Who would have thought a person pursuing a post-graduation in Organic Chemistry would end up working and doing amazing things in the gaming industry? Ninad Chhaya, always passionate about games, followed Mark Twain’s words and never let his schooling interfere with his education. He started his entrepreneurial journey while still in college and then went on to co-find Indiagames along with Vishal Gondal. Now COO at Playcaso, a startup in the casual social gaming industry, I caught up with him to learn more about his story, Playcaso and the Indian gaming industry.To start out with, tell me about this twisting entrepreneurial journey you’ve had.
An entrepreneur’s journey starts much before his first venture; it’s this burning desire to do something that constantly stirs you. My first entrepreneurial venture was launched while I was in college pursuing my post-graduation in Organic Chemistry in the mid-90s. It was called W.I.T.S, an interactive digital design company. But Gaming was always a passion and it becoming a profession was a natural progression which happened in a very interesting way.
Vishal (with him I co-founded Indiagames) and I happened to meet electronically in the late 90s by chance. As one of the projects at W.I.T.S., I used to run a community portal called mumbai-central.com for Mumbaikars across the world and was hosting a mailing list / bulletin board service on the same. Someone had posted a technical query on one of the mailing lists and both Vishal and I happened to respond with a similar solution to that.
We stayed in touch through email and ICQ post that, and found out that both of us were running similar businesses and were also passionate about gaming. We worked on a few corporate projects together but the idea of jumping full-fledged into developing video games came when a couple of online games we launched around the Kargil War (“I Love India” and “Operation Vijay”) became an overnight rage. Till then, games were more of an interactive value addition that we incorporated in all the corporate projects we executed but the success of 2 games changed all that and on 1st September 1999, we launched indiagames.com, a gaming portal focused on games based on Indianized themes. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
One has to move on. I like new challenges and having been with Indiagames for about 4 years, I moved to Reliance BIG Entertainment and now Playcaso. It’s been more than a year with Playcaso and we have big things in mind with it.
Playcaso is a multi-platform casual, social gaming company focused on publishing games across smartphones, tablets and other connected devices. We believe that games should be fun, free (well, almost!) and to be played/shared with friends.
Driven by this philosophy, Playcaso works on creating original IP, focusing on maintaining the fun and replay factor of the game. In short, we are a platform agnostic company and technology is just a medium of delivery; for us, the game comes first!
As a publisher, Playcaso also works with developers across the globe to publish fun and innovative games under the Playcaso brand.
So, how does the team look like at Playcaso?
We have got a fantastic team at Playcaso with a good mix of gaming professionals with years of experience in the gaming industry and young talent with interesting ideas.
We have an eclectic bunch of guys at Playcaso right from our VP – Products, Chirag Desai who used to be a stock broker before he found his true calling in gaming almost a decade ago to the latest addition in our design team, who was an assistant producer in a production house which made corporate films. The one thing which binds the entire team is their passion for gaming and the drive to create something fun and creative.
Great! Moving on to the sector, how do you think the gaming sector is currently poised in India?
I think India is at the inflection point with the gaming industry about to take off in a big way over the next couple of years. From what started as a handful of gaming companies in the late 90s-early 2000s, we are today around 120 odd gaming companies in India according to a recent study by the NASSCOM Gaming Forum.
The explosive growth of smartphones, app stores and social media networks have also helped in fuelling the gaming industry in India (and worldwide) with a lot of companies focusing on building games for these channels either from a services perspective or creating their own IP.
Talking about IP, do you think the revolution is truly here?
Over the years, India has been perceived to be a “work-for-hire” destination, be it for traditional software development or for game development. While there is nothing wrong in being known as a “preferred destination for cost-effective outsourcing services”, very often, companies with potential to create good products lose focus in trying to balance between developing original IP and work-for-hire projects. In addition to that, while there are a few gaming companies in India working towards creating original IP which can match upto international standards, not many have been able to market them effectively.
Playcaso was setup as a publisher of casual, social games with the objective of helping Indian developers globally leverage their strengths in creating original IP and work closely with them as their publishing partner to help them market and monetize their games effectively.
I also hear about the Playcaso Publishing Program, how is that going to take shape?
We are soon formally announcing the Playcaso Publishing Program. The publishing program is an attempt from our end to assist Indie developers across the world to build and promote their games effectively. There are a lot of developers out there who have the talent and the potential to build fantastic games but fall short somewhere due to lack of resources, funds or publishing experience. We work on different models through this program which aims at addressing these missing gaps in the ecosystem so that developers can focus on what they do best- build games which are fun and engaging. We already have 5-6 games lined up for release in the months to come through this program.
How have you been going about marketing Playcaso?
We have been in stealth mode for the past few months since we were working on a few projects and so have done limited PR and marketing which has been more through inbound interest and enquiries rather than active, outbound PR and marketing.
However, going forward, we intend to promote brand Playcaso aggressively through various channels including PR on trade related B2C and B2B sites, social media, attending / speaking / sponsoring at trade shows and conferences etc
Playcaso works on a freemium model. How is it beneficial?
The freemium model not only helps in increasing user engagement but also incentivizes and motivates the game developer to create a game using design and mechanics which help in extending the life cycle of the game.
What are the challenges that Playcaso faces as of now?
One of the biggest challenges which is also a challenge across the gaming industry in India, is finding the right talent who share the same passion and vision as you to be a part of your team. Having the right team is extremely critical for any organization to scale fast and scale smart from a business perspective.
We believe that an idea is as good as the speed and quality of its execution and so have been extremely selective in the people we have hired at Playcaso and one of the reasons why we are a lean team and haven’t gone on a hiring spree.