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India's great gaming market
Surajeet Das Gupta | February 06, 2006
Hit the throttle and rev up your engine so that you can zip past the decorated Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher on the racing tracks of Monte Carlo and hit the winning post.
Or get into the mind of a serial killer so that you can prevent him from taking his next gruesome step. If you are cricket crazy, here is your chance to bat like Virender Sehwag and get your opponents on the backfoot.
Don't worry, this is not your date with Superman. Welcome to the joys of gaming -- a phenomenon that has caught the fancy of consumers across the globe and has already transformed itself into a multi-billion dollar industry. Now, spurred by the mobile revolution, it's making a quiet and slightly tentative entry into our lives.
It might be a small market. But daring young entrepreneurs are leveraging the country's software powers to set up gaming software companies with products targeted at the local market. And mobile as well as PC companies are jumping onto the gaming bandwagon after seeing the revenue potential and market.
Mumbai-based Paradox Studios is launching a new game every four months and has over 100-odd titles on offer. It is now developing 3D wireless location-based gaming for the next generation of mobile handsets.
Indiagames, which began by making games entirely for the export market, now has over 25 per cent of its products targeted specifically at Indian audiences. Says Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames: "Out of 10 games we make, two are hits but that is enough to make money. I think the market has grown 10 times in one year."
Competitor Mauj Telecom is pushing regional language gaming in a big way (they already have a presence in 11 languages) to broaden the market and Arun Gupta, its CEO, expects 40 per cent of its revenues in the next one or two years to come from regional language gaming.
This is why even telcos are being careful not to miss the opportunity. Reliance Infocomm is pioneering PC gaming through its 240-odd webstores across the country. Says Sarup Chowdhary, CEO of Reliance Web World: "As much as 33 per cent of the time customers spend in Web Worlds is on gaming. They spend over 10,000 hours every day on gaming in our outlets."
And in the mobile phone space, the company offers over 60 games, which are available on black and white phones as well. It is now introducing games in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and south Indian languages in the next few weeks.
Rival Hutchison-Essar also offers a range of 450 games on their site and is not complaining about the initial response: 25 to 30 per cent of its GPRS-enabled customers have downloaded at least one game from their repertoire.
Even PC companies are trying to push the gaming habit. Via Technologies, the Taiwan-based chip maker, organises demonstrations every four months, tying up with local PC makers to show how gaming graphic quality and speeds can be improved dramatically by using their PC graphics cards.
Says Ravi Pradhan, CEO of the company in India: "While these PCs cost above Rs 40,000, our estimate is that at least 5 per cent of the PCs are sold for some gaming component."
So what is the size of the market? Estimates vary widely. According to In-Stat/MDR, the gaming market was worth around $26 million in 2004 and should hit $336 million by 2009. According to Rajesh Rao, CEO of the gaming company Dhruva Interactive, the Indian gaming market is currently valued at around $30 million and growing by at least 60-80 per cent annually.
In the mobile space, equity research firm SSKI estimates that gaming already constitutes over 6 per cent of the value-added revenues of telcos. It also says the penetration of mobile gaming, which is at 2 per cent now, will more than triple (to over 7 per cent) by the end of the decade.
At another plane, industry estimates state that customers download over 6 lakh games every month and fork out between Rs 50-200 for these simple pleasures of life. And it is the CDMA phones that have led the gaming habit -- downloads by their subscribers are five times more than for GSM operators.
Of course, there are many impediments before the market can really scale up. The console gaming market (which is how gaming is played in most countries) is conspicious by its absence, because it costs a lot of money to buy them and the games are expensive.
Online gaming has also not taken off because of poor broadband connectivity, without which multiplayer gaming is not possible. And no one wants to get into the CD-ROM gaming market because of rampant piracy.
However, there are issues in the mobile space too. Laments Gondal: "In the mobile space, the biggest problem is that customers do not know that gaming is available at all, forget about the fact that speeds are slow. Telecom companies are not spending money to push gaming -- they have other concerns." GPRS speeds are also not up to the mark, so multiplayer gaming has to wait for 3G services.
Yet companies are making efforts to get over these niggling problems. The first challenge is to create products that attract Indian customers who are not used to gaming. Dhruva, for instance, is launching the first multiplayer online game, Pool On The Net, to understand the market. Says Rao: "We realised Indian customers need simple, casual games and not the complicated ones available abroad. This helped us cater to our customers."
The company is also cashing in on the popularity of cricket. It has, for instance, tied up with Cricinfo, which owns all the Wisden data on cricket across the globe, to launch Cricinfo Genie for mobile phones. Rao is not ready to divulge the details of what he says will be a killer product -- except that he hopes for an uptake of over one million downloads in the first year itself.
The other challenge is to broaden the market. In order to encourage more customers to try Hutch, Hutch and Indiagames are offering a "try and buy" offer in which you can play the game once free of cost. Hutch executives say that this has substantially increased gaming downloads and at least 20 per cent of the new consumers have bought the game eventually.
To get over the problem of low speeds on GPRS phones, Mauj is pushing multiplayer gaming on Bluetooth. Gupta says the ploy has worked -- the company has introduced eight such games at prices ranging from Rs 150-200, which already constitute 15 per cent of its total gaming revenues.
That is not all -- it is also aggressively marketing their gaming products to woo customers. The company for instance forks out 20 per cent of its revenues for the advertising and promotion of its games. And it hopes to double the number of gaming sales reps who go to cinema halls to demonstrate gaming to customers (after all, as Gupta points out, 10 lakh viewers come to Adlabs to see movies).
Companies are also using innovative ways to broaden gaming reach -- and, of course, their revenues. Paradox, for instance, is using gaming as a tool for brand promotion. It recently tied up with Coke to launch the Thums Up Everest Challenge.
Says Paradox CEO Salil Bhargava: "The Thums Up title saw 350,000 downloads in a single week." Gaming based on movies has attracted virtually every gaming company -- Paradox and Reliance undertook brand promotion for the movie Jurm, while Mauj introduced game-based promotions for Sarkar, the hit film starring Amitabh Bachchan.
Of course, many are innovating by bringing in new technology. Reliance Web World is perhaps among the few companies across the globe in which all outlets are connected through a wide area network. Simply put, this means users in Web Worlds across 125 cities can play multiplayer games with each other in real time.
Says Chowdhury: "In typical game parlours like in Korea, you can play multiplayer games amongst customers within the premise as the PCs are connected. What we are offering is nationwide connectivity."
So, are gaming companies and operators making money? Creating a new game could cost anything from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 40 lakh (Rs 300,000 to Rs 4 million) depending on the complexity of the game or whether you have to get a licence for an international character (like Bruce Lee).
But Mauj's Gupta says that it is making money: it can break even on a game if it manages 10,000 to 15,000 downloads (it gets a revenue share of 40 per cent to 50 per cent from telcos). Of course, many of these games are also sold abroad. And even if only some of the games become a hit, the company has it made.
It's a market in its infancy. But if gaming compnaies and operators are to be believed, it is about to boom. And Indian consumers -- who have surprised the globe in adopting mobile phones -- might catch everyone unawares by bridging the gaming gap with the developed markets more quickly than anyone could have imagined.
Additional reporting: Priyanka Joshi