By Invitation

Hopeful of Mobile Gaming in India

This piece is for all those who have come in a little late to the mobile gaming story of India. If you have been reading, in bits and pieces, about how the country has been catching up with its global counterparts, I would like to, in this article, sum up a few things – things that I have been witnessing, things that I am often questioned about, things that I have been able to interpret, things that I have learnt through media and most importantly, things I strongly believe in.
 

This piece is for all those who have come in a little late to the mobile gaming story of India. If you have been reading, in bits and pieces, about how the country has been catching up with its global counterparts, I would like to, in this article, sum up a few things – things that I have been witnessing, things that I am often questioned about, things that I have been able to interpret, things that I have learnt through media and most importantly, things I strongly believe in.
 
India may be late, but it’s catching up at a fast pace:

Fundamentally speaking, gaming in India is coming alive only now. Just take yourselves back in time and look at the past 15-20 years. You will see that gaming has been missing completely from the lifestyle and routine of Indians. Only the fortunate few who possibly had families and friends in other countries would have had an experience of early day gaming devices like consoles, xboxes etc. Not like we didn’t have ‘gadgets’ in India back then, I remember playing with a plastic toy that we called a ‘video game’; but that was meant for playing and not gaming. There is a difference.

For India, the story is about a big miss! We have missed out on the evolution period from console gaming (as it was expensive & also unavailable in markets) to PC gaming (for lack of steady internet access) and have arrived directly to gaming on mobile devices. Technically, gaming in India began with games like Tetris and Snake on feature phones, evolved to a few simple games on PC like the Super Mario & Pacman and has in the last 3 years or so grown into a slightly evolved gaming destination thanks to the boom of smartphones in the country. We may be late, but we are catching up at a fast pace.

I see the picture changing here onwards. India today has a generation that understands and consumes mobile games. The gaming sensibility is set to progress from here and the coming generations will not just be engaged consumers but also passionate game designers, developers and marketers. In a decade’s time, India will be big on gaming and at par with its counterparts!

Hopeful of the India Story:

Are you hopeful of the India story? This is a question I am often asked by media here and outside. Yes, I am very hopeful. Actually, I am a big fan of the India story, mobile gaming in particular. I have reasons for my sanguinity.

Even when feature phones were India’s first and only solid exposure to gaming, we really got ourselves engaged there. Nokia will be able to validate that for us, some of their models like the Nokia Ngage series sold heavily only for the gaming experience it offered. With the availability of better phones, app world and internet, the hunt for games is on an increase today. India is really gaming and how! A report by Nielsen has suggested that ‘70% of smartphone users spend 15 minutes daily on gaming.’ These reports are very reassuring. With this kind of engagement at an embryonic curve, you can only image the level of engagement consumers here will offer in progressive years.

Expansion of gaming market in India will be directly proportional to the growth of internet connected mobile market. It has been reported that India currently has over 900 million mobile devices, comprising some 350-400 million devices connected to the internet and about 150 million smart phones and the segment is expected to expand rapidly in the next 24-36 months with gaming occupying a big pie of content consumption on mobile. A recent KPMG-FICCI study forecasts the Indian gaming market—currently at around Rs 1,500 crore—to nearly triple to Rs 4,200 crore by 2017. The mobile gaming segment will more than triple to Rs 1,800 crore, from Rs 560 crore now, in the same period.

India will definitely provide tremendous scope to the innovative lot of game developers and publishers; the monetization mechanism is what that requires to be structured correctly. My faith in India market has increased tremendously post my visit to ChinaJoy 2013. China roughly has around 250 to 300 million Android phones and gaming consumers there are also evolving from feature phones and fast lapping up to games on Android phones, the local games consumed there are not of such a great quality but that’s improving too and therefore the gaming scene in China is exploding. India story is no different. The market in India has various segments of consumers to offer – they will consume a variety of games with varying levels of loyalty, but will definitely consume.

The Road-blocks:

Just to reiterate, India is on its way to becoming a huge domestic market for mobile gaming. But there are a few tall challenges.

A key challenge that this country faces is payment and monetization. Presently, only 1% of consumers are paying for downloads and in-item purchases while 99% prefer free-to-play. The Indian market is presently and at least for the coming few years will predominantly be driven by advertisement.

This is one area where China has its advantage; they did something that India has never done. During the phase of PC gaming, China introduced its consumers to the freemium model that habituated gamer developers to make in-item purchase based business models. It’s a big advantage today for China in the mobile gaming ecosystem. Whereas during its short tenure of PC gaming, Indian consumers were introduced to a push-based model, asking for subscriptions or paperwork. Therefore talented local developers here still do not understand how they need to create games based on a freemium model that would help in monetization.

Additionally, the consumers here are not enthusiastic credit card users for app / online purchases. Consequently there is a need to integrate mobile carrier billing with an India pricing as opposed to dollar pricing.

Another major challenge that India faces is with respect to skill-set. There is a dearth of creative talent when it comes to game economy design and production quality. Indian game developers need to invest in innovation to compete with their global counterparts. We have a long way to go in that area.

The world today is watching India. International players are making small investments here while they wait to see how the market unfolds in future and what avenues it opens up. As for me, I am eagerly waiting for my belief in the market to become a reality!

About the Author – Manish Agarwal, CEO, Reliance Entertainment Digital has over 15 years of industry experience, with six years dedicated to the digital industry. At Reliance Entertainment Digital, Manish leads a young team of creative wizards for a group of digital platform based businesses which include Zapak Digital Entertainment, BIGFLIX and Reliance Games. A self-confessed voracious reader, Manish’s strength is his ability to completely get in sync with any current digital trend and mould it towards the betterment of his business. He is a passionate for all things related to technology and gadgets.

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