About a decade ago a board games parlor came up in Bangalore. The idea was simple with a collection of board games, a flexible seating arrangement, and a small snack corner. The staff helped you play new games or you could just pick up a game to play. The place soon shut down, probably it was an idea way ahead of its time. It was also a time when our lives were swiftly transitioning online and everything online fascinated us.
Around the same time, three IIT students designed the first Indian language version of scrabble called Aksharit. Their company Madrat Games focussed on creating learning games in multiple Indian languages. Some of their games are still available on e-commerce portals but the company has no website, founders have moved on and I could not find any news about them after 2016.
Preparing Playgrounds for the Toys Industry
90% of toys in India today are imported from China and Taiwan. This is despite the fact that the oldest known games, especially the board games find their roots in the country and its ancient stories. An industry worth at least $1.5 Billion and a potential for a projected $2-3 Billion in the next 4-5 years, given our demographics, is no child’s play. Globally we have only about 0.5% share of toys market. Read it as the giant opportunity to export the sustainable indigenous toys made by our MSME units. Of the 600 members of the Toy Association of India, less than 50% are manufacturers, others only trade in them.
Only a handful of clusters like Chennapatna and Kondapali make traditional toys. The innovation here remains a challenge resulting in their sustenance being dependent on patronage rather than consumption. Existing new-age toy manufacturers are huddled around a few big cities in India.
Pricing Toys Industry must consider
In the fancy craft fairs, we see beautifully designed board games in fabric, but the prices would make them more of a collector’s item rather than something accessible to a common kid. This can be easily scaled up given our textile heritage and diversity.
The government of India had launched the much-needed Toycathon, followed by Toys fair, inviting people to work on rediscovering and redesigning traditional games and creating new games. The set of ideas invited are quite comprehensive with a focus on educational and social games in both physical and digital formats. There is no doubt that it will inject the required momentum. Quality Control order for Indian toys can give a level playing field against cheap imported toys.
Ecosystem for Toys Industry in India
Let us look at the state of the ecosystem where these games, especially non-digital ones, are played with other players. As pre-mobile era kids, we used to play in the parks near our home, in the courtyards of our homes, or in school playgrounds. Most of these spaces are either lost or have been abandoned in favor of a screen at hand. I am reminded of the board games etched on the floors of ancient caves and temples and puzzles on the walls and ceilings. Public spaces of today promote a few formal sports and fitness but do not leave an unstructured space for people to get together to play games. We need forums and platforms where people can talk, discover and ideate about new games.
Every village, town, and the city has a public library in India. Most of these are rarely optimally used. Can the citizens ask these libraries to have a collection of games that people can borrow and play? Can we have a play area marked in public libraries for different age groups? In fact, one of the problems with games for children is that they go waste once children outgrow them. So, a better utilization would be to have a public game bank accessible through libraries that can be reused for multiple years. Collection can be replenished with new and updated games from time to time. Other public places that can be used are airports and railway stations where people spend ample time waiting.
Local language games can be made accessible that are not so easy to get as of today. Consumption of these games will encourage the designers and creators to create more games, fuelling a self-sustaining economy for games. Can we provide kits to create their own games, like the ones developed by Dr. Arvind Gupta? Can we revive the ancient strategy games like Ganjifa cards and Chaupar?
Of course yes, but to nurture a games culture, we also need to promote the playing of games that need nothing like the games we played by drawing on the floor or just by running around the place. To fuel the industry, we need to look beyond just creating games and selling them. We need to bring back a culture of playing games, especially in the real world. We need to create spaces where people – young and old, can come together to play for entertainment or edutainment. Just as the entertainment industry needs its theatres and platforms, the game’s economy would need it too. Only a strong soft infrastructure for games can keep the economy of the game rolling. So, it’s time to get up and play.
Edited for this online publication.