Amit Khanduja, Reliance Games’ newly appointed CEO, has aggressive plans for the company. He wants the company to have 100 million mobile games download by the year-end compared with 70 million currently. Over the next two years, Khanduja’s vision is to make Reliance Games the top smartphone game developer and publisher in India. Khanduja, who has been with the Reliance Group since 2008, previously held executive positions with Sun Microsystems and Hewlett Packard among other companies. Till recently, he was executive vice president – global head for Reliance Entertainment (Digital).
The change in guard at Reliance Games comes at a time when the Indian gaming industry is growing at a rapid clip. According to a recent NASSCOM-IGDA study, revenue from casual gaming will quadruple by 2015 to $244 million (Rs 1,490 crore). Last year, about 40 games were released across platforms. Techcircle.in
caught up with Khanduja to understand the company’s game plan for the future. Edited excerpts.
As you assume the top office at Reliance Games, will there be a change in direction or will it be a continuation of the existing strategy that was put in place by your predecessor Manish Agarwal?
There’s no drastic shift in strategy per se. However, there will be more focus on execution. Internally, we have been working on a three-phase strategy plan. Nothing will change in the short-term stage which will last for three-six months. Over the medium term of 12 months, we will renew our strategy and the India focus will come into play. In phase three, which will be for 24 months, the aim is to become the top smartphone game developer and publisher in India. We are looking at 4-5x growth from a market perspective.
How do you view the evolution of the Indian gaming ecosystem?
India is on the cusp of a huge market change now. Four factors essentially determine the success of the gaming industry. First is the availability of mobile handsets on which decent games can be placed; second is the network availability to download and run games. Third factor is the availability of quality games and the fourth is the right consumers. Today, about 20-25 million smartphone devices are being added a month most of which are fairly advanced to play good games. With regards to the connection speed, we are getting enough network speed to access and play games. In addition, 4G is around the corner and our consumption of data will be significantly different in a couple of months. Data charges are going to come down and consumers in India will not be so data conscious in the near future. Also, we are seeing the emergence of a new crowd that can create relevant games for the market. As for the fourth aspect of great consumers, people in the metros have easy access to the international market and know what’s happening globally. So, they will drive significant growth here. However, majority of the growth will come from tier-II and III cities where we will add the vernacular component to the games. Gaming as an industry is changing for both consumers and employers. India is going to be the top five download markets for mobile games in 24 months.
Even as we stare at huge opportunities for gaming in India, why isn’t the next Rovio (Angry Birds franchise) or Kiloo (Subway Surfer franchise) emerging out of this country?
Frankly, none of us in the Indian market has thus far focused on content development. The focus has always been on partnerships or distribution as a platform player. There has not been a true content play in this market. We are changing this as we understand content. We are a developer and a publisher first and then a distributor. We are clubbing our experience of building games in the global market and our understanding of the Indian market together, which we hope will bring in big success.
When will we see Reliance Games creating games relevant for the Indian consumers?
While we are expanding extensively in the global market and continue to focus there, we look at the Indian market as the next big thing. As part of the leadership change at Reliance Games, we are now considering India as an important investment market. We will definitely have some really focused and targeted game development for the Indian market, something that’s not been done for over two years.
We have been hearing about Reliance Games’ appetite for acquisitions but nothing seems to have materialised for a long time. Where are we getting stuck?
We are looking at acquisitions in a slightly progressive, different way than how we had originally envisioned. We decided to focus more on co-development or partnerships for some of our big brands. We have identified some key partners around the globe who will either co-develop with us or we will get into a strategic partnership with them. Eventually, if needed, some of these guys could be looked at from an M&A perspective as well. The focus here is to get the cultural component right and get some success. If we get these ingredients right, doing an M&A is easy.
Your last acquisition was that of a mobile game development and publishing company in Japan and a studio in Korea. Which will be your next frontier for inorganic growth activity?
More than 70 per cent of our revenue comes from North America and the western markets. All of the co-developers we work with are based in these markets. If any M&A is to happen, it’s going to happen with people in these markets. Our focus is largely on the North American and western market from where we get more traction.
Last time when I spoke to Manish Agarwal (former CEO of Reliance Games and now CEO of Nazara Technologies), he said Reliance Games won’t focus of monetisation through in-app purchases, but would make large volumes of games and make money through ads? What’s your take on the revenue model?
If we go aggressive with the ad model, the engagements will be low, the user experience will be bad and it will result in low effective costs per thousand impressions. We plan to monetise our games in three ways. Firstly, we will use ads which are strategically part of our game development. If you finish a level and you need to have certain number of points to progress to the next level, you can watch and engage with an ad to get those points. The second is a new, yet to be announced feature that’s being worked upon with a strategic partner to bring in sachet-pricing. We are hoping to announce such steps in 6-12 weeks. The third monetisation method would be through ads that are very much part of the game design itself.
There has been great enthusiasm among Indian developers on company’s incubation plans for gaming startups. How much of ground has been covered on that front?
Our incubation plans evolved with the game hackathon we conducted. We had great success with over 50 entries for the event. Our plan is to double down on that this year. We might not take a traditional track and develop a number of gaming companies. Our idea of incubation is to help developers work together, help them grow a business by providing support from a technical side. We believe that is the way to incubate. Incubation has to be for the betterment of the industry and it should help us in terms of talent pool and management. We have been fairly successful. We are not making statements which we are not going to implement. We are in discussions with some of the guys who won the game hack to bring them on to our studio and help them market their games.
Is the company looking at raising funds for further expansion?
We are in a very good financial state. From a strategic perspective, we will explore various ways to expand. Right now, our focus is on operations. Growth can happen organically and through strategic financial partnerships.