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This gaming startup will turn your neighbourhood into a virtual battleground

Nelvin joseph, krishna Milan Rao and Karthik Isola, co-founders, Empower Labs

Nelvin joseph, krishna Milan Rao and Karthik Isola, co-founders, Empower Labs

Two-and-a-half years ago a startup incubated within Google launched an online role-playing game based on augmented reality. Ingress, the game by Niantic Inc, has clocked 14 million downloads and added 1 million active users since then. A Hyderabad-based startup is now looking to recreate that success.

Empower Labs Pvt Ltd claims to be the first gaming venture out of India to bring augmented reality into mobile gaming. It has developed Delta T, a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) that promises some serious gameplay for non-casual gamers.

“The buzz right now is about virtual reality (VR), but we are working on the next-generation concept, something which people are not talking about as much today but is going to be the future,” Krishna Milan Rao, co-founder and CEO, Empower Labs, told Techcircle.

Empower is seeking to benefit from a rapid rise in mobile gaming in India. In fact, India is one of the fastest-growing gaming markets in the world. The size of the Indian gaming market is likely to cross the billion-dollar mark by 2018 after growing at an annualized pace of 49.2% from 2014, according to a report last year by market research firm newzoo.

How Delta T works

Delta T is a real-time strategy game where users need to travel, meet and strategize with fellow gamers in the real world to win in the virtual world.

When a player logs in to Delta T, he will see his actual location—using the phone’s GPS—as the point where the game begins. The user can see nearby gamers in real-time to play with. The 300 metres around the gamer will be the battlefield. “Every time you are in a different location you will have a different map to play on. This is one unique aspect of Delta T,” Rao said.

The game play will have offensive and defensive weapons, and the gamer will have to unlock them by doing certain activities and by going through levels. Once he has an inventory, he will have to place the offensive weapons on the lanes beside him. There will be a simultaneous turn-based game play, which means in 30 seconds the gamer will have to place his weapons and the other person will also get 30 seconds to place his weapons. After 30 seconds the weapons go against each other. So at the end of the game play, whoever has more energy and health, wins the game.

“The best way to understand augmented reality is that we are trying to source digital information onto the physical world. What we are planning to do with our game is to take the GPS location of the person and make him interact with real-life people, places and objects in order to play the game,” said Rao.
Delta T is scheduled to be launched in July by doing a geo-locked beta launch in India, Singapore and New Zealand. The game will initially be available for Android users. Empower Labs plans to launch the iOS version and also enter Canada and Finland in October.

Founders, funding

Rao, Karthik Chandra Isola, and Nelvin Joseph co-founded Empower Labs in February 2015. Rao is an undergraduate from Purdue University and Empower Labs is his first full-time job and venture. Isola previously worked with his father’s company, Sreepathi Pharmaceuticals, where he took care of operations and business development. Joseph previously founded an artificial intelligence company called Artin Dynamics.

The startup raised Rs 3 crore from two investors in June last year. It is now looking to raise $2 million in Series A funding to take the product to the market.

Empower Labs, which has tied up with the creative team of the movie Baahubali for visual creatives, has 23 employees.

Business model

In-app purchases will be the company’s major revenue driver. The startup is also looking at online-to-offline marketing as another source of revenue.

“Since our game is played in the real world, we can make the gamers interact with brands as part of gameplay. We can have in-game branding as well. For example, if we partner with Uber, we can incentivize our gamers to use Uber over rivals with some health or weapons,” Rao said.

Giving another example, he said the company can tie up with a health drinks company and monitor through a barcode whether a player has used that product to get a health upgrade in the game.

The company will look at monetising the user data on the platform in the future.

Target users, competition

The company is not targeting casual gamers who play Candy Crush, but is looking at a more matured group. In order to acquire users initially, the company is launching video trailers on YouTube. Besides, it is looking to harness digital media to spread the word.

“We are also planning an invite-only game that will build a lot more excitement and curiosity among gamers,” Rao said.

Rao said the company’s the largest competitor would be Ingress by Niantic Labs. Father.io by Proxy 42 and Open Reality are among the other augmented reality-based popular games.

Rao sees Ingress as an inspiration and said that India is one of the largest user bases for the game. As for Delta T, he said: “We are eyeing 2.5% of the total market by the end of 2018 with 2.5 million downloads globally. In India, we are looking at 750,000 downloads.”

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