Boomers and late millennials might look askance at the ludicrous numbers thrown around for the gaming industry in Pakistan.
For example, the top-earning Pakistani gamer, Sumail Hassan, has earned $3.8 million playing Dota 2. At the current exchange rate, this is over Rs675m (67.5 crores in case you are doing the maths) — far more than an average Lahore University of Management Sciences grad will earn in his lifetime working for a coveted multinational company.
Globally worth roughly $200 billion with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.64 per cent, the gaming industry is entirely overlooked in Pakistan. While tech exports have crossed $2bn, the share of the gaming industry is minuscule. In contrast, Turkish gaming companies, for example, have raised $238m this year, according to a LinkedIn post by Babar Ahmed from Lion Studio, a mobile publishing studio based in the US.
Pakistan is ranked 29 out of 150 countries for e-sport earnings, with 278 local players earning a combined total of $4.78m
About 12,000-15,000 individuals are working in this industry, extrapolates Samar Hasan, co-founder of Epiphany Games, from the data made available by the unpublished International Game Developers Association report. The study estimates up to $25m is earned locally across the industry each year.
Pro-gaming is an important segment of the gaming industry, of which e-sports (electronic sports) is a sub-category. Pakistan is ranked 29 out of 150 countries for e-sport earnings, with 278 local players earning a combined total of $4.78m. Streaming of games is a revenue channel in itself — think the cricketers of the Pakistan vs India world cup match and the millions who were watching it, only in this case the entire experience is online.
Similar, a related field is e-casting and talk shows where the legendary players are not Wasim Akram arguing with Waqar Younis over korma while Fakhre Alam mediates but Gen-Xers and millennials talking about feats of thumbs and fingers.
And where there are billions of players (3.24bn gamers across the globe) and audience members, there is monetisation and advertisement revenue. “E-sport are not mainstream. In other countries there are proper academies — it is taught at the school level,” says Ms Hasan.
Game design and development is another big category, mostly concentrated in Lahore. “But if Pakistan is producing 20,000 IT graduates every year, they mostly work for software houses because there is a lack of awareness,” laments Ms Hasan. Unsurprising, given that most universities here do not teach game development as a proper degree programme. The dearth of skill set has made gaming studios wary of interacting in fear that the limited talent pool will be poached by other developers.
Another important category is the gamification of different industries. “Imagine a game in which different financial concepts can be explained, for example, saving.
The main characters save up and then invest in a shop or spend on clothes. Different scenarios could be created incorporating financial products and the consequences of choices made,” explains Ms Hasan.
Though mostly aimed at kids, according to statistics by Growth Engineering, gamification can apply to diverse sectors from climate change to education. With a whopping global CAGR of 27.4pc, it is expected to grow to $30.7bn by 2025 but is virtually non-existent in Pakistan.
“Pakistan is stuck in providing services and games as products,” says Ms Hasan. Programmers and designers put together a game and give it to some international publisher who then proceeds to take home the bulk of the revenue.
Pakistan’s expertise lies in hyper-casual games like Ludo or Candy Crush. The ad revenue of the millions of downloads however accrues to the publisher. Furthermore, instead of innovation and creativity, cloning is more common where a local developer takes the concept of candy crush but uses jewellery instead of candies.
Similar to most small sectors bemoaning their fate, game developers lack access to capital. Strategy and battlefield games that involve complex worlds can require an investment of millions of dollars whereas a small hyper-casual game can be made in a week for $2,000-4,000.
Pakistani has about 200 gaming studios, estimates an industry insider, almost all of which are led by men. But the gaming industry can be incredibly inclusive, asserts Ms Hasan who is advocating for equality in the industry. “A game designer is absolutely critical for any game. The person is the architect of the game, setting the storyline, progression of levels and personas of the characters. A writer or historian with no tech background could pitch in as a core team member for game development.”
Since Pakistan serves the international market, there are no local games — for example, Babar, Humayun and Akbar riding dinosaurs and beheading zombies to protect Agra from invading hordes. Or auxiliary areas of artificial and virtual reality tours of hiking up Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat explains Ms Hassan.
A whole host of professions that parents grew up learning about are giving place to novel forms of employment. Maybe it is time to shove the Pythagoras theorem to one side and hand your kid a gaming console for her next birthday.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 6th, 2021