Ulka has developed some popular Bangladeshi games such as Ludo, Twenty-nine, Tiny Cricket, Ball Jump, etc. Ludo Club has been downloaded more than 60 million times
You may have seen people playing Ludo in roadside tea-stalls during lazy afternoons.
Occasionally you may also play this game with you friends or cousins as a casual pastime.
Ludo, along with other card and board games such as Twenty-nine, Teen Patti, Hazari and many more, are widely popular in our subcontinental culture.
Over the course of time, these card and board games have been replaced by smartphone games. But these games reinvented themselves on our smart devices.
In recent years, some young Bangladeshi developers have come to the forefront to develop such games online, by blending old traditions into new technologies.
As the CEO of Ulka Games Limited, a major game-maker in Bangladesh, Zamilur Rashid considers our culture while developing games. He is also working towards turning the nascent industry of game-making in Bangladesh into a full-fledged one.
Since Ulka began its journey in 2019, it has developed some popular Bangladeshi games such as Ludo, Twenty-nine, Teen Patti, Tiny Cricket, Ball Jump, etc.
Its flagship hit Ludo Club has been downloaded more than 60 million times in android play store and is one of the most popular Facebook instant games globally.
After graduating from the University of York in the UK, Zamilur came back to Bangladesh and started working in the IT sector. From 2014 onwards he was involved in game development.
He was CEO of Mukti Camp, a small game development platform. He and his team worked in various organisations as developers.
In 2018 they started working as consultants in Indian gaming studio Moonfrog Labs.
The next year, he established Ulka Games Limited with the help of Moonfrog.
The reason he got involved with Moonfrog was to access the expertise they have, and Zamilur admitted that a huge technical knowledge gap exists between Indian and Bangladeshi developers and working with them is a big learning opportunity for the Ulka members.
When asked why he entered into making games, he frankly replied that his love for playing games led him to get involved in it.
Zamilur grew up playing video games and the inspiration to join the industry simply came from the love of games.
"Back in the time when I joined the IT sector, I observed a market gap. At the same time, the use of smart devices was rising in Bangladesh," he said.
"Even a few years ago, there were no good games that were created by Bangladeshi developers. Whatever we had back then was of low grade and they would show advertisements every minute and mostly inappropriate ad content. Moreover, there were glitches and bugs all over the game. But now, instead of a single developer, an entire company is dedicated to developing games," he added.
Card, board and casual mobile games are the main interests of Ulka. Their commitment is to people's needs and on developing games that are related to our culture.
The cultural link between Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, especially with some of the states of India, such as, West Bengal, is undeniable.
The games Ulka has already made or is planning to develop in the recent future are mostly played in this region.
Anything that becomes popular in Bangladesh gets similar responses in India and vice versa.
Familiarised with the potential, Ulka is trying to capitalise on it, which is ultimately good for them as well as the people of the region.
Most people in our country do not have expensive gadgets.
Therefore, Ulka is more interested in making optimised games for those who do not have high-end gadgets. The philosophy is clear, and that is, to make games for regular people.
On their plan to develop PC games, Zamilur said they have currently no such plans to make PC or console games, mainly for two reasons: firstly, the Ulka team or anyone in Bangladesh does not have the expertise to make such games, and secondly, the scope of market penetration would be much lower than mobile games.
"Mobile gaming has a bigger market in our country's context. It is no smaller than PC or console gaming, and day by day mobile gaming is surpassing it. Mobile gaming has a wider scope," he explained.
So, the target audience is not the hardcore PC or console gamers, but the causal gamers who want to spend some fun time.
Currently, the Ulka team consists of 45 members. And they are looking at the big picture.
"Honestly speaking, we have cracked the formula for making games and also for making profit. We are eyeing to scale up our business rapidly"
Rezaul Hasan Evan, project manager at Ulka, shared with The Business Standard some of the fundamental challenges that Ulka and other game developers are facing in the sector.
"There are some policy issues that need to be addressed soon. Bangladesh needs systematic infrastructure development in this sector as well as the whole IT sector. One example, we do not have direct official Apple store support in Bangladesh, but even Bhutan has it. Google has an accelerator programme for young game developers in Nepal but not in our country."
Moreover, he says the workforce is not very skilled. There is not enough game related training.
The primary challenge to game development is related to policy. The payment system is also one of the major problems. We also need to launch games in the international market.
As a result, the Ulka team is planning to collaborate with other game developing companies and train newcomers in the field.
Their goal is to prepare 25 to 30 teams in the coming years so that they can start working in the local market or wherever they prefer.
Every game developer's dream is to move to console. But to do that, you need enough manpower.
Ulka is dreaming of developing 2,000 to 3,000 qualified developers within the next three to five years to make this big jump.
They are trying to upgrade the whole gaming landscape of Bangladesh.
The ecosystem is at an early phase but this is an industry where efforts will pay off.
According to Zamilur, the growth of the sector lies in the best interest of his team as well as other game developers in Bangladesh.
"We want to flourish together; this is also in the best interest of Ulka. Walking alone in the field will be helpful to none. To progress in this sector, we need the field to grow first," he appeared hopeful.
Bangladesh has a large number of gamers. Hence, the potential of the sector is bound to grow if certain policy related issues are resolved and if more young developers become interested in making games.
"Game development requires the skills taught in computer science and software engineering programmes. If you have the background knowledge and skills, then coming to game development is a six month's journey," said Zamilur.