Ludo is helping Indian game studios reach out to the world

Ludo, the anglicised version of a 1,400-year-old board game played in India called Parchisi, has found a new lease of life in the form of mobile avatars. Indian companies have reinvented the game using technology – creating stylised boards and game tokens, new features, and online multiplayer options. And their most ardent players are not just in India, but also Mediterranean countries like Spain and Morocco, South American ones like Colombia and Mexico, and even Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Vikash Jaiswal’s Ludo King has been among the top 10 most downloaded mobile games globally since April this year, as per market research firm Sensor Tower. There’s Moonfrog Labs’ Ludo Club, which is now available also on US-based instant messaging app Snapchat. IIT grads Afsar Ahmad and Govind Agarwal’s Gameberry Labs, founded in 2017, clocks over 6 million daily active users from 15 countries across two Ludo games. And newer players are emerging. Ahmad of Gameberry says mobile game development is taking off in India partly because of the number of game engines now available. A game engine, like Unity or Unreal, is a software tool that allows one to build video games. “They make it easier for developers to build the gameplay aspect – how it will play on the phone – after which it’s about art, animation and design, and getting them to work seamlessly in the multiplayer format,” he says. They decided to work on Ludo when they found that the existing Ludo games were not designed well. Gameberry’s art style has been a major appeal. “Our use of colours like violet and gold gave the game a royal feel, and appealed particularly in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,” Ahmad says. Voice chat features inside Ludo are also a huge appeal in countries like Saudi Arabia where many regular voice apps are banned. Rajan Navani’s Pune-based JetSynthesys, has built a popular mobile Ludo game called Ludo Zenith that incorporates extra levels of strategy. “We use different characters in the game. For example, if you pick the rabbit, you can jump extra spaces. If you pick the rhino, you can defend yourself. Ludo Zenith looks like a simple, casual game, but is in fact a very competitive game that keeps users coming back for more,” he says. Others also offer features that allow you to undo your turn, or one where one of the four tokens is a king token – if it dies, that player has to go out, and if it reaches home, that’s enough for the player to win. Many are monetised features. Ahmad too says game design is key to get people to keep playing. He says you have to plan for what you want the player to do on the 1st day, the 10th day and even the 30th day. “Then you have to provide new content throughout the year, based on seasons, festivals, national events,” he says. Navani says backend engineering too is critical. “We have had 200 engineers work for the last six years just to build tech modules and efficiencies around leveraging tech. If you want the best user experience, you not only need content, but also seamless tech that goes along with it. The architecture, programming, product design, testing, all require deep tech understanding,” he says. That is Siddharth Mishra’s experience too. The co-founder and CEO of Mumbai-based GameNagri Studios, launched a mobile Ludo game last year. “We are an indie studio with just eight people, and we had to build network capabilities because users wanted multiplayer options. To build multiplayer functions that aren’t buggy is very difficult,” he says. Ludo’s popularity and expertise in India is also being used by foreign companies to make their gaming entry into the country. Snapchat has done it. Square Enix, the Japanese gaming behemoth that has developed some of the world’s most played franchises like the Final Fantasy series, has done it. It has teamed up with JetSynthesys for Ludo Zenith. Cibin George, senior manager of product marketing at Square Enix, says betting on a game like Ludo Zenith was an easier way to enter a very crowded market. “We tried to enter the Indian market in 2013 but had to shut down our operations after a year. Then in 2019, we came back with a very different strategy and chose Ludo – to learn something out of it and then chalk out our strategies for other games,” he says.

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