What mobile games would India be playing in 2015

Games, IIM, Media & Entertainment, Zeitgeist

Through much of 2014, Indians continued to endorse international biggies like Candy Crush Saga, Subway Surfers, and Temple Run 2 on their smartphones. Of the two Indian games that witnessed meaningful traction, one was based on a Bollywood blockbuster (Dhoom:3 by 99Games) and the other was based on India’s most popular offline card game (3-Teen Patti by Octro).

And therein lies the blueprint for what we are likely to see in 2015 as well.

Fountainhead Bollywood

We have to acknowledge that movies sit at the apex of the entertainment value-chain; not only in India, but also in the aspirational market we look up to — the US. This manifests itself in various perspectives — monetization, distribution, talent, content derivatives, franchises, news, buzz etc.

In the last few years film-makers film-marketeers have been using gaming as a logical medium to engage with their relevant audience. However, most of the efforts have been geared towards (and measured by) buzz creation leading to the movies’ theatrical release and a few weeks after that.

In most such cases, the development of the games starts only when the movies are well into post-production; and in some cases a last-minute line item in their marketing mix.

This, therefore, defines the kind of time, resources and returns that get associated with such dalliances. Mostly, next to nothing. Especially when seen in comparison to the ‘hundreds of crores’ budgets & earnings associated with movies.

This however, is changing. 

The core driver for this change is the fantastic proliferation of connected mobile devices. The numbers being quoted by industry sources may vary, but when these are in the 100-200 million range, and growing rapidly, it is already a sizable number.

Games like Krrish and Dhoom-3 crossing the 10million user milestone is significant. I’ll come to the economics flowing from this in a while — but see it as 1 crore people having downloaded each of these games. Now assume, each of them were to pay the equivalent of a cinema ticket (say, Rs.100), the number we’re hitting is the *100 crore* sweet spot!

Of course, the stage at which various pieces of the gaming ecosystem currently are, even if we were able to do just 10% of these numbers we would be delivering serious value.

What the industry needs to do is:

  1. Innovate in production
  2. Innovate in distribution
  3. Innovate in monetization

How? I’ll touch upon this briefly a little later, and maybe in detail in a subsequent post.

Local Game Formats

When we had launched ibibo TeenPatti in 2009 at the height of the web social games cycle, it was a runaway hit. The best part being that we did not have to either invent the game-play algorithm, or spend effort in telling users how to play that. All we had to do was create a stable online instance of the teen patti game, and inform users about our existence. Everything else fell in to place.

When we’d made the Android version of the same game, it climbed to the top of the charts without any extra effort, competing once in a while with Zynga Poker for the top spot. For the next couple of years, while the rest of the ibibo business was getting re-aligned, ibibo TeenPatti app continued to be at the top.

Full credit to Octro for having seen the opportunity and moving in with the right kind of user acquisition spends. The Sequoia investment of $15million followed. And this spawned dozens of more teen patti games on the app stores. Collectively, the various teen patti game apps would have done ~20 million downloads. This is comparable to what the global big three (Candy Crush, Subway Surfers and Temple Run) would have individually done in India. One could say the ‘teen patti genre’ is India’s current answer to Candy Crush.

Teen patti of course was the lowest hanging fruit. There will be card games like rummy, bluff, sweep and apps based on physical board games like carrom that developers are, and should be making. Similarly, Bingo, (or its popular Indian party format — Tambola) hasn’t been seriously pursued yet.

In 2015, we may see at least one break-through ‘Indian’ game. I would say tambola has a better chance, than carrom, which would face a challenge in recreating a high quality physics-based visual experience. Teen patti needs no physics. Pool and carrom do. (I’ve had the experience of launching an online Pool game that had been developed by an ace international team; and when we showed that to people who’d previously played low quality online pool games, we witnessed 100% conversion and very high retention. So, production quality would matter there.)

ALSO, there’s a caveat.

Not all local games would work. It is important that the *really hot target group* should have some real-life reference point for these native games. Teen patti works because you’re creating an online/mobile instance of an already popular game. Same was the case with online pool some 5-6 years ago; because offline pool was the aspirational hangout experience for youth across many cities in India.

I’m not so sure about carrom. I think carrom mattered to those who went to college in the 80s and 90s, and spent hours playing carrom in college canteens. But I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the young mobile game players of today still endorse it without the physical world reference.

International Game Formats

Like in other media, we need to keep an eye on globally emerging mobile game formats, and make a judgment call on what could work in India as well.

Movie-making started in India around the same time it did globally; but film makers (and film marketeers) in India have a long tradition of looking westward for inspiration.

Most of the television business we see around us is modelled on the American television business. This is true for both fiction & non-fiction based television. The entire concept of daily soap operas, game shows, reality shows, news programming, sports programming, stand-up comedy shows etc. is made on blueprints coming out of the US. Yes, they’ve been ‘Indian-ized’ to suit the respective audiences of our TV channels — but the core formats are global.

This is what gaming needs to do in the right earnest.

Many of the leading Indian internet businesses have already done it: Think Flipkart, MakeMyTrip, InMobiZomato, Quikr, Olacabs. They’ve all been pretty successful in their own right — but have they ‘invented’ the format of the business they’re running? No, they haven’t. And they don’t need to either. They needed to adapt & innovate, and that they’ve done pretty well.

Interestingly, we’ve got two different global ecosystems to look up to: US and east Asia.

I’d done something like this while launching ibibo Farms game in 2009. We’d licensed the game from a developer in China, added the requisite localization layers on top, and given it some innovative marketing and distribution pushes. The game became quite popular, and was earning money too. In my estimates, ibibo Farms would have been earning more money out of India than Zynga’s Farmville!  (Funny anecdote: Some poorly informed ‘tech’ blogger, who hadn’t played either — said, we’d copied Farmville ‘screen by screen’. What the poor guy didn’t know was that Farmville wasn’t even the first farm game in the world, and that there were dozens of farm games from developers in China that were doing fairly well globally, and most of them preceded Farmville!)

One of the global formats that has great potential in India is quizzing. Of course QuizUp has seen great traction globally, and that should act as a spur for game developers in India, rather than burdening them with the unwanted comparison: “There’s already QuizUp in this space, you should try something else.” Bollocks!

Challenges?

  • Talent will continue to be a challenge. But a key investment here would be to focus on acquiring story-tellers into the fold, rather than only focusing on developers and visual artists. The latter are available in plenty, given the BPO past of the gaming industry. It’s the former that need to be mentored, nurtured and weaned away from other disciplines like films, television, and advertising.
  • Monetization isn’t as big an issue as it is made out to be. Given the right kind of games, with the right kind of hooks to get people to pay, monetization will happen.
  • Distribution is a bigger challenge, as we seem to be stuck between the existing levers Google Play Store on the one hand, and device embeds on the other. Both of these are running sub-optimally. Sadly, given the very bad history of telcos in curating content ecosystems, one can’t even look towards them.
  • User acquisition through these existing channels is becoming more and more un-viable, when you are competing for visibility with ecommerce players, FMCGs, global gaming giants among others. Acquisition costs through Facebook have grown more than 500% in one year, with game ads on Facebook performing even worse than dating ads!
  • Very low self-belief in creating their own ‘characters’. The gaming industry doesn’t yet believe that they should be creating their own Chhota Bheems and Kid Krrishes. While we keep lamenting the bad monetization scenarios with app stores and ad-networks, investments in building franchise-able characters aren’t happening either, which could pay-off handsomely in the long run.

—-

There is one game I would like to highlight as perhaps the only example of an organically successful game in India. It’s a game that was launched as a mere line item in the events line up for IIM-Indore’s festival in 2006 — a browser game called KlueLess. Initially based on the international puzzle game Notpron, KlueLess is an example of an ‘adapted format’ that became very popular, and has kept on growing every year. From being yet another online event in a college fest — it has become THE event that everyone looks forward to playing. And it will be into it’s 9th season in 2015!

Let me close this post with this quote:

It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.

— Jean-Luc Godard

The origin of Sidhuisms

Media & Entertainment, Sports

In the early years that SONY Entertainment Television (SET) India (now Multi Screen Media) forayed into cricket broadcasting, among the first few series they acquired the rights for was from the Board of Cricket Control in Sri Lanka (now called Sri Lanka Cricket).

When the Indian cricket team toured Sri Lanka in July-August 2001 the matches were broadcast on MAX, the newly launched movies & cricket channel of SET India.

Apart from being a significant ‘first’ for the channel (which later broadcast many of ICC’s flagship tournaments, and the IPL), that Sri Lanka series also heralded another significant ‘first’: The debut of Navjyot Singh Sidhu – as a cricket commentator! A couple of matches into the series, and Sidhu had made his mark with telling effect!

Early Sidhuisms included:

If ifs and buts were pots and pans, there would be no tinkers.

And:

The Sri Lankan score is running like an Indian taxi meter.

A few of us within the channel (most notably my colleague Pavan Chawla) realized there was more we could do and overnight we set up http://www.sidhuisms.com (sadly, no longer in use).

Sidhuisms on setindia.com

Archived screenshot of the original Sidhuisms website on setindia.com

(Archive link to the original Sidhuisms website. More archived links: Herehere, and here)

The realization that Sidhuisms would acquire a life of their own had started dawning on everyone.

Commendation letter from CEO for Sidhuisms

Commendation letter from CEO for Sidhuisms

I even received a commendation letter from the then  CEO Kunal Das Gupta.

 —
While the world at large was reacting with incredulity to Sidhu’s facility with words and his sense of dramatic enunciation, I recalled a hitherto unconnected comment from Ravi Shastri some years ago, where he’d shared that Sherry (the nickname Sidhu was called by) was the most entertaining cricketer in the dressing room.
Small detour here:

Contrary to his current critics’ labeling of him as a cliche-spewing commentator – Shastri during his active cricket days, was considered one of the shrewder tacticians in the game. Exemplified by the fact that in spite of possessing moderate talents with the bat, the ball, and in the field, he went on to become the original ‘Champion of Champions’ in ODI cricket, and for long shared the record for hitting 6 sixes in an over with the great Sir Garfield Sobers.

He had also been slated to become the India captain. However, some run-ins with the cricket authorities put paid to that. For the record, Shastri did captain India in a single Test match. The Chennai Test against the West Indies in 1988, which India won thanks to an explosive debut by Narendra Hirwani who took 8 wickets in each innings with his leg-spin bowling.

So when Ravi Shastri made that revelation about Sidhu being an entertainer — that remained stuck in my mind for a long time. And now it all came back to fall in place in August 2001.

Buoyed by the success of his Sidhuisms, Sidhu went on to making a full-blown career in entertainment and politics. I hear he’s recently also launched his official website http://www.sherryontop.com.

So yeah, we’ll take some credit/blame for having started it all in 2001! :-)

Finally my 10 cents on Om Shanti Om

Media & Entertainment

If this post reeks of staleness, please clench you noses to read on!

I had to spend these 10 cents on Om Shanti Om having already spent 500 bucks on the tickets.

Spare me the faux tributes to the 70s please!
That public memory is short, is an oft repeated cliché. But in India we manifest collective amnesia in epidemic proportions. This is best exemplified in the film promoters’ ‘tribute to 70s’ in pre-release interviews, previews, and post-release reviews. And our gullibility in accepting that at face-value and according it a premium by using the same in our respective private discussions.

What’s my problem with that?

That exactly the same set of descriptors were used for Main Hoon Na by the same set of people — film’s producers, media and us!

Don’t believe me?

Check out these motley excerpts from Main Hoon Na reviews in 2004!

Main Hoon Na is a fun film. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t go by logic. It isn’t realistic. But it’s shamelessly entertaining. So if you are looking for 1970s-style entertainment, Main Hoon Na is what I recommend. Enjoy! [Rediff.com review]

****

Main Hoon Na is by no means a thought provoking film. And the best part is it doesn’t pretend to be either. It is Farah Khan’s tribute to the 70’s style of filmmaking, comprising of a silly but fun comedy track, lost and found siblings, dutiful sons, hammy villains, adult and teenage romances and racy music. [BBC review]

****

Main Hoon Naa is a beautiful homage to Bollywood masala and Manmohan Desai must be smiling from the skies. Farah Khan’s love for the movies is evident in every frame […] Farah Khan has definitely borrowed bits and pieces of a dozen other soucres as inspiration – Panchamda, John Woo, Matrix, Manmohan Desai, Chopras, Johars to name a few. But they have definitely not been imitated or added for “extra effect” and in no way do they reflect a lack of creativity. It is her affection and adoration of these and other facets and genres of cinema as a medium of impacting the human condition that come through in Main Hoon Naa. [User review on IMDB.com]

****

Debutante director Farah Khan has paid a handsome tribute to everyone and everything related to movies like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Nasir Hussain, RD Burman, Yash Chopra, Karan Johar, Sholay, Matrix , and the entire success formula of the 70s and 80s. She also spoofs the ma-ke-haath-ke-aloo parathe bit, dream sequences, Yash Chopra kinda romance (yeah, she pays a tribute to it and yet spoofs it) so on and so forth. Everything that was super successful twenty years ago finds its way in here. The result is full blast entertainment – the kind you expected from Manmohan Desai and Nasir Hussain . [User review on Mouthshut.com]

****

If Main Hoon Na reminds you of the commercial hit cinema of the 70s…well, that’s exactly what Farah Khan set out to achieve. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t go by logic. But it’s an entertainer all the way, much like the Nasir Husain and Manmohan Desai’s masala potboilers of yore. [IndiaToday.com.au review]

Got it folks?

Just replace “Main Hoon Na” in the above snippets with”Om Shanti Om” and you could very well be reading stuff written in 2007!

Also I didn’t know that Punjabis in the 70s spoke with a Gujju accent! Why else would an Om Prakash Makhija insist on saying “Thenks” instead of “Thanks”.

Also, spare me this collective ‘awakening’ to spoofs please!
Messers Farah and Shah Rukh Khan have neither invented nor revived spoofs as an entertainment form. Not in Om Shanti Om at least**!

In Hollywood, spoofs on popular movies and characters is a genre by itself. Movies like Hotshots, Naked Gun, Austin Powers, and Scary Movie were so successful that their producers established a complete franchise with their sequels! Closer home, the late I.S. Johar would spoof popular actors of the times by producing movies with their lookalikes. Then there were B-grade movies like Ramgarh Ke Sholay (not to be confused with Ramgopal Varma’s :-p) Nagesh Kukoonoor’s Bollywood Calling was a more intelligently made spoof on the Bombay film industry.

However, in India the best spoofs on cinema have been made in its sibling medium — television. I have seen some of the craziest and irreverently fantastic spoofs on Fully Faltu on MTV, Ek Do Teen on Doordarshan (directed by Sachin), and The Great Indian Comedy Show on Star One. Look at this example below.

** For me the closest Shah Rukh Khan ever came to spoofing was when he played Devdas :-p

Shah Rukh finally gets an item number right!
After delivering cold turkeys in Kaal (title song) and Shakti (Ishq Kameena), Shah Rukh Khan finally delivers a winner with Dard-e-disco. Every bit the dude superstar. But any guesses why a miner’s helmet? A small step in the AB-been-there-SRK-done-that series — and it’s Kala Paththar this time? :-p

Look at the irony — poet lyricist Javed Akhtar writes ‘Dard-e-disco‘ , while music director Vishal wrote the lyrics for ‘Aankhon mein teri, ajab si adaayen hain‘.

The cutest ghost since Casper!
This is perhaps the toughest part for me. For the last so many years I have carried on a single-minded crusade against plastic-haters — the unthinking, uninformed, uneducated critics of the world’s most beautiful woman. How I have always maintained that Aishwarya Rai is so unbelievably beautiful that she borders on the abnormal! How I have debated that with such perfect looks it is criminal to expect her to act.

But after seeing Deepika in Om Shanti Om, especially the final scene where the ghost Shanti flashes a dimpled smile while a tear drop trickles down her cheek, all I can say is: bye bye Ms. Aishwarya Rai, may you find bliss in matrimony! There’s more to the world than your green eyes!

Anybody tell me which is Deepika Padukone’s next film?

Chakde India: 16 girls, SRK & hockey-shockey

Media & Entertainment

Anything new in Chakde India? Nothing.

Would I still recommend watching it. Yes.

The movie starts with the customary disclaimer that it is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is purely co-incidental.

Now, if you consider the following as facts…

  • People who run sports bodies in India are boring sarkari-types.
  • Zafar Iqbal was the captain of the Indian hockey team that lost 1-7 to Pakistan in the finals of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.
  • Yuvraj Singh was dating Kim Sharma and was the vice-captain of the Indian cricket team.
  • The walls of Mohammed Kaif’s house were blackened with graffiti by vandals after India lost a cricket match.
  • Women married into many middle-class families are expected to be nothing beyond good housewives.
  • Many people from North-East of India do not associate themselves with India.
  • Women from the North-East are subject to lewd remarks in many places in India.
  • Rustic Haryanvi lines in Hindi films (remember the wrestler-goon in Khosla Ka Ghosla) and television (remember Udham Singh on Channel [V] ) are funny.
  • A regular Indian team is composed of players chosen from different states.

… then Shimit Amin (Ab Tak 56) does craft a whole movie out of co-incidences alone!

The fundamental premise here, like in all sports-based films, is that audience sympathy is always with the underdogs and therefore the protagonists have to be the underdogs. Remember Lagaan, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Iqbal and recently, Ta Ra Rum Pum? (I won’t ask you, but if you also remember Awwal Number, All-rounder, Kabhi Ajnabi Thhey, you rock!) And if the underdogs happen to be women with their own respective odds, then you have a completely-on-the-side-of-political-correctness double-whammy lined up! Now top that up with Shah Rukh Khan being their mentor — and you have a triple-treat-sundae ready!

Shah Rukh as a mentor of people is a film-genre in its own right. Whether it was mentoring a gurukul of plastic love-birds in Mohabbatein, or mentoring villagers wanting their own electric turbine in Swades, or as Major Ram studying alongside students who called him uncle in Main Hoon Naa, and of course my favourite SRK-as-mentor scene from DDLJ (which I mentioned here). (Please note: any assumptions about SRK’s acting abilities are your own!)

I deliberately won’t venture into how all and what all does Chakde India not deliver. Because in our land of abundant contradictions I still believe if something can make a small difference, it is a movie dripping with clichés and stereotypes!

If people believe that a Veer Zaara can contribute more to building relations between Indo-Pak aam janta than official actions — then I won’t play party-pooper to the hope that after Chakde India the integrity of the ordinary Indian Muslim won’t be ever questioned again; that people of North-East India would start seeing themselves as citizens of India; that the girl-child in Haryana (which has one of the lowest female:male ratios in India) gets her due; that middle-class families start giving their daughters-in-law some space to fulfill their aspirations; that people from Jharkhand are no longer seen as backward tribals but recognized for what they can contribute to the country; that boy-friends become less patronizing towards their girls; that we rise above our regional-linguistic chauvinism and start thinking of ourselves as Indians first!

Go watch it.

p.s.
On the other hand, the official Yashraj Films.com website (click here at your own peril) is perhaps the epitome of traumatic navigation websites. Every module, every link you click takes 10 times longer to load (with a Flash pre-loader) than the amount of time you finally end up spending on the resultant page! Have you ever been exasperated using phone IVR call-in menus — press 1 for Hindi and press 2 for English. Now press 1 for blah and 2 for blah-blah and 3 for blah-blah-blah. Now press 1 for dang, 2 for dangg, and 3 for danggg? Grrrr. That was child’s play! On this official website I was actually scared of clicking on any link — afraid of the next loading-section countdown screen that would be unleashed on me!