Gaming is emerging as a prime focus area for the mobile industry in India. The increasing proliferation of low-cost smartphones, coupled with the growing uptake of affordable high speed internet services, bodes well for the mobile gaming market. According to Flurry Analytics, India accounted for 13 per cent of all game sessions globally in the first quarter of 2017, a close second to the US market, which accounted for 20 per cent of the global game sessions. At 15 per cent, India also stood second in the percentage of application sessions spent on games. Brazil stood first with 18 per cent.
Further, a joint research conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and TechSci Research estimated revenues from the mobile-based gaming market in India at $265.8 million in 2016, and forecast revenues to touch $286.2 million in 2017. Looking ahead, the country’s mobile gaming market is expected to cross $400 million by 2022. In addition, the report estimated the number of mobile gamers in the country to grow from 198 million in 2015 to 628 million by 2020 and further to 1.16 billion by 2030.
A look at some of the emerging trends, growth drivers, challenges and opportunities for this market…
Growing acceptance of in-app purchases/ paid games: The Indian gaming industry has largely been driven by the “freemium” model wherein the basic/preliminary content within an app can be accessed free of charge but the user has to pay for using more advanced features. In the gaming context, many games offer trial versions or initial levels for free as a preview, but charge players if they want to play further. Many games allow customers to pay and upgrade to an advertisement-free experience.
As per various industry reports, there has been a growing consumer willingness to pay for games and content. Further, the mobile gaming market is benefiting significantly from the evolving digital payments landscape. The availability of easy modes of payment such as mobile wallets and direct carrier billing, in which the payment is deducted from the customer’s mobile balance, is expected to significantly drive uptake. The popularity and ease of such modes of payments allow quick facilitation of payments without disrupting the user’s concentration from the game.
- Emergence of new gaming avenues: There has been a revolution in the way people interact with media with the advent of new devices and technologies such as phablets, tablets, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). This has opened up new avenues for developers to create and deliver innovative content. Although some of these platforms are currently at a nascent stage, they are expected to gain traction in the near future as more immersive gaming experiences are sought along with portability.
- Choice of games: While the emerging gaming base in India is experimenting with games of all genres, resulting in an increase in downloads, monetisation remains a problem. Two categories that stand out in terms of monetisation are games based on strategy and social card games. While most of these have been developed by foreign companies, games such as Teen Patti, Ultimate Teen Patti and Teen Patti Gold have been created by local developers and have seen growing uptake. In terms of downloads, racing, action and casual games are the top performers, in that order. Endless runner games such as Subway Surfers and Temple Run 2 have also found many takers.
- Developers capitalising on the popularity of sports in the country: Cricket games have witnessed major popularity and remain one of the favourites of the Indian masses. Other popular sports such as football are also gaining traction. However, demand for sports games is often seasonal. Developers are also witnessing a surge in the number of role-playing games based on Bollywood movie characters.
- Trends in device usage for accessing games: The Indian gaming market is dominated by low-range or entry-level smartphone users. The majority of these devices have close to 8 GB of inbuilt storage and 1 GB RAM. Such hardware restrictions compel developers to create games that are lightweight and suited for all kinds of devices.
- Investor reluctance: Approximately 50 per cent of Indian gamers have a monthly budget of Rs 200 or less for mobile games. A meagre 9 per cent of gamers spend more than Rs 1,000 per month on mobile games. These modest figures make investors reluctant to invest in games for the domestic market. Further, when confronted with the decision to invest in domestic or in Western markets, investors tend to favour Western markets, which have proven to give better returns.
- Lack of local language content: World over, users prefer to receive content in the local language. Unlike India, providing content in the local language elsewhere is not as complicated and fraught with complexities. In India, owing to the cultural and lingual diversity (the country has 22 official languages and 122 major languages), providing content in local languages is inherently difficult.
- Bandwidth- and network-related issues: The Indian masses are still reluctant to play online games, which require a steady data connection. Sporadic data transfer speeds can interrupt and void downloads, which is particularly challenging for large games. It has been observed that once a game download is interrupted, the user is highly unlikely to download it again. In addition, bandwidth problems at times make in-application purchases a problem, ruining the user experience. Ideally, a game should be in the 20 MB to 30 MB range, which allows users to download it even in areas with spotty connections and should be playable entirely offline, avoiding the need for further data connectivity.
- Identifying target audiences and game genres: Another major challenge for developers is identifying the audiences their game intends to target. Given the cultural diversity in India, identifying the target audience is perhaps the most difficult and crucial task. The gaming market is very volatile and figures indicate that a retention rate of less than 20 per cent on the first day almost assuredly leads to failure of the game. Therefore, intensive market analysis and forethought have to be conducted by developers to identify their target audiences and game genres before undertaking a project.
The way forward
Although the number of gaming sessions in India is increasing, Indian gamers continue to be averse to spending money on playing games. Effecting a change in their spending habits is, therefore, a tall tower to climb. That said, the future of mobile gaming looks promising given the digital revolution currently under way. Moreover, the sheer size of the Indian market and growing consumer interest are expected to make investors less reluctant to invest in this space.
Going forward, new technologies such as VR and AR, which have recently entered the mobile gaming realm, are expected to gain traction, possibly leading to mainstream adoption. Astute marketing and compelling content will be key to sustain the buoyancy in the Indian gaming market.