Amit Khanduja, chief executive, Reliance Games, wants to tap into the gaming start-up market and might look at establishing an accelerator programme for gaming entrepreneurs.
Reliance Games is the mobile gaming division of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group’s Reliance Entertainment. Khanduja took charge a year before. The company is re-entering the Indian market after almost three years, due to the rise of smartphone penetration, low data cost and the resultant demand for content.
“From 2008-09 to 2016, there have been three big changes — devices, data and content. With devices and data issues sorted, what is left is content and that is where we see an opportunity,” said Khanduja.
Reliance Entertainment’s gaming segment underwent some structural changes in recent years. In 2008-09, Zapak and Jump Games were different entities. They were merged around 40 months earlier.
“Back then, we were entering into the international market and India was a big focus in terms of revenue but three years earlier, we decided on focusing on one area. We chose the international market,” said Khanduja.
The international foray worked well. He says they’ve had 80 million downloads globally for their games, only about 0.5 mn in India. Almost 70 per cent of the downloads are from Western markets.
Some of the popular titles it has worked on include Hollywood ones such as Real Steel, Hunger Games, Pacific Rim, and Hotel Transylvania.
“We have 12 such games. In the action category, we are considered a leading player. We are the de facto game developer for Hollywood titles,” he added.
The Hollywood foray was also triggered by Reliance Entertainment’s partnership with Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider on the formation of DreamWorks Studios; it also has development deals with Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Films, Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment and George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions.
“We think it’s the right time for us to be in India and we want to bring our global experience to the market. So, we will focus on partnering with big brands and intellectual properties. For instance, three and a half years earlier, we started Reel Steel with eight robots; today, it has 50 robots and eight ways to play that game. Since then, we have launched two other skews. We have built a franchise. We are also getting to a big action category. We want to be leader in the action category,” said Khanduja.
He also believes while India is the fastest growing mobile market, it will also be the fastest one in downloads. According to a Ficci-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry report for 2015, gaming will become a Rs 4,580-crore sector by 2019, with mobile gaming leading the growth. The mobile gaming market in India grew from Rs 820 crore in 2013 to Rs 1,070 crore in 2014 and is further projected to grow at a compounded annual 20 per cent to reach Rs 2,620 crore by 2019. The increase in the usage of smartphones and tablets is expected to encourage more users to access games on mobile web and app platforms.
Focus on quality
Khanduja says he also wants to change the way the gaming industry has operated in the country. Despite a big market, the quality of games have been low, due to low-cost handsets and slow data.
“We don’t want to focus on the low-cost handsets. For global games, our size is 500-600 megabytes; in India, it is five Mb. We want to focus on games that are in 30-40 Mb. This is still not what we do for global market but then I am able to address a slightly higher quality segment and that’s what we have been doing over the past six months.”
The second shift the company will focus on is time spent, rather than number of downloads.
Monetising of games is one of the biggest challenges. “Indian games do not monetise at all. You are spoiling users if you keep on throwing ads at them. We are looking at advertisement and sponsorship into the game but this has to be seamless,” says Khanduja. “We want to take a design approach and we are looking at an in-game currency concept.”
Other than creating titles for the Indian market, Reliance Games will also tap into the start-up system and might set up an accelerator programme. It is working with seven-odd companies and will increase this number to 10-15 by the next 18 months.
“Other than investing in our studios, we are also partnering with small gaming studios which have established and who we feel have a good game, and help them expand into markets or give them tools to reach the next level. We are also looking at small studios—wherein we can mentor them and give them market access,” he added.
Khanduja says that the official programme is yet to be launched but the company is not necessarily looking at taking equity in these start-ups. The company has also started to engage with the gaming community in India. Its Pocket Gamer Connect event in its second year saw 150 registrations and the company gave away $100,000 in awards.