A month ago, FAU-G was unheard of. That is, until PUBG got banned in India with 117 other apps that had a Chinese connection. However, the moment PlayersUnknown's Battleground ceased to exist on the Play Store and App Store, out blazed the Fearless and United: Guards — Both multiplayer. Both battle games. Both eyeing the growing mobile gamers in India.
Suffice to say that before FAU-G appeared, most of us in India knew only the Fauji – a term that we use around these parts to affectionately refer to India's armed forces. Today FAU-G is much more than an acronym. The creators of the new game have waxed eloquent about how their version isn't remotely connected with PUBG – be it in style or substance. But, more of that later.
The anti-China sentiment is the prime mover of FAU-G from the periphery to the mainstream in recent times and ironically it could well be the same sentiment that drives its usage. Brainchild of a Bangalore-based group of game developers called nCore Games, FAU-G is based on real events etched in India's military history.
And, the company has announced that the first title, slated to be out in a month's time, would feature India's most recent military clash with its eastern neighbour in the Galwan Valley region of Ladakh – an incident that brought about the whole anti-China sentiment leading to the ban on more than 200 apps, besides restrictions on Chinese investments and imports into India.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A mobile game based on real stories from India’s military history
- Who is the developer? Bangalore-based nCore Games
- When is it launching? Later this year
- How much will it cost? Likely to be free with in-app purchases
- Games that you can play in lieu of PUBG, for now
- FAU-G isn't competing with PUBG and there's much more to it
A surfeit of fake news that came early on
Clarification @vishalgondal @dayanidhimg @akshaykumar #FAUG pic.twitter.com/qVFMjv5CrtSeptember 7, 2020
Within hours of the announcement, the internet saw a wave of fake news that even included a FAU-G trailer. Early reports were around the game's development and how it was funded by the underworld. Then came a trailer that was immediately called out as fake by the developers, who promised the real thing very soon.
What followed thereafter was a single press state issued via the nCore Games Twitter handle that sought to clarify things. It started off by refuting claims that the game was conceptualized by late actor Sushant Singh Rajput. After clarifying around the real developers and their links with Vishal Gondal, a respected name in gaming, the company stated unequivocally that the poster wasn't plagiarized but contained a paid-for image from ShutterStock.
They informed us that the poster was only a teaser and that nCore would soon be releasing the official game title screen as well as the in-game art. The company also let it be known that they would be initiating legal proceedings against the perpetrators of these fake news.
Who's behind nCore Games?
nCore Games wishes @akshaykumar a fantastic birthday! We salute your love and empathy for the true guards and heroes of our country! May God continue to give you strength to inspire and touch many more lives!#FAUG#HappyBirthdayAkshayKumar pic.twitter.com/00Sf9leillSeptember 9, 2020
The two key names behind nCore Games and FAU-G are Vishal Gondal and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. Vishal is an intrinsic part of India's nascent gaming industry since 1998, which is when he founded IndiaGames, primarily engaged in publishing and developing games across various platforms such as PCs, mobile phones, PDAs and handheld gaming devices. It received funding from TOM Online Games and was acquired in 2012 by UTV Software Communications, which is now a part of Walt Disney Holdings.
Akshay Kumar is considered the action star of India cinema and of late has been associated with several Bollywood titles around patriotism such as Baby, Airlift, Kesri and Mission Mangal. The day PUBG got banned in India, it was announced that the actor would be mentoring the team at nCore Games on the FAU-G franchise.
The real warriors who created FAU-G
Other names that made the rounds include M G Dayanidhi, CEO of nCore Games and Ganesh Hande, the company's COO. At a time when Covid-19 and the lockdown-led recession, the duo announced that they were actively hiring experienced game developers. Both Dayanidhi and Hande were part of Digital Chocolates, a gaming studio founded by EA's Trip Hawkins.
Once Digital Chocolates was acquired by Rockyou Games of the US, the duo was part of the team that worked on expanding their business model and helped acquire IP from the likes of Gree, Kabam, and Disney. They co-founded nCore in 2019 and received investments from Gondal to grow the business which resulted in deals with Super Evil Megacorp and Rovio.
The team worked with Rovio's flagship game Angry Birds Classic as well as Vainglory, a part of Super Evil Megacorp's inventory. The team at nCore worked on the entire process, starting with the content, the artwork, animations and programming, the live ops and the quality checks.
Is it battle royale mode or third-person action?
Given the likeness of names, one could be easily fooled to think that FAU-G would also be a battle royale game just as PUBG. However, reports now suggest that it may launch initially as a third-person action title and thereafter morph into something broader and wider. Gondal has since clarified that the game would have both modes eventually.
So, if there is no battle royale between two sides, what's FAU-G about? It is actually about the Galwan Valley itself. A single-player and a possible cooperative multiplayer would experience what really happened there on the night of June 15. The developers know that nobody would enact the enemy in this scenario, which is one they went for a third-person experience.
As we stand now, nCore Games is hoping to launch the game and update its features based on feedback as well as the early monetization outcomes. It is not a question of adding 500 features at one go, says Gondal while reiterating that the plan would be to go for repeated iterations over a period of six to 12 months.
FAU-G is definitely not a PUBG clone
A major reason for this being so is that while PUBG features players scouting for weapons on an island prior to the battle royale, FAU-G would be sticking with a third-person brawler mode. Why? Because as per a 1996 bilateral agreement between India and China, neither side can carry guns or explosives within two kilometres of the Line of Actual Control.
Since their first title is set at Galwan Valley and revolves around the recent clashes there, nCore Games would avoid faking the skirmish. Given that it's third-person gameplay, the experience needs to be immersive and revolves around brawler mechanics and melee weapons. There would be some exploration via guided maps.
There could be hand-to-hand combat inspired by other game titles and the effort would be to make the game as close to the real experience as possible. This is where Akshay Kumar's role as a mentor comes to the fore as he's an expert in martial arts. Moreover, nCore Games has a formal affiliation with Bharat Ke Veer foundation, in which Kumar is associated. However, the team didn't rule out adding new weapons and said there could be some surprises.
Likely release date and the future
The company began development in May 2020 and initially sought to release the game on August 15, to coincide with India's Independence day. However, due to the complex nature of the game development, it had to be pushed and recent reports indicate that the initial launch could happen in September itself.
In fact, the founders say that FAU-G was actually a part of three games that they are currently working on, of which one is a cricket game and the other associated with music. The cricket game could release in September, coinciding with India's popular franchise cricket tournament IPL. The tournament, which got postponed from March due to Covid-19 starts on September 19.
The company is taking baby steps with their new title and have not managed to raise funds that would be required to sustain such titles over the long term. To add new features to the existing titles and new titles to the franchise, nCore Games would require a venture round sooner than later. Given that gaming has not traditionally been a VC favourite in India, we need to wait and see how their efforts go in the future.
It remains to be seen if there were be actual long-term interest in the title or if it will end up being a fad. With PUBG actively looking at ways to return to India, we feel the battle royale is just getting started. And, we aren't even talking about the recent high refresh rate support that PUBG had announced.