The gaming industry has evolved massively over the years but two games in particular have put Bangladesh on the global gaming map -- 'Heroes of 71' and 'Heroes of 71: Retaliation'.
The first-ever action game that gave tribute to the freedom fighters of the 1971 Liberation War has been downloaded 40 lakh times since release a year ago, that too with more than 25 lakh times from abroad.
Masha Mustakim, managing director of Portbliss, the game developer, said, “Earlier, we worked for different global companies as a supplier. But after the success of 'Heroes of 71', we decided to continue developing our own games.”
Currently, there are around 50 lakh active gamers in the country, according to Mustakim's estimation, but only a handful can afford paid games; free games are popular in a market like this.
“The local market for gaming is worth a few hundred crores of taka and is growing very fast,” said Mustakim. The market size is determined by foreign currency earnings, the cost of the game and advertising income, said industry insiders.
Ashraf Abir, managing director and chief executive of MCC Ltd, a leading mobile app and games developer in Bangladesh, said the ICT market is worth around Tk 8,000 crore at present; games account for 10 percent of the amount.
Though no study has been conducted on the local market yet, developers say that it is dominated by the free games segment.
Only 5,000 to 10,000 gamers purchase the paid video games, according to SM Mahabub Alam, managing director of MassiveStar Studio Ltd, the country's first commercial video game developer. “But 90 percent people want free games.”
Last year, MassiveStar launched the paid game 'Hatirjheel: Dream Begins'. But it faced setbacks as it was easily copied. “We planned to develop a 21-part video game by 2021, but after the release of the first part, we stopped for the lack of an intellectual property rights law.”
Many of the creative games developers of Bangladesh are also working as outsourcing partners for giant game developers.
Abir of MCC Ltd said games are like films, as those have huge entertainment components.
“There are different segments in games development. If our developers can do well even in one segment -- like designing, music or figure drawing -- it will be a big boost for the country's economy.”
MCC recently launched three free episodes of a game named Mina. It was downloaded more than 10 lakh times in the last four weeks.
The games market depends on smartphone penetration and internet use and in both cases, the country has been doing well for the last few years, said Abir, who is a former leader of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).
The global games market is worth no less than $100 billion and if Bangladesh can grab even a small share of it, that could be huge, he added.
Targeting the global market, the government is set to establish mobile applications and games development institutes across the country.
The Skills Development for Mobile Game and Application Project will cost the government Tk 281.97 crore and will be implemented by 2018.
The project will develop 300 apps for the government and private sector, 50 mobile enterprise application solutions for different industries, 400 interactive education applications and 300 games.
The institutes will be set up in the divisional cities in partnership with universities.
Under the project, the government will offer training programmes and it is close to awarding work order to set up the labs and institutions, said Ranajit Kumar, the project director.
In another initiative, Bangladesh Computer Council is offering a yearlong diploma course on developing games from April.
Games are used for child education, health care and human resource development in many developed countries and not just for entertainment, said Alam of MassiveStar Studio.
Market insiders said the global games market churns $800 million in advertising money a year. So if the country can plan properly, games can be a foreign currency earner, even in the free games sector, they added.
A leader of BASIS said they are getting a higher number of applications for new membership from games developers now than software companies.