PlayStation has revealed some new details of its India Hero Project – the company’s big push into the exploding India game market. First announced in May 2023 as a followup to the successful China Hero Project, the new initiative aims to support game developers in India to bring their games to PlayStation 5.
The gaming market in India is currently worth an estimated $868 million in 2023 according to analyst firm Niko Partners, which is expected to nearly double by 2027. Recent advances in affordable high-spec smartphones coupled with the Indian government’s investments in affordable high-speed mobile internet has made mobile platforms more easily accessible to gamers in India. And while console and PC platforms are currently a tiny slice of the pie, they are growing, with both PlayStation and Xbox building support programs to help local developers to bring their games to both domestic and global audiences.
Speaking ahead of the India Game Developer Conference (IGDC) held in Hyderabad at the beginning of November, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s third-party business lead Hector Fernandez and India Hero Project program manager Sujith Sukumaran gave IGN Japan an update on PlayStation’s plans.
India Hero Project is a program where developers based in India can pitch their game to PlayStation, with a committee of nine Sony employees assessing each game. Sony will offer financial, technical and marketing support, and in some cases, perhaps even publish the games directly.
China Hero Project began in 2016 and is now in its third round, with acclaimed games such as F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch finding reasonable global success, and hotly-anticipated titles Awaken: Astral Blade and Daba: Land of Waterscar to follow. With India’s population of 1.4 billion recently overtaking that of China to make it the world’s most populous nation, and with over 500 million gamers as of 2021, Fernandez said he believes the conditions in India are just right to recreate these successes.
“India really stood out because of the favourable demographics, he said, noting that there is a younger audience for gaming in India than in the West and Japan. “When you dig a little deeper, and you start to look at the creativity that’s coming out in India, obviously in film, television and music, there’s all this creativity that’s there – but it also extends into video games.”
The market is overwhelmingly dominated by mobile games, but PC and console game sales are growing. The many excellent games on show at last week’s IGDC reflected this, with notable upcoming games including action-adventure/bullet hell game Sojourn Past, slice of life coming of age story Fishbowl and Fortnite-integrated Indo-Futurist battle royale Indus.
The aims of India Hero Project are twofold: Increase PlayStation’s share in India’s console market by delivering culturally relevant games there, and bring those games to a global audience of PlayStation 5 owners who are hungry for new experiences.
To achieve this, PlayStation will offer participating developers not only financial support but also mentorship and training so that they can apply the skills they may have built up on mobile or PC game development to making games for PS5. For example, developers selected for India Hero Project may learn how to make use of the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, or how to take advantage of ultra-fast SSD memory, with dedicated technical support provided by Sony. Or on a marketing front, they may learn how to make their games more accessible to the wide global audience of PlayStation 5 owners.
Sukumaran explained, “We want to showcase the talent from India, to offer local advocacy for global backing and to showcase their products globally, and also to bring our global expertise and knowhow to give developers there the experience to make a console game and make it a commercial success.”
“Talent exists everywhere: It’s all over the world,” said Fernandez. “But in order to help developers understand how to be successful on PlayStation, we actually have to roll up our sleeves and go do the work. We want to help realise an ecosystem, and to be a part of that ecosystem, so that the Indian creators and developers have the same opportunities that developers have across the world.”
Through China Hero Project, Fernandez’s team have refined their approach to working with developers in emerging markets. “Everything from the way we operationalize it, finance it, the way we support it with the developers, and how we get training to the developers – everything that we’ve done, really, we go back to the China Hero Project in terms of the understanding and learning,” said Fernandez.
“We build local support and international support to make it happen,” added Sukumaran. “We are also building a technical team to support these developers as well. And we are actually collaborating with China Hero Project – they’re actually learning from each other and helping each other.”
While major AAA games have traditionally meant games made in the West or in Japan, games from China such as Genshin Impact have gained huge global relevance in recent years. Upcoming Chinese games such as Black Myth: Wukong, Showa American Story and Where Winds Meet are generating massive buzz. Domestic sales in these booming regions also offer the opportunity for PlayStation and others to sell a ton more consoles and games to a whole new audience. Clearly the importance of familiarizing developers in places like China and India with the PlayStation ecosystem is not lost on Sony.
“Cultural relevance matters,” admitted Fernandez. “Every country around the world wants to tell its own story, and we believe in that. You can see that with a game like Genshin Impact coming out of China and becoming super popular in the West and in Japan.”
The project was announced in May 2023, and Fernandez and his team are already looking at the first batch of entries, playing through demos and examining financial documents, while still accepting applications. Fernandez said the first slate of games will be officially announced sometime between February and April 2024.
The applications they have received so far have allowed the team to spot some unexpected trends. For example, in terms of genre, the largest number of applications so far have been from developers pitching adventure games (25%), followed closely by first-person and third-person shooters (18%). After that there is a drop in percentage, with RPGs, casual games and horror games among the genres represented.
“I thought we were gonna get a lot of MOBA and multiplayer games, and then I saw the number of adventure games,” said Fernandez. “And even the first-person shooters, there’s some really cool concepts. What is an Indian first-person shooter? What does a single-player narrative-driven game that comes out of India look like? What are the stories and the perspective that they can share with the rest of the world? That’s the most exciting thing for me.”
The team also found that an overwhelming majority of applicants – some 78% – had never worked directly with PlayStation before, meaning India Hero Project will likely inject some fresh blood into the PlayStation ecosystem.
Sukumaran explained that only a fraction of the developers (19%) had previously made console games, instead focusing on developing for mobile or PC. “And even within that 19% of developers who have console experience, when you actually drill down further, their experience has been more to do with creating artwork or working on engineering, not much on actual game development itself,” said Sukumaran. “So console development from experienced partners in India is still a very small fraction.”
With all of this in mind, while the program is mainly geared towards bringing games from India to PlayStation 5, Fernandez said Sony may consider working with applicants on games for PC or even mobile. PlayStation has been growing its business on these platforms anyway, porting games such as Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Last of Us to PC and investing in making games for mobile. It’s possible that India Hero Project and similar initiatives could help PlayStation to grow its audience in regions where consoles simply aren’t as popular, an approach that Xbox seems to be pursuing as well through PC Game Pass and its recent purchase of Candy Crush mobile game maker King.
“Our ambition is to increase the total addressable market of PlayStation across the board through extensions into mobile and PC,” said Fernandez. “We can’t ignore the fact that there are so many mobile developers and a certain number of PC developers in India. Our focus is the console in the living room, so we are prioritising that, but you never know what you will find. I certainly wouldn’t want to turn away a great game just because it’s not on console.”
Xbox’s Global Expansion Incubator team hosted a whole track of sessions during last week’s IGDC to help encourage local developers to develop for Xbox. Both PlayStation and Xbox also announced developer camps in India where selected devs will have the opportunity to meet in person with top execs from each respective platform and receive valuable advice.
With recent games like Raji: An Ancient Epic, Sojourn Past and Asura finding audiences around the world, it seems only a matter of time until we see the first Genshin Impact-sized mega-hit from India. At IGDC, Xbox was also out in force, with a whole track of presentations aimed at coaxing Indian developers to Xbox. India Hero Project will surely be an important milestone in this evolution.
Or as Sukumaran put it, “Phil Rosenberg (head of global partner relations at SIE) likes the proverb, ‘The best time to sew the seed was 30 years ago, and the second best time is right now’. Similarly, the best time for us to help these developers was 30 years ago – but the second best time is right now.”
Daniel Robson is Editor in Chief of IGN Japan.