The gaming and animation industry in Pakistan has undergone remarkable growth in the past two decades. What was once a niche field in the early 2000s has evolved into a thriving sector with annual revenues surpassing $200 million.
The country now boasts over 40 large gaming and animation studios that produce world-class content, often in collaboration with global game studios, publishers, and animation houses. However, a significant portion of this growth stems from outsourced projects and international partnerships, with limited locally-consumed content.
Despite a burgeoning youth population, increasing digital literacy, and a global gaming and animation culture dominating popular media, Pakistan has struggled to achieve a tipping point in local content consumption that would sustain and expand the industry. The core challenge, as revealed through discussions with industry professionals, lies in the insufficient focus on developing local intellectual properties (IPs) within the gaming and animation domains.
The scarcity of local content has hindered the adoption and popularity of locally-produced content, leading studios to concentrate on creating IPs for international markets. Many studios claim that there is no demand for local IPs, a notion that I disagree with.
Examples from neighbouring India in the late 1990s and early 2000s demonstrate the latent demand for local content. ‘Chota Bheem’ became a cultural phenomenon, appealing to a wide audience with relatable characters, engaging storylines, and a style suitable for young viewers. This franchise’s focus on education and life lessons also made it appealing to parents, leading to successful merchandise lines, video games, and children’s apps. This success paved the way for more local IPs, such as Motu Patlu, Baal Veer, Vir: The Robot Boy, which also found popularity in Pakistan due to the scarcity of local language content.
The gaming industry in Pakistan faces a similar challenge, with a lack of local IP development hindering the translation of popular TV and film content into gaming experiences. Even culturally relevant games like Carrom, Ludo, and Cards have been dominated by Indian companies, making them widely popular in Pakistan.
The situation can be likened to a chicken-and-egg scenario, with studios hesitating to invest in localized IP development until there is demand, and the market not generating demand due to the lack of available content. In India, private-sector support, especially from major corporations and brands, played a pivotal role in fostering the growth of the local content industry. Brands like Amul, Jio, Reliance, and Airtel actively supported the development of local content and integrated local IPs into their branding and community engagement efforts.
My comments are not just from the sidelines; I’ve had significant skin in the game, investing hundreds and thousands of dollars into attempting to create Pakistan’s first 5v5 FPS with hyper localized environments and characters delving dep into pop culture symbolism and iconography. This was our attempt to create the first local gaming IP with dreams of transmedia content and other such wonders. Sadly, six months into the MVP, with working models and an exciting protype to show, the reality dawned upon us that getting investment in developing local IP’s was far more difficult than we thought bringing this ambitious run to an end.
While I encountered challenges in securing investment for this ambitious project, my belief remains unshaken: investment in local IPs is the key to a burgeoning content ecosystem that holds the potential for significant wealth, opportunities, and sub-industries in a short time frame, with annual double-digit growth achievable at lower investment levels compared to traditional manufacturing or industrial sectors.
Although Pakistan has a few local IPs such as Commander Safeguard, Dettol Warriors, Donkey King, Allahyaar, and Team Muhafiz, they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cultural relevance and market penetration. In the gaming sector, the situation is even more dire, with local content and IPs virtually non-existent.
Pakistan’s current landscape primarily consists of service-based activities in the animation and gaming sectors, necessitating a shift towards the creation of enduring IPs that can facilitate scalability and diversification. The government of Pakistan is contributing to this effort through initiatives like the Center for Excellence in Gaming and Animation (CEGA), a Rs2.5-billion project aimed at replicating the success of National Incubation Centers (NICs) across the country. These centers offer state-of-the-art facilities, top-level training, and development opportunities to foster both resource and economic growth in this rapidly growing industry.
Initiatives such as the newly launched ‘Creative Pakistan’ forum also emphasize important conversations around the creation of IPs and the need to look at the holistic value of what we create rather than what we deliver for others. We are encouraged to look at the IPs created over the past century from the likes of Marvel, DC and Disney to understand the enduring effects of culturally relevant ‘generational’ IPs.
Recognizing the value of creating long-standing, culturally relevant IPs in gaming and animation is crucial to stimulate local demand and reduce reliance on outsourced service models. The potential for multi-million-dollar achievements is evident from the successes of neighboring countries and emerging markets in Southeast Asia. With the abundant talent available in Pakistan, I believe that the nation is on the cusp of achieving something truly remarkable.Imran Khan, "Pakistan’s animation & gaming potential," The News. 2023-11-19.
Keywords: Science & Technology , Animation industry , Burgeoning content , Gaming , Studios , Pakistan , NICs , IPS