How focusing on Bharat helped gaming startup WinZO notch up 20M users in 1 year

Delhi-based vernacular gaming platform WinZO offers 70+ games, including the extremely popular PUBG, and clocks over 200 million micro transactions per month. It is working with game developers to engage gamers across Bharat.

India's large young population and increasing internet penetration have made it the top gaming market among emerging economies. But online gaming, often thought to be a big city phenomenon, is now being driven by users from Tier II, III, and IV towns.  

Reason enough for Paavan Nanda and Saumya Singh Rathore to focus on this market.

The duo, in 2018, launched vernacular gaming platform WinZO Games with one aim: to tap into the Tier II to V audience looking for online entertainment

Saumya Singh Rathore, Co-founder of WinZO Games.

Many studies show that as many as 80 percent of active gamers in India reside in non-metro locations. As much as 40 to 60 percent of India’s overall gamer population belongs to Tier II towns and beyond.  

“Most gaming studios are just developing games for the west. We wanted to solve for Bharat’s problem, focusing on quality content for our audience and proper monetisation of our assets,” says Co-founder Saumya Singh Rathore. 

WinZO, available in 10 languages, offers 70+ games, including PUBG, carrom, cricket, bubble shooter, fruit samurai, knife up, memory mania, fantasy league, and trivia-based questions. These games are acquired from developers and studios across the world.

The founding team

Paavan is an engineer from NSIT, who later went to IIM-Calcutta. He worked with Bain & Company, Abbott Labs, and Merrill Lynch.  

Saumya, who has a master’s in psychology, has worked at KPMG and the Times Group. Paavan and Saumya also worked together at ZO Rooms and Zostel, a Tiger Global-backed hospitality Venture. Paavan was a Co-founder of Zostel and ZO Rooms. 

Since gaming was an under-penetrated opportunity in India, the duo  decided to team to tap the large captive audience of 300 million mobile-first users keen to spend 40-45 minutes playing games. 

The market and strategy

Statista says the gaming business is worth Rs 6,200 crore currently and will grow to Rs 25,000 crore soon.

But most gaming companies, including global giants, have felt a vacuum in India due to inefficient and unsustainable monetisation models. 

“Gaming studios and game developers in India have been unable to make sustainable revenue out of their games. In-app purchase is lesser than 1 percent in India, and ad revenue generated from this audience is also very low," Saumya says.

This is because India is an atypical market. There is huge depth and massive engagement - 300 million smartphone users on an average spend 40-45 minutes playing games; 20 billion game downloads were recorded from India alone in 2018

But gaming companies could not translate this into revenue because people have lower disposable income, limited awareness, and don’t trust online transactions

“In-app purchases of games falls under the non-essential category for audiences in India. Hence, revenues from in-app purchases are way below the global average, even though India has one of the largest captive audiences. Ad revenues for mobile-first audience are incredibly less, making it a non-viable business model,” Saumya says. 

“Gaming studios in India are merely back offices for international studios.”

WinZO identified this vacuum in 2019 and came up with a micro-transaction-led social gaming platform. The gaming startup is introducing the rural audience to a digital grid, and possibly helping them make their first digital payments

What started as a trivia app is now a full-blown social gaming platform, offering games such as PUBG MOBILE, FreeFire, Archery, Metro Surfer to name a few. it is the first to offer PUBG MOBILE in 10+ regional languages. 

The startup’s registered user base in 12 months stands at 20 million, from five million earlier. It has clocked over 200 million micro-transactions per month and continues to grow. 

Working with game developers

The team also identified the difficulties game developers face

“Game development has never been a big industry in India. That is why we consciously took a decision to not develop games in-house, but to partner with developers - individual, small studios, and multinational studios - to feed this growing demand. We partner with studios, integrate their games on WinZO, and revenue generation starts almost immediately,” Saumya says.

The founding team claims their partner game developers are earning 100x what they are elsewhere. 

To make outreach easier, they have launched WinZO Developer Console ( where any developer can sign up and submit content for integration on the app. The console has garnered massive traction, with over 1,000 games have been from across the globe. 

The gaming startup has also earmarked $1.5 million to a developer’s fund to support content and production in games. This will encourage developers to create world-class games with assured capital and revenue stream. 

“As these developers aren’t aware of the intricacies of this complex market, we help them access our premium paying user base, resulting in great revenues from day one,” Saumya says. 

At the same time, the startup continues to function as a gateway for large international studios to enter Indian markets

The initial success led Kalaari to bet on WinZO by leading a $5 Million Series A round.

A game-changer for Bharat

Building credibility and trust in the target audience in Bharat was a challenge. 

“Nothing specific was so far built for this segment, especially when it came to gaming. We had to solve for this at the lowest possible cost. Today, we observe about 40 percent users coming on our platform organically month on month. We have closely worked with users and influencers to build this community," Saumya says. 

At present, the gaming platform claims 20 million users and 200 million micro-transactions per month, with more than 1.5 million bank accounts linked to the developer platform. Twenty percent of these users are making their first media and entertainment payment online

Users can now participate in any of the 70-plus skill-based games across four different formats by paying a small ticket price, between Rs 2 and Rs 25. 

Players are paired with other participants, based on individual skill levels (skill-based matchmaking), to compete for the prize pool. They compete in real time to submit their highest score and win. WinZO takes a platform service commission from each game play. 

To support its app in Indian languages, WinZO has partnered with over 600-plus housewives for translating trivia and app assets on the platform into different languages through its in-house Language Management system.

The WinZO Superstar programme makes local key opinion leaders a part of the startup’s branding strategy. It empowers micro influencers on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram to earn up to Rs 50,000 daily.

Into the future

The online gaming segment is estimated to be a $1.1 billion opportunity by 2021, according to Google-KPMG. By then, India is expected to have more than 628 million gamers. A KPMG report indicates that India is already the largest emerging market when it comes to gaming app downloads (nearly three billion annually).

Industries may be struggling due to the pandemic-fuelled lockdown, but India’s digital gaming industry is currently booming as the appetite for online games grows.

Gaming startups such as Rein Games, Adda52Rummy, and Poker Dangal are seeing increased traction as Indians opt for social distancing.

WinZO, which competes directly with Gamezop and Gamerji, is also riding the boom. Unwilling to disclose revenues, the founders claim they have a “unit economics positive business”. 

In the future, it is “not only looking to penetrate deeper into India, but also go international and scale the product in Southeast Asia by the end of 2020”. 

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


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