Playing it right: how online gaming is gaining traction among Indian gaming players amid COVID-19

The healthy momentum that online gaming has developed by piggybacking on the behavioural shifts caused by the pandemic has continued as consumers have started to include online gaming in their daily routines – whether as a stress buster or as a socialising agent.
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You can be a parent, a student, or a working professional. A thread that ties us all is the need to entertain ourselves. And in times like COVID (being cautious of the third wave and other viruses that are changing our lifestyles), self-entertainment and virtual socialisation have found an ally in online gaming.

While there is gamer community that breathes games, a majority of Indians are slowly transitioning from board and community games to online games – thereby allowing them to experience the adrenaline rush that these digital experiences offer. One might think the traction in the online gaming sector would be inflated because of the excess time spent when Indians were isolated and home-bound.

However, as India slowly resumes its pre-covid activities (with a host of restrictions), behavioural patterns that were altered due to the pandemic have not gone back to pre-covid levels. Even in our hybrid reality, consumers have started to find sanity in making virtual socialisation a routine, increased reliance on tech-enabled tools to conduct business and to learn, maximise the potential of online entertainment and gaming, and develop heightened health and hygiene standards that is reflected in their “better for you” consumption baskets.

Hence, the healthy momentum that online gaming developed by piggybacking on the behavioural shifts caused by the pandemic has continued as consumers have started to include online gaming in their daily routines – whether as a stress buster or as a socialising agent. Thereby, the rise in the daily user engagement and paid users in this segment (vis-à-vis the pre-COVID-19 lockdown time frame) reflect not only its resistance but also underlines how an online gaming ecosystem is brewing in India.

The network effect of increased adoption of online gaming and its increased active users will benefit advertisers (major revenue source for online gaming players), and will create a demand to promote gaming studios that are Indian in their DNA and will also help in creating jobs for those coders, gamer developers, programmers and designers that are trying to “develop” the gaming ecosystem in India.

Image source: Unsplash

The pattern with which online gaming is growing in India gives it two key characteristics. One is that it democratises socialisation and thus allows what for I call de-balkanisation - allowing people in metros to play with their counterparts in Tier II and Tier III towns (something that would not have been possible had the game been offline – unknowingly making kids socialise within their gated communities).

Second, the technology enabled component of online gaming allows it develop gaming content for Bharat too.

Hence, online gaming has the ability to digitise traditional Indian games that can engage the next 500 million smartphone users with the flexibility to use local languages to capture regional markets.

Together, these two characteristics, I feel, give advertisers and brands (global and regional) a platform to micro-target offerings while giving them a testing ground to experiment with new ad campaigns on a cost-effective basis.

Furthermore, it gives brands a battleground to target Bharat and India with the same sword. Moreover, I’d say this will give brands an opportunity to be as sharp and astute as Shri Ram’s archery skills; how brands capitalise on the democratic advantage of online games is something that only time will tell.

IPG Mediabrands India CEO, Shashi Sinha says,

“Gaming provides a great opportunity to advertisers as not only does it give a platform to interact with consumer cohorts, who are otherwise not easy to reach due to their fickle media consumption habits, but also provide massive engagement which will be the new mantra in an era of low attention spans. Gaming also allows a consumer connect with the brand ethos and values for certain kind of categories. Advertisers must exploit this at the soonest as gaming has already reached critical mass in India.”

Simultaneously, one must not forget the fillip in the surge of online gaming has been largely possible due to availability of growth capital and the ability to leverage technological innovations – that allow virtual gaming players to acquire and retain users, to start the process of consolidation, allow online gaming brands to scale as demand increases, and to have the firepower to fund creativity (thereby develop the ability to continuously evolve their moat) to ensure customer stickiness in a highly competitive market.

Nazara Technologies’ Founder & Joint Managing Director Nitish Mittersain feels, “More culturally relevant content to the Indian audience designed at global standards of quality will help further increase the engagement with Indian gamers. As long as developers can achieve higher retention rates through better design and well balanced game economies, I believe monetization will scale over the next few years as the casual Indian gamers continue to rapidly evolve in their playing habits.”

However, despite being home to ~42 crore gamers (second largest in the world), the monetisation of this segment is among the lowest, globally. Hence, there is an active need to improve average revenue per user (ARPU) and promote Indian gaming studios in order to build sustainable cash-flows (while reducing reliance on Ad-based revenues).

As we juxtapose these concerns on a few metrices of mobile gaming in India, we observe that India is sitting on the cusp of a multi-billion dollar opportunity.

From FY20 - FY23 the CAGR of mobile gaming market in India is expected to be ~39.6 percent (as compared to global growth rate of ~13.3 percent); the rise in women gamers in India (the pandemic drove 49 percent Indian women to play mobile games to spend on an average ~53 minutes a day) will act as tailwinds for this sector; and, the trust of venture capital in the gaming segment has been solidifying and the same is reflected in their investments (VC funding in this segment between 2014-2020 stood at ~$350 million Vs investments from August 20 to January 21 in this segment in India, alone, are estimated to be ~$ 544 million).

Padmaja Ruparel, Co-founder of Indian Angel Network and Founding Partner, IAN Fund, believes: “The global gaming industry is growing exponentially! And the pandemic has only increased both the market and the talent for this industry. A few years ago the gaming industry was focussed on some countries like South Korea, Canada, etc., but other countries have caught up. India, which has been emerging as the global hub of innovation, has also seen gaming startups like India Games, Dream 11. The sports industry is reaping the online gaming model to reach to wider audiences: much beyond the stadia. Many sports, like cricket, football, etc., are leveraging online audiences to both engage and create value.”

“Interestingly, gaming itself has widened its ambit beyond games to gamification. As the world goes digital, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure users are actively engaged on the screen and keep them excited. And this is where the intuitiveness required for gaming plays an important role.”

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)