has evolved much faster than the west due to the recent ‘demonetization’ event. The popularity of large format games like PUBG and Mobile Legends has proven that Indian audiences prefer games which they can play together, despite their complexity.
So, what used to be a niche, fragmented, low value market is quickly becoming a high-volume market with an appetite for both local and international games.
The drastic improvements in infrastructure have put this industry on a fast track for growth, so much so that local studios are not able to keep up with demand for content. In fact, fewer than 15% of all games downloaded on the India Google Play store come from Indian developers. Such a huge vacuum is making VCs put money into this sector. We also have alternative gaming portals such MPL and Winzo, which are formidable alternative distribution platforms to Google Play and allow for real-money gaming. Clearly there is a lot of money to be made and all of this has led to a big boom in the number of gaming studios in India.
Meet Huzaifa Arab and Biswajeet Barman
We founded Hypernova Interactive in October 2015, with a team of five people. We currently have 35 team members. We’re a gaming studio focused on making high-quality multiplayer games on mobile. Our debut title was called War Tanks, which garnered critical success; the game featured in this interview, War Tanks Arena, is a sequel to that game.
Huzaifa Arab and Biswajeet Barman talk about the Indian mobile gaming sector, and the specifics of creating mobile games.
However, most gaming developers are new to the space. Unlike the US, India doesn’t have a workforce of veterans who would occupy leadership positions in gaming studios. Every studio in India, big and small, is learning through trial and error, and we are learning quite fast. A lot of home-grown games by Indian studios target our local population. This also means totally new kinds of themes and games might come out of such studios. This, along with its sheer scale, makes India a very exciting market to work in.
Particularities of creating mobile games in India
Huzaifa: ‘India’ can be regarded both as a place of business, and as a target market. As a place of business, our advantage is obviously cost of living and thereby cost of production. The downside of this is that our game dev workforce isn’t as experienced. However, due to the democratization in game development tools and know-how, that gap is closing fast.
As for India as a target market, a developer needs to keep three things in mind:
– India is a mobile-first market where most of its Internet users use mobile as their first ever and primary computing device – so using a floppy icon for a ‘save game’ feature is probably a bad idea!
– India has largely skipped the PC & Console generation which hit the US and European markets from the early days – the tastes here and expectations evolved very differently .
– India is not a monolithic market – there are tremendously large groups of players ranging from those who love hardcore games to those who love sudoku. Have a stronger focus, and try not to dilute your pitch by throwing too wide a net – divide and conquer!
Tim Fields, CEO Kabam Mobile Games
Kabam Mobile Games create and operate titles such as Marvel Contest of Champions and Disney Mirrorverse. They recently had a presence at the India Joy Festival.
India is one of the most exciting markets in the world right now. The rate at which so many people have gained access to high quality mobile devices and the bandwidth to get to play games on them is nothing short of amazing. And the kinds of stories and characters and themes that seem to resonate well with Indian players are exactly the kinds of things we want to make.
Meet Tim Fields
We make and operate games like Marvel Contest of Champions, Shop Titans, and our most recent game, Disney Mirrorverse. Kabam operates five different live games, and we have several more in the works. Our most popular games, Marvel Contest of Champions and Transformers: Forged to Fight, have been played by hundreds of millions of players around the world and both have received numerous awards.
Tim Fields discusses Kabam’s interest in the Indian gaming sector.
Beyond that, India Joy and India GDC are both truly inspiring in the creativity and industry they show. We met so many Indian game makers, artists, engineers who are doing really great things. We would love to partner with some of them to help entertain the world.
The rate at which the mobile market in India is expanding is breathtaking, and so exciting for anyone creating digital content for people to enjoy. And I’ve met some very impressive local companies who are doing really exciting things in the space.
Eric Yoon, External Affairs and Game Services, Meerkat Games
Really, the gaming market in India has been growing exponentially in a short period of time, and we’re expecting it to get even bigger. From our experience with the Korean market, we find that the key for success here is having the right infrastructure in place, and having high-quality content ready for consumption as soon as that infrastructure is set up. We plan to provide that high-quality content for the Indian market, absolutely focused on Indian gamers.
Meet Eric Yoon
Meerkat Games was founded in 2014 in South Korea. We’re a game development corporation; our main focus is on mobile games, and we particularly specialize in action tournament games. To date, two of our games have been successfully developed and launched globally: Arena Masters, a tournament game for, six and MUNCHKIN.io, a tournament game for twenty. Now, the Arena Masters service has ended and we are on the verge of launching Arena Masters 2.
Eric Yoon discusses his company’s focus on creating games for the Indian market.
P Suresh, 3D Generalist, BornMonkie
India is well known worldwide for its 2D and 3D art outsourcing services. The quality of work produced by professionals is increasing every year. In fact, Dhruva Interactive, a 20-year-old leading 3D outsourcing service company, was acquired by Rockstar Games just last year. We even have a homegrown success story here in Hyderabad, where BornMonkie is based, with Greengold, the maker of Chota Bheem. That tells us that there is a bright future for 3D in India. Every year, we see great indie studios pop up with amazing games, and most of them are producing quality visuals thanks to Substance.
In the last few years, we’ve seen the gaming industry in India evolve with more mature titles like Raji and Asura, to name just a couple. Previously, Indian game companies were heavily into reskinned games and derivative titles. This is slowly changing as young developers are taking risks to move the industry forward. Indie studios have become a lot more ambitious lately, and we think this is for the better. We believe India will consume more locally created content in terms of animation and gaming, just like how streaming platforms such as Netflix have been seeing success with regional originals. More authentic Indian stories will be told, both in animation and video games, in the coming years.
Meet P Suresh
AutoRaja: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds has been in soft launch for the past 7 months and is almost ready for full launch. It was a thrill to work on, right from the conceptual phase. It has that BornMonkie DNA in it, as we like to joke amongst ourselves.
P Suresh details how BornMonkie creates mobile games.
Creating Mobile Games in India: Focus on War Tanks Arena, by Hypernova Interactive
Hypernova Interactive’s debut title War Tanks was a one-on-one tank battle game, which garnered critical success. War Tanks Arena is a sequel to that game, opening up new possibilities such as three-versus-three battles, and tank customization.
Hypernova Interactive’s Art Lead Biswajeet Barman provides some insight into the nuts and bolts of the game’s creation.
Biswajeet Barman, Hypernova Interactive: Our project War Tanks Arena is a real-time multiplayer game where you pilot battle tanks in an arena. The game is in 3D and requires a lot of 3D assets and textures. We used traditional means of texturing in our previous projects, where we used Photoshop to texture our assets. But we realized that though reliable, that method was a lot more time-consuming than what applications like Substance offered.
We decided to try Substance Painter as the texturing application for this project with a few objectives in mind. The first and most important was a consistent output. Substance Painter allowed our team of artists to be on the same page regarding the art style, treatment of the textures and the final output from the get-go. We finalized on an art style during pre-production and our next step was immediately to transfer that art style from the concept phase to the 3D asset. The smart material system is a real boon for texturing artists, as it allows us to create a material template and distribute it to all the artists working on the 3D assets. This was instrumental in unifying the art style across our team of artists, guaranteeing that the final output is always consistent to the defined art style.
Our efficiency also increased considerably as the iteration time between the concept artist and the texturing artist was reduced. We have a huge collection of playable tanks in the game and, since we have all the smart materials set up, we can reuse those for all the other assets and half of our work is already done, shaving a ton of time from the texturing pipeline.
Here is an example of an asset we produced using only Blender and Substance Painter in our pipeline:
Our playable tank was modelled and UV unwrapped in Blender 2.8. We then exported the model to Substance Painter.
We made a stylized smart material which would be the base look adhering to the art style we’d chosen. We could then start painting on our model knowing that the style would remain unchanged.
We proceeded to texture the entire model inside Substance Painter, skipping Photoshop altogether.
Making a different colored version of our assets was also a breeze as we could create groups inside one project containing different ‘skins’ of the same asset.
The amazing thing about Substance Painter is that we could paint all our detail bits like scratches, screws, bolts, etc. directly onto the texture map instead of modelling and baking them. All our details and emission bits were painted directly inside Substance Painter.
A valuable feature of Substance Painter is that we can output our maps to the engine of our choice, and it preserves the look perfectly. There is a wide range of texture maps that we can customize and export which gives us a lot of flexibility.
We proceeded to texture all our assets in the same way in Substance Painter. This project was also a learning experience for us on how to integrate Substance into our pipeline, and we’re convinced that it’s a must-have tool in our 3D production pipeline going forward. We look forward to using all the advanced features that Substance provides as our learning grows with each new asset produced. We, as artists, are grateful that Allegorithmic created this amazing tool for us and can’t wait to see further advancements in the field of 3D texturing.
Creating Mobile Games in India: Focus on AutoRaja: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds, by BornMonkie
It would be easy enough to see BornMonkie’s AutoRaja: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds as a fun, frenetic-paced shooting/racing game – because, yes, it absolutely is this. You race an auto rickshaw, also known as a tuk tuk, around the streets of India, picking up passengers and blasting competing drivers, whether bots or other online gamers. Like this, you amass coins allowing you to access new vehicles, or ever-more vicious weaponry, or other advantages. The whole thing is accompanied by banging, horn-honking dance music. Overall, it’s a pretty kickass game.
And yet, there’s a beautiful simplicity to how Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds presents the nature of commerce. The polite, administrative veneer of the real-life tourist industry is stripped away, to reveal in-game the Darwinian dog-eat-dog reality beneath. If you want to destroy your competitors, you have to literally destroy your competitors – and the lethal array of weaponry available to achieve just this provokes a startlingly gleeful reaction as it smashes your opponents, your business opposition, into flaming debris.
So, yes, on one level Indian game studio BornMonkie has created an awesome handheld driving-and-shooting game. On another level, they’ve created a game that might be viewed as shining a harsh spotlight on the viciously mercenary world of tri-wheeled public transport in India. It was Gore Vidal who said, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” AutoRaja: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds, then, is the game that Gore Vidal might play, were he an aficionado of hand-held gaming.
3D Generalist P. Suresh of BornMonkie gave us more insight into the technical side of the game’s creation.
P. Suresh: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds: AutoRaja was a thrill to work on, right from the conceptual phase. It has that BornMonkie DNA in it, as we like to joke amongst ourselves. It’s an eccentric multiplayer vehicular combat game with tuk tuks and turrets. You shoot at other tuk tuks, steal their passengers and by the end of game (3-5 mins), whoever has the most passengers is the winner. We’re incredibly proud of this brain baby of ours and all the experience and achievements that have come with it!
In terms of texturing, we’ve been experimenting with Substance Painter for the past 9 months or so, since well before AutoRaja was even conceptualized. We picked it up to make PBR clothes, props and digital human texturing for our console project. When we started working on AutoRaja, we wanted a pipeline where we could quickly texture our models with rapid iteration for experimentation. With heavy emphasis on iteration without compromising on quality, we felt that Substance Painter was the only software out there that had such flexibility. Traditional 2D texturing methods were too slow for our rapid development process. We did try other commercially available texturing software, but nothing came close to achieving the results we needed.
Our pipeline is pretty straightforward. We use Blender to make our 3D models. Substance is our go-to texturing software and the game is made in Unity. Based on the assets, we make a high-poly version and a low-poly version. We then prepare the model for Substance Painter. We UV unwrap the model, rig, and weight paint if needed. We then generate maps using the high-poly model in Substance Painter. After that, we apply these generated maps onto the low-poly mesh and we start painting on the models. We often use standard Smart Materials, but we create new materials whenever we need to – in the asset shown below, we used generators and grunge maps to create dirt in the corners. After we do this, we export the textures to the target game engine and assemble the asset there.
Making an Indian ice cream cart for AutoRaja: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds .
Our biggest challenge was to pack a good-looking game, with good performance, into less than 150Mb of build size. Since AutoRaja was mainly targeting Indian gamers, we wanted to support as wide a range of devices as possible. Our main aim was to get the best performance with as many details as possible. The game had to run on 2- to 3-year-old devices as well, so we had very low-poly 3D models with high-poly details as bumps. Getting the required performance with a dense map like this was a huge challenge. We went back and forth with the streets and road designs. The streets are super-curvy with ups and downs, like the roads in India. We opted for baked lighting for the performance, and had to do a lot of experimenting with shader techniques to get that sweet 60fps on mid-range devices. We’re using the Universal Render Pipeline on Unity to drive these visuals on mobile.
(AutoRaja: Tuk Tuk Battlegrounds running at 60 FPS, in-game screenshot)
Other game assets: a rickshaw, and the Charminar
Let’s go into a couple of asset breakdowns, for the rickshaw and the Charminar, a huge mosque in Hyderabad.
We spent quite a bit of time working on this semi-real style of Indian tuk tuks. We needed a lot of skins for these tuk tuks; this is a freemium game, so these skins were to be used for monetization in the game.
We first model a low-poly mesh and a high-poly mesh of the auto in Blender. We bring the high-poly mesh into Substance Painter to generate all the different maps, like normals, curvature, AO, thickness, and position. Then we apply all these maps onto the low-poly mesh. This helps us to have low poly count with great-looking visuals on mobile devices. The tuk tuk shown below is the classic auto in the game, which is very close to real autos in Mumbai and Hyderabad.
We use the default smart materials and tweak the parameters to get the desired results. We then pick colors for the auto, followed by the addition of grunge and dirt materials. Later, we export the auto textures with the Unity Metallic export preset. After that, we assemble the auto inside Unity with all the textures. As we needed a lot of skins for a single auto, Substance was really handy in making quick changes and texture iterations, so that we could check them out in Unity.
The different skins in AutoRaja. All skins textured and rendered in Substance Painter.
Making the iconic Charminar was really challenging. We had to ensure that the monument did not eat up a lot of RAM when playing the game, but at the same time we couldn’t compromise on visual quality.
We decided early on that Charminar needed special attention. As this Indo-Persian architecture-inspired mosque has a lot of repeating patterns, such as similar doors and windows, we took the route of making normal stamps. Making normal stamps saved us a lot of work, as making a single high-poly model and pulling the details would have led to a lot of lost detail on mobile platforms, causing the asset to appear pixelated.
The normal stamps were generated from 3D models, as shown below. A lot of repeating patterns were identified and were later modelled in high detail and turned into normal maps using Blender. We then imported these images into Substance and painted them onto the model. This gave us the detail we needed without a complete high-poly mesh.
Making detailed Charminar patterns in Blender and applying them in Substance Painter.
Read more about 3D in India here.