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“India is a massive market with a growing demand for gaming”: Stewart Neal, Studio Director at Sumo Digital

Stewart Neal, Studio Director at Sumo Digital on the Indian video games industry
Stewart Neal, Studio Director at Sumo Digital on the Indian video games industry
EXPERT COLUMNIST

With new studios setting up shop and major publishing houses investing in the market, the Indian video game scene looks more promising than ever.

The industry is looking brighter by the season and with some of the biggest AAA developers opening their own branches in the nation, the scene is on the path to becoming one of the market leaders.

Sportskeeda Esports’ Abhishek Mallick got in touch with Mr. Stewart Neal, Studio Director at Sumo Digital, to talk about the Indian video game market and the future he envisions for their Pune division.

He opens up about their latest tiles and some of the challenges that the developers have faced in bringing their ideas to life.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation.

Q. Stewart, I would love to get your take on the Indian video game development scene and where it stands today. With Raji: An Ancient Epic getting the amount of success that it did, and with how promising the upcoming Ballad of the Asura looks, would you say that the video games industry in India has come a long way?

Stewart: Yes, absolutely. With the launch of Jio 4G and enhanced internet penetration, gaming continues to grow as one of the leading industries within India.

Improved ease of access to the internet combined with people playing in their homes during lockdown has really accelerated interest in video games across India. I’m also noticing a lot of localized content being developed, such as Mumbai Gullies and as you mentioned, the upcoming Ballad of the Asura.

The Indian video games Industry is growing, not just in terms of games but also in relation to game development. Many new studios are opening and major publishers are slowly growing their presence in the Indian market.

So, yes, I think the games industry in India has come a long way and will continue to be on a high growth trajectory for the foreseeable future.

Q. In 2007, Sumo Digital opened a subsidiary studio in Pune, India. Can you talk to us about some of the thoughts and visions that went behind acquiring a branch in the nation and all the work that they have done for the publishers so far?

Stewart: We set up Sumo Pune in 2007 to focus on working with game developers across multiple disciplines, including the fields of IT, animation, film, and VFX.

Initially, Sumo Pune was a dedicated art studio. However, over the years our team has grown and developed into a multi-discipline co-development studio. In 2015, we launched an engineering team, followed by the introduction of a dedicated design team in 2017.

Our most recent expansion in 2019 welcomed our current QA team into the studio, bringing in multiple new team members to support across a multitude of projects. All of these teams have shown consistent growth over the past 15 years and continue to work on some of the most exciting AAA console titles in development today.

As for our work, we have contributed significantly to console games and mobile games in terms of environment art, character art, programming, animation, and production, across all styles and genres including first/third-person shooters, racing, adventure games, sports games, and more.

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Some of our most recent releases include BAFTA Game Award-winning Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Hood: Outlaws & Legends, Crackdown 3, and the Forza Horizon Series. We continue to work in co-development with UK teams across multiple disciplines including art, engineering, design, and QA.

Q. Sumo Pune recently helped launch Spyder, which is a very unique spy game exclusive for the Apple Arcade. Can you tell us about some of the challenges faced during its development? Is there a possibility of the game being released on other platforms in the near future?

Stewart: Spyder is one of our proudest accomplishments, receiving a great reception on Apple Arcade and we had a lot of fun while developing it too. I think one unique challenge we faced during the development of Spyder was implementing the in-game camera.

Since the whole design of the game revolves around the camera execution, it was critical for us to perfect it. We tried to provide a spider’s point of view, meaning that the real world had to be upside down frequently - which was a complex task.

Another area that we spent a while finalizing was the control system. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for players to navigate around the in-game world whilst retaining the sense of scale we’d created through our environment design.

As for potential future releases, we have nothing to share at this time but would love to see Spyder in the hands of more players.

Q. With Hood: Outlaws and Legends now out, what sort of reception did it receive from the community? What has the feedback been like so far?

Stewart: Since launching Hood: Outlaws & Legends in partnership with Focus Home Interactive, we’ve received really great feedback from our players. The game has a very passionate community who continue to impress us with their ability to master the game in ways we didn’t think possible!

Our team at Sumo Pune worked with the team at Sumo Newcastle to develop the game and we are continuously listening to community feedback to make it the best it can be.

We recently released Season 1, a brand new free update that includes a new playable outlaw, additional maps, and updated mechanics. We can’t wait to see how the community plays to win by using Eidaa, the latest addition to the Hood: Outlaws & Legends roster.

Q. Though console gaming might not be as popular in India as its mobile and PC counterparts, it’s still growing at a significant rate. Do you feel that India will one day become a hub of console game developers?

Stewart: In the last decade, the number of game development companies in India has increased significantly, from about 25 in 2010 to over 400 today as reported by the Maple Capital Advisors’ 2020 Report.

And as the country’s interest in mobile gaming skyrockets, we are also seeing players branch out to try other forms of gaming, including on console and PC. Both of these factors have been contributing to the rise of console gaming in India and we don’t expect to see this slowing down any time soon.

Last year, we launched the Sumo Digital Academy, a talent development programme designed to remove barriers into the games industry. Tomorrow, they release their first game, #ZoolRedimensioned in partnership with @WeAreSecretModeFind out more here: bit.ly/2XAV788 https://t.co/dBU4Hv305z

The recent surge in sales of Xbox Series X and PS5 was record-breaking, despite stock shortages and the increased interest in these consoles has definitely caught the attention of major game developers. KPMG shared in a 2021 report that India attracted investment worth 544 million USD in its gaming sector within 6 months, from 2020-21. It’s clear that India’s games industry is growing and we’re proud to be a part of the industry's expansion.

The Indian gaming industry has a wealth of talented developers who previously have not had a chance to explore console game development, with their focus tied to mobile development. At Sumo Pune, we’re incredibly lucky to work across projects for all current-gen platforms and our team is at the forefront of the sector.

With the continued rise in popularity, we hope to welcome even more new team members to our studio to support our development projects.

Q. What would you say would be some of the best ways to bring consoles to the forefront of gaming in India? Will supporting cross-platform features for esports titles be one of the major solutions?

Stewart: India is a massive market with a growing demand for gaming. There are multiple factors that could help to expedite industry growth, including the widespread introduction of cross-platform features and also the implementation of subscription services.

Xbox Game Pass and PS Now are two examples that have continued to grow in popularity and provide access to both new releases as well as evergreen classics. Xcloud allows players to stream various console games remotely to their mobile phone, which is a literal game-changer for the mobile-savvy market here in India.

Additionally, the gaming industry could also benefit from strengthening its market presence across India. There are lots of amazing studios doing brilliant things and promotion through mainstream media would be a great way to showcase the talent of Indian developers.

Q. A career in video games is slowly becoming a mainstream profession, and more and more youth are looking to delve into the field of either esports or game development. Do you feel that this field will one day be as recognized as any other mainstream sport?

Stewart: Esports is continuing to grow as a profession and according to a report from EY, the esports market size was valued at INR 3 Billion in FY21 and is expected to reach INR 11 Billion by FY2025. With this level of growth, it’s clear to see why it has become an attractive option for brands to connect with young audiences. With speculations about esports being included in the 2028 Olympics, it’s unclear what the future holds, but it’s looking bright.

In terms of career opportunities, the games industry is incredibly fast-growing. The requirement to recruit talented coders, engineers, game designers, and artists has to lead to a competitive market and we spend a lot of time making sure that we’re offering our people great benefits alongside exciting projects to work on. As a billion-dollar industry, there are plenty of jobs and opportunities available for aspiring developers to tap into, and as more and more studios open, the number of people being employed in the games industry in India will only continue to grow.

Q. Video games have slowly grown to be a platform where players are able to not just express themselves but also find a community for like-minded individuals to share their experiences and ideas. What are your thoughts on the gaming industry becoming more of a social media platform for Millennials?

Stewart: A large number of Indian gamers lean towards mobile gaming as their go-to hobby, meaning that the industry has become a network for both playing games and connecting with friends at the same time. Mobile games have always been at the forefront of social gaming and it’s great to see console and PC games starting to follow suit.

The use of Facebook Gaming and Discord channels to supplement communication has become a popular activity for many players. And outside of the game, we’ve all seen YouTube channels that focus purely on gaming content, with millions of followers and Twitch, which has become a powerhouse of live gaming entertainment, with real-time interactivity between the streamer and participants in the chat. These are relatively new forms of entertainment and great ways for players to connect with each other.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a steep rise in multiplayer and community-driven games which re-affirms that the way we play and share games are changing. It’s never been easier to jump online with some friends to play a co-op game together, and I personally think that it’s a great direction for our industry to be heading in.

Q. What would you say are some of the major differences between console gaming in India and console gaming in the UK?

Stewart: Gaming trends in India have traditionally focused more on mobile gaming. Comparatively, in competing markets such as Japan, South Korea, the US, and the UK, PC and console gaming is much more popular.

This difference of preference can be noticed in the worth of the console gaming industries in both countries. According to Statista, the console gaming market in India can expect a valuation of 291 million USD by 2022, whilst the European games market has already generated a whopping 13.9 billion USD in 2020 alone.

Furthermore, according to a report by Google in collaboration with OC&C Consultants, the UK spent more on gaming content in 2018 than on music and video content combined. And whilst 75% of the UK’s games industry is made up of console and PC players, in India that figure sits at just 14%.

However, console gaming in India is on a high growth trajectory and Statista expects that console and PC games will account for approximately 36.3% of the Indian games market by 2022.

Q. Does Sumo Digital have something special in store for fans in the coming months? Are the developers working on a brand new IP?

Stewart: We are working on several amazing titles and projects but unfortunately, we cannot disclose any details of the games that are under development as of right now. However, we will be revealing some of the exciting work we are doing soon, so stay tuned.

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We are also continuing to grow our team at Sumo Pune and are looking for talented individuals to join us as we shape our upcoming titles. Opportunities are available across multiple disciplines and full details are available on the Sumo Pune website. (https://pune.sumo-digital.com/)

You can also stay in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn for the latest news and updates.

Edited by Danyal Arabi
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