This is a story about passion, a story about following your heart. Rohit Gupta, achieved what many Indians aspire of, an admit to an Ivy league college, studying abroad and landing up in a dream job at EA Sports. He gave it all up to come back to India and startup with a Rs 1 lakh fund from his father to validate his idea and prove a point. And how he did! Rolocule, now is one of the best gaming companies from India and the winner of many prestigious awards including the People’s Choice Award at the recently concluded 8th International Mobile Gaming Awards in Barcelona.
Bragging Rights: 3 monumental games, ‘Touch Squash’, ‘Super Badminton’ and ‘Flick Tennis’ with ‘Flick Tennis’ touted as the best tennis game presently, 1.5 million downloads in over 100 countries, Winners of the prestigious International Mobile Gaming Award beating much bigger players.
In conversation with founder, Rohit Gupta.
What got you into gaming?
In 2001, I got into engineering at Pune Institute of Computer Technology (PICT) in Pune. Anuj, a very good friend and co-founder went to the same college. At the end of the undergraduate studies, both of us got placed in Infosys in 2005 which we thought was the perfect job.
After working at Infosys for 6 months, a feeling of dissatisfaction started sinking in as I didn’t like the work I was doing at Infosys. Around that time, Anuj and I were flatmates in Pune and we had got ourselves a PlayStation 2. Every night, we use to play games like crazy and discuss how awesome EA is. Thai is how we truly became at one with gaming.
How did USA and EA Sports come along? Why didn’t you startup straight away?
I wanted to do something magical technology and art. During my computer engineering days also, computer graphics as a subject always use to fascinate me. Unfortunately, the graphics course taught to us in college was very outdated and wasn’t enough to be able to guide me to make video games. I wanted to make games but I didn’t have the competency to start out straightaway. I got myself a few books and slogged it out after office hours. It was fun but wasn’t working out. I needed a focused approach. Fortunately, I got an ‘admit’ from Columbia University in New York which has the one of the strongest computer graphics program in the whole world. I then quit Infosys, took a huge education loan, went to New York and started my MS in Computer Science at Columbia University in 2007.
During the summer of 2008, I got a dream job at Electronic Arts (EA) in Redwood City, California. After joining EA and working there for 3 months, something bad happened. I was still not satisfied with the work that I was doing and that’s when I started thinking of opening a company.
It must have been a huge step coming back to India. How did it all pan out?
Absolutely! I thought there is something seriously wrong with me. If I had to change something at that time, I had to do it myself. The thought of starting up was scary yet exciting at the same time. I had to take a leap of faith and believe that I can do it. While I was away studying, Anuj stayed at Infosys, got promoted and went to UK on a business development role. Work was fun, but there was stagnation in his personal growth and the obvious question that kept popping in his head was what next? MBA looked the obvious choice. Instead when I came back to India and presented Rolocule, Anuj decided to pursue real-life MBA, which no B-school in the whole world can offer.
After returning to India, all I got was Rs 1 lakh from my father to validate my big step of coming back to India leaving everything behind in US to start my own venture and doing something serious with my passion in gaming.
Quitting working for EA Sports and that too when working on one of the most popular games- THE SIMS 3; you gave it all up to startup with Rs 1 lakh. How did you manage?
Starting a gaming company with Rs. 1 lac was a huge challenge. It didn’t worry us much because we strongly believed that the lesser resources we have, more creative we will be. Apparently, this also helped us set the DNA of Rolocule, which went on creating some of the most innovative games in less than 3 years. I spent the money on buying one Mac Desktop for INR 70,000 and one iPhone for INR 30,000 and we then started the company in an apartment in Pune.
Rolocule, what is the story behind the name?
Every pixel that you see on your computer monitor has a different color. Colors form the backbone of computer graphics which in turn play a pivotal role in making computer games.
Colors that we see around us are because of the presence of color molecules. Chlorophyll is a color molecule for the green in leaves and color molecules are present all around us. Rolocule is derived from “Color Molecule” – If you reverse “COLOR”, you get “ROLOC” and adding “CULE” makes “ROLOCULE”; hence the name.
You took a loan from your parents. Anuj was married and had left his job and you had a team to support. Where did the money come in from?
It was difficult to start out with but we managed. The first game I made was ‘Touch Squash’. It was the world’s first squash video game and it got coverage in the immensely popular ‘Vanity Fair’. The money trickled in and it was enough to support a small team. After ‘Touch Squash’, I wanted ‘Super Badminton 2010’ to be a much more advanced and graphically intensive game. I knew it will be very difficult for me to do it alone. Anuj came on board fulltime and he is a very important asset for the company, both on the development and the marketing side.
‘Super Badminton’ required a better infrastructure for which I approached many colleges with a proposition to give students a chance to work on a real industry project but this declined on numerous occasions. I finally took on a role of teaching a course, ‘game design’ as well and we started work on the game with the help of the infrastructure and a few interns (who are now an integral part of the team).
In October 2010, we won “Power of Ideas” organized by The Economic Times and IIM Ahmedabad. As winners, we received seed fund and incubation from CIIE, IIM Ahmedabad. We then finally moved from our apartment into a new office and released our third game – Flick Tennis: College Wars – in August 2011 which is doing extremely well.
What is your revenue model?
For our current 3 games, we charge consumers a one-time download cost which varies from $1.99 to $4.99. Going forward, we will be moving more towards “Free to Play” model, also known as F2P. In F2P, we will be giving our game free of cost to the consumers and let them decide the cost of the game. For example, we will be focusing on monetizing through virtual goods, consumable items etc.
Squash, Badminton and then Tennis- all racket games, was it because of a love for these games or more of a strategy?
A bit of both actually. When we were starting up, we had a choice – Create a tennis game right away and go head-on with big tennis games like “Real Tennis” by Gameloft or do something different on a smaller scale, make some name and identity for ourselves, make some mistakes, learn and then go head-on with big companies. We knew we didn’t know everything about gaming and it’s ok even if we make some mistakes in the beginning. But when we enter into a bigger battle arena, we should be full prepared to knock out the opponent, no matter how big he is.
Your games are only available on iOS. Any plans to launch on other platforms? What are your views on the gaming sector?
We are hardcore gamers ourselves and we love breathtaking graphics found in most of the games on Xbox 360, PS3 etc. Talking about mobile today, iPad 2 has comparable processing power as that of PS2. The idea behind starting Rolocule was to be able to create such amazing graphics on tablets and smartphones and yet entertain everyone. We strongly believe that tablets and smartphone games would dominate the gaming space in the future.
We also understand that people who play games on mobiles (Casual Gamers) are different as compared to those who play games on consoles like Xbox 360, PS3 etc (Hardcore gamers). One common thing among both the category of gamers is that they all love playing games. Casual gamers like simple to play games and hardcore gamers love challenge and breathtaking graphics. We, thus, created easy to play, tough to master 3D games that are graphically brilliant.
Though our games are only on iOS at the moment, we plan to move to Android soon.
What can we expect from Rolocule in the future?
Going forward, we will be focusing a lot on “Free to Play” business model. Secondly, we are working very hard on how to make video games “purely social”. We have already developed something groundbreaking related to that which would be announced soon. We also plan to diversify into other platform like Android and make games in other genres like action/adventure.
Hope you had as much fun reading about this amazing story as much I had writing about it. More about them at the website and hang on to Yourstory for news from Rolocule in the future.
– Jubin Mehta