Bringing Bollywood to video games

Start-up plans to release games based on Bollywood movies before the films come out; winners will get invites to premieres, meet the stars.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Win at video games and meet movie stars. That's the pitch behind Bollywood3D.

The Indo-American start-up is concocting games based on Bollywood movies. In a twist, however, the games won't come out after the movies, or even at the same time. They'll be released about two weeks before, according to founder Ravi Pradhan. Gamers will then gather for LAN parties and competitions. Winners will get invites to the premiere, meet the stars and receive merchandise.

If you lose, don't worry, he adds. There will be one to four new games a month to keep up with the rapid-fire release schedule of India's movie industry.

"Five days is a long time for a movie to stay in theaters," he said.

Although PC gaming has exploded in China, Korea and other parts of the world, it's still a relatively small phenomenon in India. Partly, that can be attributed to a comparatively small number of PCs. There are roughly about 25 million to 27 million computers in India, versus more than 1 billion citizens. (In 2005, the number was closer to 14 million.) Cell phone gaming is better established and cell phones have a far higher penetration.

But another problem has been content. Many of the multiplayer games available in Asia are based loosely on pseudo-historical dramas that don't resonate with Indian audiences, said CEO Sanjit Daniel. The game-playing demographic (males between 15 and 30) in the subcontinent also isn't that interested in Indian folk tales, he said. Indian game publishers such as Indiagames have come out with games for Indian audiences, but mostly concentrate on selling established international titles.

The lack of PC gaming is "strange, very strange," Daniel intoned.

Young men do watch movies, though, and big movie stars are major celebrities. In the games, players will adopt characters from the films as avatars, grab virtual weapons and go to town. The company will concentrate on shoot 'em up games initially. Bollywood3D, which is based in Fremont, Calif., and Mumbai, India, won't be making games for dance spectaculars just yet.

Novel business model
The nuances of the Indian market forced the company to adopt a somewhat novel business model. First, because the games will primarily be sold in India, they have to be cheap, which means an ultralow development cost. Forget the $10 million-plus budget of some U.S. publishers. These games will cost $100,000 or less and take a team two months or so to crank out.

Most of the games will be generated out of a game development engine created by Daniel. The titles will sell for around $1 to $2, close to the price of pirated software. Rather than sales, the company will try to mostly garner revenue from advertising and cross-promotion.

"Advergames" like this, if priced right, can sell. Burger King came out with some relatively inexpensive games for Xbox games. The games were a key factor in a rise in net income in the fourth quarter of last year.

The average lifetime of a Bollywood film--about the same as the life span of an avocado in a supermarket--also dictated that the games come out before the movie. Were they to come out afterward, there's more of a chance consumers wouldn't remember the film. By coming out in advance, the game can ideally give the movie a bit of buzz.

The promotional aspect also helps deter piracy. Gamers will figure out ways to copy the discs, but only owners of legitimate copies can participate in the contests. Churning out games so quickly creates the risk that they will start to seem repetitive, but the low price should, ideally, also keep consumers from complaining too much about that, according to Pradhan.

The company hopes to create a Second Life-type social-networking site and also branch out into the Indian immigrant community.

The first Bollywood3D game will come out in December. It is tied to a futuristic crime film intermingled with a love story. Deals have already been struck with various studios. Meanwhile, Bollywood3D is opening Silicon Valley offices so it can work closely with chip companies like Nvidia. Pradhan and Daniel have worked both in the United States and India.