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Garena is quietly making Indian-themed games, although Free Fire relaunch remains doubtful

Gaming studio Garena found itself in the middle of a geopolitical struggle when the Indian government banned its hit game, Free Fire, over national security concerns. Today, more than two years later, Free Fire is always banned, but the publisher, a division of Singaporean gaming giant Sea, has found another route to market: TechCrunch has learned and confirmed from sources that Garena is quietly developing new games in India with local themes.

Last week, Versus, a 1v1 fighting game themed around Hindu mythology, was released in Early Access on Google Play. Neither the Play Store listing nor the game explicitly confirms Garena’s role in its development. However, TechCrunch discovered through regulatory filings that the studio behind the game – AstroTech Studio – is led by Harold Teo, one of the directors of Garena. Teo is also the global producer of the popular and banned battle royale game Free Fire.

People close to the company told TechCrunch that the studio’s India team is based in Pune and has been working on Versus for over two years. Some video game enthusiasts and players in the country’s esports scene gained access to the title a few months ago before its early access release, the sources said.

In addition to Versus, TechCrunch has learned that the Pune studio team is working on a game based on cricket, by far the most popular sport in India. The company also offers a title based on the classic board game Ludo, which has found a popular incarnation as a smartphone game. This game is developed by a team based in Mumbai.

The discovery of the new studio and its titles highlights three things. First, India’s bans may take a long time to correct, if ever, which is a major problem for companies operating in a volatile and rapidly changing consumer market. Second, the most ambitious consumer companies will look for ways around this problem. Third, the creation of localized services could be a route back into the market.

Garena does not allow its employees in India to manage its games and studios, and therefore has executives from Singapore leading development, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. However, the company has employed a significant team in India to develop and market its titles locally.

Free Fire enjoyed huge success in India before it was banned, with market research companies estimating that it had around 40 million monthly active users in the country. Sea announced it would relaunch the game in India last September, but the title was never abandoned.

Although the precise reasons for the ban were never made clear, it was understood that it was linked to national security concerns, as the company used data centers in China. The company has never addressed this issue, but at the time of the relaunch announcement, it said it would partner with Indian data center company Yotta Infrastructure for its cloud and storage needs .

During Sea’s earnings call in March, group chief executive Yanjun Wang said the company was still making changes to Free Fire to take into account “local user preferences ”, although he did not disclose a timetable. A person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that most of the required changes have now been incorporated.

Sea and Garena did not respond to requests for comment.

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