Manish Agarwal knows the gaming industry like the back of his hand.
Agarwal, who recently came on board mobile entertainment company Nazara Technologies as CEO, has been instrumental in the development of noted games such as Real Steel Franchise, Pacific Rim and Hunger Games: Panem Run in his previous avatar as Reliance Games’ chief.
The IIM alumnus, who has over 16 years of cross-industry experience, believes that the Indian mobile gaming industry is entering a golden period. He is of the view that the next 300 million customers will shape the future of gaming in the country. Agarwal is confident that mobile gaming in India will mirror growth of the e-commerce industry. “While the last three-four years belonged to e-commerce, the next three-four years will be big for gaming in this country,” he said in an interaction with Techcircle.
Agarwal also talks about how the market is ripening for different kinds of players and highlights Nazara’s approach in dissecting the market on the basis of consumer behavior. Edited excerpts from a recent interview.
How is the Indian gaming industry shaping up?
I think we are at the beginning of the golden period for India’s mobile gaming industry. I talk about mobile as that is the only medium that one should focus in this country now. What we have seen in the last three-four years in e-commerce will be replicated in the next few years on the mobile gaming side. With 500 million smartphones getting shipped in next few years, atleast 300-400 million more first time mobile gamers would be added. Many of these will be users who do not have any other entertainment option but for the mobile device. Hence, gaming is something that they they will heavily rely on. This country is going to be huge gaming market and Indians have proven it. This is one of those things that people will adopt like fish takes to water. I have already seen the gaming scene explode in the last 18 months and the acceleration is just going to increase.
How’s the indie (independent) gaming scene evolving in India?
If you see worldwide, the indie-gaming space is directly proportional to the domestic market. If the domestic market takes off, a lot of innovation is fostered thereby encouraging indie developers to look at consumers that they relate with. I think that’s what we are seeing in India. I am a big proponent of indie ecosystem as there is good talent available. Indian game developers are really good in tackling the challenge of making locally relevant games for India, which is a great sign. Its a virtuous cycle; once you start getting more local content, more consumers will play and if more consumers start playing, more fresh content will start getting added.
Talking about monetisation models, what is your view on in-app purchases? Is the Indian market ready for the in-app purchase model?
I believe its a function of two things. One is zero friction in last mile micro billing and the second is that pricing of in-app purchases has to be according to purchasing power parity. If you can’t do these two things right, you can forget about in-app purchases happening in this country. People like us will like to experiment with a motive of being competitive. One needs to experiment to see what is the right pricing. I am very big proponent of sachet pricing and that’s what I always have maintained. There is no doubt that these new models will find traction but its just a question of getting the basics right. We can’t create frictions and expect users to do all it takes to pay us for that’s not going to happen.
There are talks about Finnish firm Rovio Entertainment, which is best known for creating the Angry Birds franchisee, coming to India. Wont that pose a challenge to Nazara and other top players?
Honestly, I have no idea what are Rovio’s plans for India. If they wish to partner with people like us, we would be very happy to do that. We are running a gaming service, they are a big brand and if they wish to localise their content and tweak it for the Indian market from a pricing or cultural point of view, we will be happy to do that. So, I really can’t comment on whether its going to be a good thing, bad thing or ugly thing because we are not privy to their strategy.
The other aspect of gaming is related to the development of the ecosystem in this country. Since Nazara has achieved a sizable scale and size, would the company look at setting up an incubation programme for local developers?
Nazara is a gaming fund, we will leverage that game fund to invest in companies which have proven proof of concepts and have done well on key performance indicators. We are aligned to look at games which have been through beta tested or soft launched before and have retention KPIs. We would like to invest into those kind of companies and teams rather than a power point presentation or a concept. In our view, a lot of Indian developers have the capability to develop games which have high retention value and we are focused on doing that. As far creating an incubator or accelerator is concerned, I think right now we are super focused on how to get the next 300 million customers who will be a part of the gaming ecosystem in the next few years. Once we figure out multiple ways to look at them then, we we will think of an incubator or accelerator sort of model. At this juncture, that is not our top priority.
What are the new offerings that Nazara is preparing to unveil in the next few years?
As I said, our target is the first time mobile user. So, we will look at very simple and casual games which will not come across as sexy or very cool to a professional or hardcore gamer. We believe that’s our audience. We will make games which take 5-6 MB. Our offerings will have simple game mechanics where you don’t need tutorials to learn the game and we will make games which are culturally relevant to India. I am a very strong proponent of regional languages. If its an ultra causal game, then you do not don’t need language. However, if its character based or role playing sort of game, irrespective of the genre, the language becomes important. At the end of the day, you do not want language to become an entry barrier to the adoption of gaming. To summarise, we will look at casual games which first time mobile gamers can play easily.