By Nikhil Pahwa
Indian Mobile gaming company Indiagames, a subsidiary of BSE listed UTV Software, reported a turnover of Rs. 46.4 crores and a profit-after-tax of Rs. 22.4 lakhs for the year ending 31st March 2009. MediaNama spoke to Samir Bangara, COO, Indiagames on a number of issues: on whether the company is primarily an IP Creation business, or a syndication business, drivers of the growth in the mobile gaming business in India, billing (and margins) for games on-deck and off-deck, and on games for the low-ARPU market:
How was the last year for Indiagames?
We experienced good growth, mainly in the Indian market. It has become a bigger and bigger chunk of what we do. The International business, lately, has been about the iPhone and also expanding our market. We had few launches last year, so International wasn’t as strong as it has been in the past, but our biggest title Bioshock is going live in the US market over the next month or so.
Is a majority of your revenue coming in from Syndication business?
A big chunk of it does come from the aggregation business. The international business is an IP driven business – comprising of our own games and branded games. In case of the domestic business, we are working with everybody except Gameloft. The new additions (for syndication) are Disney, which is a 30-33 percent grandparent of Indiagames through UTV. We will work increasingly with Disney in the US and European market. For example, they will publish Bioshock for us in the US market.
Bioshock was the game of the year on the XBox in 2007, it’s a big IP. We’ve licensed it for the mobile. We’re doing development in 2D, 3D, Java, Brew…the works. It’s been one of our longest development cycles, and one of the most expensive products. The game development would have taken over 10-11 months, then with fine-tuning, and receiving approvals, it took around 14-15 months.
Do you see yourself more as an IP creation company, or a syndication company?
Different geographies have different objectives. We have a blend of the games on demand business also coming into play in India. So, in the Indian market, it is a syndication driven business, and in months when we have massive big hits of our own…for example, 20:20 Cricket was a massive hit, embedded on a few million Nokia devices. If you include revenues from those items also, syndication will look slightly smaller in percentage.
Cricket is a big genre and we are doing multiple products. Our Cricket game for England vs Australia which was featured on the UK App store as a new and upcoming featured app. Last year, in December, our T20 Cricket Championship was the number one game on the Telstra deck in Australia. And then we do games like Ghajini which reduce our Syndication percentage. We don’t start the year saying Syndication should be X percentage. It could be as little as 45-50% and as high as 75-80%, depending on the original IP we’re launching and its success. For the last year, the Indian revenues contributed significantly.
The business leaders for development and syndication internally are different. We have a studio that is International focused and a studio that is Indian focused. The studios create a product, delivers it to the India publishing team for distribution in India and IG Fun for international publishing.
Which games are you releasing?
On the International side, the upcoming releases are Bioshock, Pentago, Mercury Meltdown (from sister company Ignition). We’re also doing an interesting version of our old faithful Bruce Lee in Q1 next year. This is around four generations ahead of what we’ve had so far. On the Indian side, we have the entire UTV portfolio, like Aage Se Right, What’s Your Raashi. We’ve launched Kaminey, which doing quite well, and will be doing Wake Up Sid, basically the entire portfolio from UTV.
How do you book revenues from your IP?
We book them as and when we get the information on downloads. The Indian market has become better in terms of data sharing and download reports – it is still not optimum, but significantly better than the past. We have live data for our off-deck business.
How do you explain Rs. 46 crores in revenues and a PAT of just Rs. 22 lakhs?
There are business that are in triple digit crores and not profitable. Mobile makes money, but the Games on Demand business is clearly in investment mode, it is loss making. We were running a 250-300 man call center at peak last year. We’ve been working at pretty fragmented levels with large operators like BSNL. The model that Hungama has launched is a nice compliment to us. Some big things have happened with GoD: Airtel is now bundling the GoD offering with their other services. Those kinds of things obviously give a boost to GoD, but they also come with certain costs.
You’re probably distributing the largest number of games in India, and we’ve heard the mobile games business in India has grown in the last year. What changed?
A big thrust has been the fact that the nuts and bolts are different. There are cheaper and more GPRS handsets, and no GPRS subscription charges with a pay as you go data download model. Operators make as much money through data traffic as they do through downloads – at least the top operators. They’ve opened up the walled garden, and mobile Internet is really taking off. The leading operators have 30-33 percent data capable handset penetration; of those, 25 percent go to the operator decks. Of that a fairly healthy number have played a game – sometimes 12-15 percent, or in some cases 25 percent.
Of the capable and live, we have a high gamer penetration number, but of the total instance, that is below 1-1.5 percent. What we see going forward is that the data capable handsets will increase. Also with operator decks opening up and we’re not only dependent on on-deck business.
But the billing is still through the operator even in case of off-deck?
You can use other options, but there’s nothing else of scale as of today.
Do you have better margins off-deck than on-deck, since you’re only using telecom operator billing, and not marketing?
Some operators do offer deltas for off deck, but not all. It varies from operator to operator. Logically speaking, you should have better margins, because that’s traffic you’re originating. Some of the operators have been more reasonable about it, and shared a slightly higher margin. It’s still not in the range that allows people to make that business blossom. In other cases, we’ll just take what we can. We have a fair amount of organic traffic on mobile, and remember that not everything that Indiagames does is not around gaming. A significant chuck of our business – around 30 percent odd – has nothing to do with gaming. We do wallpapers, tones, music, RBT. Effectively as a company, we have people in charge of different product lines. When we do movies, we do game rights and imagery rights.
In case of Ghajini, Imagery rights were a big contributor to our revenues. There’s a lot of music, as well as rights across all platforms.
Are Minimum Guarantee businesses viable?
We don’t have the money to throw around in senseless deals: when the MG is ridiculous, In the game business, we’re a lot more risk savvy, and we know how we can leverage that. The ARPUs are better, and we can use marketing to sell a game. Ghajini was an excellent deal for us, and we’ve since done deals at a rational MGs, and turned down those that weren’t rational. In Ghajini, we made around 3 times the MG in recoupment. If we’d done a traditional deal, paying them a packaged MG and then scrounging for recovering our money, we walk away feeling screwed, no one wins because the producers dont get the visibility. In our syndication deals the money that the partners are making is on the top-ups, not on the MG.
What’s the outlook for this year with operator ARPUs declining and new users having lower balance on pre-paid?
This year we see ARPUs being a bit challenged because because the bulk of the subscriber growth is really coming from the lower end segments. We’re finding a challenge to find people with even Rs. 10 balance in their handsets. In FY10, we’ll see that that challenge is far more serious.
What about subscription based models like Airtel’s GamesClub and Reliance’s pay-per-play model?
There will have to be other such offerings with different tactics to be able to mine this segment of the user game. We’ve to figure out a way that they can afford the game. Subscription is the obvious one. As far as language barriers are concerned, games are close to being language agnostic.What we create in India, we can make multilingual.