After working shifts at a call centre in south Chennai, 22-year-old Vijay stops over at his favourite gaming parlour in Adyar — an upmarket suburb, to fight terrorism.
He is part of a team of cyber counter-terrorists who stake out old buildings with sniper guns and other weapons to take on their enemies. The name of the game is Counter Strike and Vijay and his team are just a part of a growing tribe who are getting hooked to cyber games.
Gaming is the new passion that is taking urban youth by storm. And it finds new enthusiasts by the hour. Gaming and the businesses that run it are still at a nascent stage in India, with the market size estimated to be just about Rs 50 crore.
Mr Dexter C. Bob, Circle Head — Tamil Nadu, Reliance Web World, one of the major corporates in the gaming business, said that the basic idea of introducing gaming at outlets such as Web World was to popularise broad band-low latency network. Broadband today is in the same stage as electricity was in those early days, he said. With increasing use, it will become indispensable, Mr Bob said. He added since the base is low, the market is growing at a frantic rate — almost 100 per cent. Take the Web World outlets for instance. There will be 240 outlets by the end of November, from a base of 15 last year.
Online gaming targets the 16-25 age group, creating addicts in its wake. In Chennai, gaming is still male-dominated, drawn largely from the information technology enabled services and from the student community.
Nitish, a second year student at a city college, said that these gaming parlours attract regulars who spend anything upward of Rs 200 every day. Some parlours have a credit facility for its regulars who run up bills of about Rs 5,000 every month.
One of the reasons for the instant popularity of multi-player games is the interactive nature of the games. Users can link via Internet to play with one another, not just in one location but also in other cities. Strategy games such as Craft and Star Craft are also popular, because they are fun besides being stress busters, said 16-year-old Ashwin.
Besides the smaller gaming parlours, companies such as Reliance and Sify have introduced gaming in their Internet cafes. Mr Bob said that this segment is still small — about Rs 3.2 crore per annum. He said that the big market lies in PC segment, which uses CDs accounting for almost Rs 40 crore per annum. (The popular CD games are the Prince of Persia (an adventure game), FIFA (football) and NBA (basketball.) The other category is the arcade games, which is roughly Rs 5 crore per annum, he said.
India also has a number of playstation users though this segment is difficult to assess, as a number of these playstations have entered through the grey market. The Sony PlayStation is a favourite in most markets.
Mr Bob said that gamers are divided into three categories — there are power gamers who play over 20 to 30 hours or more a month.
Then come the avid gamers who play 4-8 hours a month, followed by the casual ones who play once a while.