This is the first in an ongoing series in which we spotlight top emerging global markets for mobile game developers — breaking down current and future gaming trends and providing inside tips for local success.
Between China and India, the world’s two most populated countries, China gets all the attention when it comes to mobile games. And for good reason: By 2016, the 1.3 billion-strong population is expected to earn $7.7 billion in yearly revenue, according to the Global Mobile Game Confederation, making it by far the world’s largest mobile gaming market. What, then, about India, with its 1.2 billion people?
Historically, India has had a smaller economy and slower growth — resulting in fewer smartphones and mobile broadband subscribers. Times are changing, though. Even as China explodes, India will become second-largest in terms of smartphones, topping 200 million users by 2016, according to eMarketer.
Investors are already anticipating the results of growth. Recent fundings of Indian developers include Octro ($15 million), Moonfrog Labs ($15 million), 99Games ($5 million) and Red Monster (undisclosed) — all of which are making games for local audiences. India is clearly becoming a mobile gaming destination.
Who Are Indian Players?
Start with the stereotypes: low-end devices, unreliable Internet access, and players who can’t (or won’t) pay. There is some truth to each of these, but in business, it’s never wise to rely on conventional wisdom.
The reality is that Indian users, like the rest of the world, are eager to shift their consumption to smartphones. The signals are in e-commerce. One example: Myntra, a fashion retailer, recently ended its web presence in favor of solely operating a mobile app. Its owner, Flipkart, predicts $1 billion in revenue for the app by next year.
Indian users are still different from those in other countries, though, because they have little experience with games. “We leap-frogged into mobile gaming,” says Roopak Nair, the head of marketing at Reliance Games. “In other markets people were already used to PC gaming, but in India a lot of people never experienced that.” As a result, Indian users have no preconceptions that may cause them to reject freemium games, as traditional players have elsewhere.
The fact is, there are already people playing — and paying for — games in India’s biggest cities. These players are held back by outside factors (connection speeds are slow, limiting the comfortable download size of games to under 30MB). This will change, though, with upcoming 4G launches.
And as connection speeds improve, new players will flood in from less well-known cities. “If you want to be successful in this market, you need an understanding of the vernacular market, the local market. The growth will come from tier 2 and tier 3 cities, not the big cities,” says Amit Khanduja, the CEO of Reliance.
The growth is also measurable from Chartboost’s internal metrics, which show that monthly game sessions in India grew more than six-fold from April 2014 to April 2015 (a 17% compound monthly growth rate in traffic).
What Are the Top Genres?
So far, many of the successful games in India have been casual titles, or single-player puzzle games — small games fit for the data limitations of local users. These games get the most downloads, even while world-beaters Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga top the grossing charts for both iOS and Google Play.
A recent wave of multiplayer games has taken hold, though. Teen Patti – Indian Poker, by local developer Octro, is among the top-five grossing mobile games in India. Several other Teen Patti games also occupy top-grossing spots, while games based on cricket, the nationally beloved sport, are among the top 50 by downloads.
Multiplayer is a growing niche for locally created games, too. “All our games are real-time multiplayer,” says Saurabh Aggarwal, the CEO of Octro. “As a choice, we’ve reimagined games that have been played in India for a long time, and brought the offline experience online.” The strategy brings to mind Zynga, which built its empire in large part based on Zynga Poker.
In a wider view from the Chartboost network, action games are the most popular for all iOS device types, with strategy, casino and puzzle also placing strongly. On Google Play, the most popular genres are role playing, casino and adventure.
Tips for Success
While local partners have proven indispensable in Asian markets like China and Japan, due to the strong preferences of local players, this may not hold true in India, owing to the newness of gaming in general to most Indians. Still, a local partner could help with non-trivial details like the country’s dizzying array of languages, or the oddities of local payment.
One good tip for anyone ready to leap in is to focus on incentivized ads for monetization. “Short term growth will come from advertising,” says Reliance’s Khanduja. “I think ads need to be part of the core loop, and you need to be thoughtful about how you’ll integrate ads in the whole package.”
Mid- to long-term, the picture will change: “Once we see carrier billing from Google, and iOS if they ever do it, that’s where you’ll see hockey stick growth,” according to Khanduja.
However, transaction amount is also important. “For India in particular, the lowest amount you can charge for an IAP on Google Play is Rs. 50, which is not pocket friendly at all. If you can make that sub-Rs. 10, you will instantly see more users converting to payers,” says Gurinder Pal Singh, VP of marketing at Hashcube. By experimenting with lower pricing, Hashcube was able to show a significant increase in revenue in developing countries.
When it comes to player acquisition, social channels — both word of mouth and Facebook — may drive Indian users more than in other countries. “It’s a social crazy country, people do share,” says Khanduja. That advice has held true at Octro: “Since all our games are multiplayer, our users invite their friends to play online. That has been our major acquisition channel,” says Aggarwal.
Foreign companies looking to enter the market won’t have to look far for help. NASSCOM, a national software trade group, has identified more than 200 studios of all sizes in the country, with more starting every month. Clusters exist in Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad, according to Shruti Verma, NASSCOM’s gaming lead.
For now, it’s still an easy market to find outsourcers and partners — NASSCOM helps with connections on request, but is also opening a site to automate the process. Some local developers are also more experienced than the market would suggest, having cut their teeth working for large foreign companies like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.
But most Indian developers believe they’ll stand on their own soon. “If I’m going to say one thing about the Indian market: it’s growing, but we’re just waiting for that one big game that will turn everybody’s eyes to India,” says Verma. “Right now there are success stories, but they’re just happening in bits and pieces.”