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'Convert pirate users into paying consumers & gaming industry will be worth Rs 3 billion' : Vishal Gondal - Indiagames founder

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 Gaming firm Indiagames is on the move. It recently came back into the online gaming space with its Games on Demand concept. UTV also took a majority stake in the company. Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Indiagames founder Vishal Gondal to find out how the company has evolved and the plans ahead.

Excerpts:

How has your business model evolved over the years?

We started off as an online games company. We did free flash games where money came from advertising. However, we found that it was not scalable and limited. So we took a call to move out of online gaming and into the services business.

Then we saw the opportunities in mobile gaming and so we became a developer and then a publisher of mobile games. Last year we returned to online gaming with a new strategy games on demand. We have a subscription based gaming service. Users can play unlimited games for a flat fee.

Right now we are at a time when gaming is starting to take off in India. How do you see the gaming space faring vis-a-vis traditional entertainment like TV, films?

Globally gaming is bigger than film. In the US, it is bigger than Hollywood. The same thing will happen in India eventually. In every mature market where it has spread it has done that - like Korea, China. India has a lot of young people who do not watch 'Saas Bahu soaps.

They are not as much into current television, which is dominated by the housewives. I am not saying that this segment is bad. However going forward more people will get into interactive entertainment. Gaming is part of this, along with activities like Second Life. More and more people will take to the virtual world.

What would you say is the main challenge gaming faces

in India?


The problem in India is not that people don't game. The problem is that people buy pirated games. Nobody was paying for legal games. Indiagames is trying to build an eco system where price points are such that the consumer does not want to pirate anymore.

If we are able to convert the pirate users into paying consumers, that alone will make the gaming industry worth Rs 3 billion.

'We are about to launch a Godzilla game; we are about to release a cricket Twenty20 game'

What kind of price points are you looking at?

To give you an example; for the games on demand service we offer unlimited games for Rs 200. Today when you pay Rs 150 for cable TV, do you want to buy pirated tapes of TV content? Our logic is the same. When consumers can get all games for Rs 200 why would you buy pirated games for Rs 100?

Who are your partners for games on demand?

We have partnered with pretty much all the major gaming publishers in the world for content. So we have distribution deals with firms like Popcap, Atari, Activision, Codemaster Playfirst. We also have a tie up with MTNL, Sify, among other platforms. We also work with Qualcomm, Microsoft to make sure that our games are cutting edge.

UTV recently bought a majority stake in Indiagames.

What synergies do you see here?


UTV is an integrated entertainment firm. If you see what Ronnie is doing, he is building a business that encompasses the entire gamut of entertainment from TV, to films, to online entertainment. So the UTV deal allows us to be a part of the bigger picture. Bindass is UTV's effort tap into the youth. The youth want gaming and so we will work with Bindass to see how we can integrate gaming with their offerings.

UTV also has a stake in Ignition, which is a console game publisher. Between Ignition and us we have capabilities across all platforms. We will be looking at how we can exploit IP into the console space and vice versa. UTV will also create IP in the form of movies and TV shows. So we can adapt some of these into games, which we then market.

Are we going to see more tie ups like this as traditional entertainment firms seek to broaden their horizons?

The Indian film and media industry are getting more professional. They are also converging a lot. Previously, the film industry was a different silo, the broadcasting sector was a different silo the net industry was a different silo.

However Fox buying MySpace triggered off a chain of events where media firms want to have their share of the pie in every segment to boost customer interaction. So if customers are increasing their time spent on the internet, mobile then for traditional media firms who are in TV or print it is a natural progression for them to look at exploiting the other screens too.

You will see more corporate deals. Traditional media firms realise that it is difficult to build a new media business from scratch. It is better to buy such businesses from market leaders in their respective fields. Adobe and Cisco also have a stake in Indiagames.

What targets have been set by Indiagames in terms of market share?

It is too early to talk about revenue targets. On the market share front on the mobile side we enjoy upwards of 50-60 per cent share. On the online front we are the only firm to offer games on demand service. The other players are trying to sell MMOPGs which is a niche segment. It is early to say if there is competition online as the market is new.

What have been some of your biggest properties so far

and what have you learnt from their success?


We have worked on properties like Bruce Lee, Jurassic Park, Rush Hour 3. In India, we also distribute content from the likes of Electronic Arts, Fifa, Batman, Transformers.

It is important to work on the right kind of property. You cannot take any movie or any story or any character and convert it into a game. The brand has to lend itself to gaming. In the past games have come out of family drama. However cricket, action, sports games work better than love stories.

Which are your five big markets globally and how many

partners do you have?


We have 150 partners globally, Our key markets are the US, Australia, Japan, Europe and India. We have offices in London, Los Angeles, Beijing, Mumbai. These are the core hubs where we do business from. We recently set up an office in Madrid, Spain to cover Southern Europe.

What would you say is the main difference between

developing games for the internet and for the mobile?


The screen size is the first major difference. Attention spans differ. For the mobile you design a game for someone on the move. His time with a game is limited. He/she also has limited access to 10 different keys. Online people tend to spend more time on a game. The control is wider.
 
When you work with a firm like NBC how much of a

collaborative process is it?


It is very collaborative. We have to work with the production team, share creative ideas with them. We have to get approval for game concepts. We work together to exploit the complete commercial value of the property.
 
Could you shed light on the relationship between gaming and social networking?

Gaming was the first social network. If you look at xBox Live you see gamers wanting to connect with other gamers. This is how social networking was born. After that social networking was adapted to other common interests. We have had social networking since the first multi player games came up.
 
Where does Indiagames get creative ideas for new games from?

We have a team that brainstorms on creative ideas. We have to see whether properties are relevant in different markets. You do not want to have a situation where a property is only well known in one market. So we have to do research to find out whether people in the US, Australia, Europe, India know about the property. If it is less or more in one country then what is the extent? Our business is about taking calculated bets.
 
From a client viewpoint what does Indiagames bring to the table vis-a-vis the competition?

People know that India is good for technical execution. India has been looked at as an outsourcing base. We have changed this perception. We were the first firm to start licensing games from India. Nobody in the world thought that Indian firms could go the publishing route. Our first success was Spiderman which we worked on with Marvel. We proved that we could not only produce quality stuff in India but that we could market the same globally.
 
Going forward are you looking to sign long term deals with entertainment conglomerates like NBC Universal for games or will it still be on a project to project basis?

It is better to work on a project to project basis as all projects that they do may not be relevant for us and vice versa. I don't know if this will change in the future but as of now we work on a case by case basis.
 
What are the major projects Indiagames is now working on?

We are about to launch a Godzilla game. We are about to release a cricket Twenty20 game.
 
Do you think that game developers in India have an advantage in terms of being able to learn from the experience of mature markets like Korea?

There is always an advantage in being able to learn from different markets. At the same time each market has its own nuances and challenges. It is important not to just blindly follow what a country like Korea is doing as there are cultural issues and local intelligence.

Indian preferences for games tend to lean more towards the West than the East. Indians play games like Counter Strike, Fifa, need For Speed. China and Korea on the other hand have a lot of massive multiplayer online gaming.

How important is organising on ground events for you?

Very! We have been doing the Cybergame championships for sometime now. We are working with the CII and the government to see if T-Sports and gaming can be recognised professionally as a sport. It should be given equal status as any other sport. We have the Indian national champions who will be going to Seattle to compete in the Cybergame Championships. We also organised an India versus Pakistan event where Kapil Dev was the chief guest. They played various games like Counter Strike.
 
Finally where do you see Indiagames five years from now?

Right now we are leading in the mobile space. Five years from now I see Indiagames leading in all gaming spaces.

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