Indie games at Comic Con Bangalore – Getting started

It’s conventional wisdom by now – Indians don’t pay for games. There have been many reasons paraded for the same, ranging from “Credit card penetration is terrible in India, no wonder people don’t buy apps!” to “We don’t make good enough games, why would anyone – let alone Indians buy them?” and the evergreen “Gaming is not part of our culture”.

To which some of us desi devs respond with “What nonsense!

So, it stands to reason that those who thought differently looked to test this theory. And we decided to embark on an experiment – what happens if we sell to Indian gamers in person, and not across a faceless medium like the App store.

This experience has been split, based on its TL;DR nature. If you’d like to begin with how we started and our initial hiccups, go on reading. If you want to know about our experience at the event, click here. If you just want our set of learnings, click here.

Not many know that Indian indies have been wanting to try this experiment for a while now – we first considered taking a stall at Comic Con back in 2012. Comic Con seemed like the best place to experiment with offline sales. It’s the closest we have to an event with many gamers, and we could see how people would react to content sold by indie developers. There usually is a lot of indie art on display at Comic Con, and they sell for quite a lot – surely people would buy indie games!

But we didn’t go ahead that year. We were trying to figure out how to make the actual sale, especially on iOS where offline sales are illegal / banned. We thought of gifting apps through iTunes, which should be all right by Apple as well. There was a limit to the number that can be gifted, after which accounts may be locked. We then would have to contact Apple to unlock it. This wasn’t practical, if we’re selling games by the hundreds at a Comic Con. With Android, it was easier – we install the apk, and delete the installation file once done. But we didn’t account for one thing – developer fear. You see, most of the developers were worried about Apple or Google’s reactions and didn’t approve of the risk of the experiment. If the reaction was negative and they blocked our developer accounts, there would be no chance of revenue, however small a stream it currently was. Nobody wanted that.

The same happened in 2013. The Apple/Google issue still loomed over our heads. One more question was asked – the stall price is pretty high, can we recover that from sales of the game? We didn’t know the answer to that, but we thought we would – if the stall price was approximately $500, that meant 500 sales (approximately). That didn’t seem hard. We didn’t know for sure though, and there stopped the grand experiment of 2013.

2014 was a different year. We just went ahead and bought a stall. And THEN approached developers saying, Hey, we have the stall… we’re doing it. Are you in, or out? We also decided to do away with an Apple strategy – we expected that most of the people we’d come across in India would have Android, for the few that came to us with iOS – we’d direct them to the store. Problem solved. This still brought up the fact that Google might get pissed at us for doing off-the-counter sales. But given the plethora of payment solutions available for Android apps, it was easier for us to shake off the uneasiness. And so, we went ahead with the experiment.

I should now point out that none of this would have been possible without the support of many people. There were three primary investors in the stall – Oliver Jones (Moonfrog), a “secret patron”, and me (digiKhel). We had a very gracious host within Comic Con, open to the idea of game developers sharing a stall (this isn’t allowed by rule, and probably will never be in future), because if this worked – more game developers could reach players in India. But amongst the three partners, we had just four games to showcase. And that’s where our fellow indies come in – Hashcube, Hashstash, Loon games, Refocus Labs, Rhippo Studios and Supersike Games. They were willing to trust us with their game files, just for this experiment –to see if this might work in India. We did say that Google wouldn’t blacklist us, but who knew for certain? That was a risk that all our studios partook in. A former game developer who now is into retail clothing with Pophues.com, Rachit Jain, very kindly offered to support the effort by sending over t-shirts based on well known game characters at minimal cost! Whatever we could sell, the profits would subsidize the cost of the stall, he said. Rishikanth Somayaji and Yadu Rajiv, two of our friendly neighbourhood game developers, lent their hands with manning the stall. If it wasn’t for every one of these folks, we might not have learnt enough from the experience, or worse – not taken up a stall at all.

That’s it about the history and preparations for the event. So what happened at Comic Con? Read on.