June 13, 2019
I stumbled through the demo for Raji: An Ancient Epic, an action adventure game set in ancient India, with slight disbelief. Raji, a young nomadic girl chosen by the gods as the lone protector of the human race, jets through ancient palaces dappled with sunshine and rides camels with Jaipur-style decorations. Raji, a console and PC game, failed to complete a £120,000 ($152,000) crowdfunding campaign, but was eventually picked up by video game publisher Super.com in March. Raji generated significant buzz for its high quality and storyline — it was the first time I had seen India represented in a game that was so widely anticipated globally.
Like many other Indian gamers, I spent my childhood playing AAA Western titles such as Uncharted and Witcher, crafted around cultures and mythologies to which I couldn’t relate. AAA games have the highest development budgets, predicted to be bestsellers — they’re blockbusters, but for the game industry. As I grew older, I drifted toward small indie games, where I found worlds like that of Oases, an ethereal, trippy game where the developer reimagines his grandfather’s last moments as a pilot whose plane was reported lost in the Algerian War of Independence, or Hot Pot Mania, where the main character has to gobble down Chinese food as fast as possible while trying to maintain conversations. Yet, even in the indie world, games set in India were hard to come across.
The prevailing logic that has dominated the game industry is that it’s difficult to make money off Indian video games. Indian stories are too niche to attract global audiences and those in India rarely pay for media. Despite the challenges, however, there has been a noticeable shift — indie Indian-inspired games are growing popular. Behind this popularity are many factors: the proliferation of smartphones and cheap data, a growing middle class, an easier availability of game development tools, and a newly active community of indie game developers. These developers are driven by the potential of a global, connected market — and a growing appetite for new stories.