The Attack Of the Mobile Gamers

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Mar - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Mar - 2005
The Attack Of the Mobile Gamers
Mobile phone users in India grew to almost 50 million in 2004, and now outnumber landline users in the country. While this has opened the doors to many allied industries, mobile gaming is being seen as the next big thing. And why not: in 2004 itself, the mobile gaming industry is said to have been worth $26 million (Rs 113 crore), and is believed to have the potential to grow to a massive $336 million (Rs 1,460 crore) by 2009. Given the numbers, activity in this industry is currently hectic, and all the major players want to carve out a niche for themselves before the big bang!

Big Business
Even now, the numbers are not small, given the size of the market. It is believed that almost six to seven lakh games are downloaded daily across India. "Ringtones are the current leaders in downloads by mobile users, but games are catching up slowly," says Rajiv Hiranandani, country head,

As has happened with other IT services, India may soon find itself the preferred destination for creating games as well. Given the fact that almost 70 per cent of the income for the top three mobile gaming companies in India-Indiagames, Mobile2Win and Paradox Studios-comes from selling their games overseas, this might not be an entirely outlandish thought. Indiagames and Mobile2Win also provide games to many service providers across Asia, Europe and North America.

Number Crunching The Mobile Gaming Industry 
  • The mobile gaming market was expected to make about £13.8m (Rs 113.16 crore) by the end of 2004, according to a report by InStat

  • Many Indian kids see mobiles as must-have gadgets. This is the target audience for games
  • Experts reckon that 22 crore people across the world will be playing games on their mobiles by 2009
  • Overall, the Indian mobile gaming industry will experience growth from three million annual game downloads by the end of 2004, to 367.2 million annual downloads by 2009, and revenues will rise to $336 million (Rs 1,461.6 crore) by 2009

Friends Of The Games
Revenues for these companies have been on the rise, and the industry overall has also seen a substantial rise in game downloads. But what kind of games work best in India? "Bollywood-based games are doing very well right now, as are games that are event-based-like the ones we create for festivals such as Dussehra and Diwali," says Hiranandani.

Bollywood is overrated but the games
made for them work
Vishal Gondal, Founder-Director,

Vishal Gondal, founder and director, Indiagames, agrees. "Bollywood is overrated, but the games we create for them do work. Unfortunately, their life is not as much as that of some others. Bollywood movies often lack a theme or a story, and are hence not as attractive for most gamers. At the end of the day, it's content that's selling, not Bollywood."

While gaming enthusiasts are taking to the new way of playing, service providers also need to be 'gaming friendly'. It is being said that Bharti Televentures (Airtel) are the most game-friendly network, followed by Hutch and Tata Teleservices. "This is mainly due to the circles these providers are present in. Bharti, Hutch and Tata are all present in the metro circles, where the penetration of GPRS is higher. Mumbai, Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana are the top five circles for game downloads," says Hiranandani.

The Players
The average age of mobile gamers is a little higher than the average age of computer gamers. "Ages 16 to 27 are our primary target group, followed by the 25-35 age group," says Gondal. The second group of gamers prefers the slightly quieter and sportier games, including Chess and Cricket. But for the former, anything goes. "Racing, warrior games and action games are their favourite," says Hiranandani.

A look at the break-up of the types of games sheds more light on what's popular in the Indian mobile gaming arena. (See 'The Pack Leaders')

Interestingly, Hollywood games are the most popular, and as Gondal says, "These games have a better theme to go with them. Hollywood producers understand mobile gaming as a market and as a money-making proposition, and treat it so. Creating games for a Hollywood movie can start even six months prior to the release. In case of Bollywood movies, producers sometimes come in a week before the release, and that much time is hardly enough for a quality game."

While Hollywood has its share of classics, including Prince of Persia, on mobile, Bollywood is just waking up to the reality and opportunities mobile games are offering. "The Sholay game is the only one at present that has any chance of becoming a classic. The rest are made just so they coincide with the release of the movie and create some more hype," says Hiranandani.

Money Matters
Games for mobiles are normally priced between Rs 50 and Rs 149. And contrary to belief, games priced higher have seen greater downloads.

"On a particular day late last December, we saw 8,500 downloads of games priced at Rs 150 while those at Rs 100 were downloaded about 3,600 times. But games priced at Rs 50 were downloaded only 400 times. The problem here is that the Rs 50 games are downloaded only once and they don't get popular. Word of mouth is a very strong tool in this business, and games priced at Rs 150 benefit from this, thanks to the quality," says Gondal.

Games end up being priced this high thanks to the monies spent by these companies in acquiring rights to various titles or properties. More often than not, these are non-exclusive deals, but still cost a lot of money. "Rights to Hollywood movies and characters are the most sought after thing because the brand sells the games. This number can be as high as almost 50 per cent of all games sold. This is where we really compete," says Hiranandani.

While the GSM market is flourishing, CDMA is not far behind. Reliance Infocomm offers games for free as of now, but will start charging soon. Paradox Studios, a Reliance company, is currently developing games for them in addition to contracts from international carriers, including Verizon. "With Reliance, we see greater downloads daily, almost to the tune of five to seven lakh a day sometimes. So far, with Reliance offering them for free, we have created about 55 titles for them," says Salil Bhargava, chief marketing officer, Paradox Studios.

Bhargava agrees that other companies are realising the importance of gaming and could be bigger competitors on the global stage: "The race is for intellectual property. We have the rights to Jean Claude van Damme for two games that can be sold globally. Similarly, other companies could have rights to other stars or actors."

While other Indian companies create and sell about 70 per cent of their games internationally, Paradox sells almost 90 per cent of their wares in the global marketplace.

Tech Talk
With the increase of Java-based mobile phone handsets in India, most of the games being churned out are, naturally, based on this platform. But BREW, we believe, is the next big thing waiting to happen. "We are already creating BREW games for Hutch in Thailand so we won't be off-guard when it's time to do that elsewhere," says Bhargava.

Most-Popular Games 
  •  Cricket World Championship
  •  Spider-Man
  •  Munnabhai MBBS
  •  The Fast And The Furious
  •  Van Helsing
  •  Sholay
  •  Speedforge
  •  The Day After Tomorrow
  •  Main Hoon Na
  •  Teen Patti

Gondal agrees. Tata Teleservices has launched BREW-based games in India: "BREW has a better business model and also receives better support from Qualcomm. With Java, there is no standardisation, since there are so many vendors for it. In fact, in Japan, even Flash Lite has caught on for games on mobile phones."

But Hiranandani has a different opinion on this. He believes BREW is "not gonna happen". "Right now, almost 80 per cent of the gaming content is in Java, and given the spread-existing and future-of Java-based phones, BREW will not be such a significant player," he says.

Laws And Legality
In a country such as India that can be best described as a lawless haven for Intellectual Property Rights and cyber-laws, these companies are taking it unto themselves with the help of regulatory bodies such as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to maintain the sanctity of their property.

Recently, Indiagames took a competitor to court for allegedly copying the source code of one of their popular cricket games. The action sent a warning signal that stealing is not acceptable.

"The smaller outfits, or what could best be described as mom-and-pop shops, will not survive. It's not just about money but also about protecting whatever you have created," says Gondal. Bhargava and Hiranandani concur.

As with computer games, the future of mobile gaming, too, is with multiplayer and 3D gaming. In Japan and Korea, multiplayer gaming is already big, and community gaming is catching on. "3G networks will fuel the rise of multiplayer gaming and give the industry its next big thing," says Gondal. Reliance is already offering three multiplayer games, and is adding more shortly, confirming this trend.

While mobility changed the way we worked and lived, mobile gaming may just change the way we entertain ourselves. Are you connected?

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