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Games People Play

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If the barbs, wisecracks, jabs and wordplay by politicians in the electoral fray have not particularly tickled your funny bone, here’s something that certainly will: Portly politicians taking each other on in a game of cricket.

Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, decked up in a maroon kurta and a saffron scarf walks to the crease to face the bowler — none other than Rahul Gandhi, the Congress’s de facto PM candidate. Rahul begins his run-up — rather long for a 43-year-old — and delivers a fast ball. Modi is clean bowled! This in no way implies what is in store on the D-Day, 16 May. The setting is just part of a gaming app — Kursi Cricket — available on Android and iOS platforms, where Modi, Rahul and Arvind Kejriwal fight it out on the cricket pitch. The three of them battle it out to defend their wickets, well, kursis, if you get the drift.

Kursi Cricket has been developed by a Mumbai-based gaming firm Games2Win. The game has seen close to half a million downloads since its launch in February this year. While India is witnessing one of the most debated, fractious and exciting elections ever, app developers are doing their best to cash in on the poll sentiment. Developers, from India and abroad, have introduced several election-themed gaming apps which have attracted considerable traction.

In the past three to four months, such games have seen between 10 and 15 million downloads on iOS and Android platforms. Some developers say they have also managed to make money out of this euphoria and will be launching upgrades till the election fever lasts — that is, till the results are declared.

Election-themed apps are not limited to games alone (though gaming apps constitute a majority). Some of them have utility value as well. For instance, there is an app — India Politics by XAPPSO — that provides background information such as educational qualifications, past experience, etc., on those contesting the elections.

Then, there are apps poking fun at politicians. Yo Yo Kejru Singh! by IOTASOL is an app which parodies rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh’s ‘Lungi Dance’ number on your cellphone. You can also watch Kejriwal dancing to ‘Lungi Dance’ with yesteryear character actor     .
A Modi Wave?
Even as political pundits continue to argue about whether or not there is a ‘Modi wave’, when it comes to the gaming industry, there is no denying the phenomenon. Of the 500-odd games launched on the two major platforms, around 70-75 per cent have Modi as a central character. In the remaining 25-30 per cent, characters based on Kejriwal and Rahul are in the lead; Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has around 10 apps with her in the lead.
A Knockoout: Games modelled around BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi have dominated the election gaming apps market
“I am a big fan of Modi and that was the main reason I decided to come up with an application based on him,” says Lakshmikant Reddy, founder and CEO of Outset Apps Technologies, a Hyderabad- based firm. The firm’s app named Narendra Modi gives you information — news, views, his social media status updates and tweets — on the Gujarat chief minister. It has been downloaded around 5,000 times.

The most popular of the gaming apps — Modi Run — has seen 8.68 lakh downloads. It attracts 4,000 new users every day. “Modi Run was our first India-specific game. Due to the popularity of Modi in the 18-30 age group, which forms the majority of our target audience, we launched Modi Run in India,” says Kumar Mettu, founder, Dexati, a California-based gaming firm. In the game, Modi runs through different states with varying difficulty levels. Gujarat, not surprisingly, is the first and easiest level. As you progress, levels get tougher — Maharashtra, then UP, and so on. The toughest levels are Jammu & Kashmir and Sikkim.

All these games have popped up in the past three months and most will find it difficult to survive once the election euphoria fizzles out.

“We are aware that after the elections, the interest of most users in election-centric games will dry up. So, we are coming up with an update that will not only give a new look to the game but will make it even more interesting and relevant once the election results are out,” says Mahip Vyas, head, Alliances and Distribution, Games2Win.

While most games and apps are not offensive, some tread the thin line between freedom of expression and its abuse. So, there are games like Pappu Versus Modi, Feku Versus Pappu and Pappu Prime Minister.

In Feku Versus Pappu, you can “choose your favourite party leader and vote for him. You can punch and slap the opposition”. So, this game can serve as a virtual punching bag and help you get rid of your anger at politicians’ hollow promises. Sadly, the Samajwadi Party leadership has not found favour with app developers.

Politics & Profits

Want to rile a game developer? Ask him whether India will ever see a game as big and as successful as an Angry Birds or a Temple Run.

“It is like asking whether India will ever see a Microsoft. It depends on several factors. India is a different country and our games are different, but we are doing everything in the book and even outside it and we are seeing results,” says an agitated Alok Kejriwal, co-founder and CEO of Games2Win.

As gaming apps gain traction globally, gaming enthusiasts in India are migrating towards them. However, the acceptance of locally developed games is still not high. According to mobile measurement and analytics firm Infomate Mobile Intelligence, globally popular games such as Temple Run and Angry Birds figure in the top 25 apps used by Indians in 2013. There is no built-in-India gaming app in the list.

Some industry trackers say that built-in-India gaming apps, especially those with elections as their theme, will find a place in the list of top 10 games to have been downloaded in the past four months in India.

Are these games making money? Currently, the Indian mobile gaming industry is at a nascent stage with revenues estimated to be around Rs 560 crore, according to KPMG and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The mobile gaming segment could increase to Rs 1,800 crore by 2016-17, says their report. Compared to global figures, the Indian gaming industry is very small.

The global mobile gaming industry is estimated to be around $13 billion and, by 2015, it could become a $22-billion industry, according to a report by technology research and advisory firm Gartner.

While the exact data on the number of apps launched around elections is not available, industry experts estimate, collectively, between

Rs 10 crore and Rs 15 crore has been spent on their development. Developing an app may cost as little as Rs 60,000 ($1,000) or as much as Rs 1.5 crore ($250,000). Industry experts say that Angry Birds creator Rovio spent between  Rs 75 lakh ($125,000) and Rs 1 crore ($ 180,000) in developing the app. This is, however, not the case in India. Apps developed during the election season are estimated to have cost between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 10 lakh. No app developer was willing to disclose the exact cost incurred.

App developers are, however, willing to talk about the money they have made from these apps. They estimate that political apps have generated between Rs 40 crore and Rs 50 crore in the past few months. While this number may look small, it is quite substantial given the size of the industry in India (though not all developers are based in India).

Most election-themed apps are free-to-download. In-app advertisements provide the revenues. “The games around elections have huge potential for earning profits. Normally, profits are made through the advertisement pop-ups, and we have seen very good numbers,” says Vishwas Dwivedi, founder, Born2Win, an Indore-based firm that has developed the Modi As PM game, in which the player has to make Modi jump over hurdles to reach the “PM’s throne”. The game has seen close to 5,000 downloads. It broke even after 500 downloads and is now making profits. “Once we launched the app, we aggressively approached advertisers who saw the potential,” says Dwivedi. One such advertiser, Poland Tourism, is the game’s main backer on the Android platform.

Similarly, Dexati’s Modi Run has generated returns through advertisements which, till date, are 10 times its initial investment. While advertisements may be an irritant for users, they are a dependable revenue stream for app developers, particularly because mobile users may not be inclined to pay for such apps. Also, these apps are more popular on the Android platform where only 3 per cent of  the apps downloaded are paid for.

Some developers, however, have decided to forego profits from their apps. Games2Win, for instance, has kept its game free of advertisements and is not planning on monetisation. “Our focus right now is to give a good user experience,” says Vyas.

Riding the election wave, mobile app developers have managed to generate interest among users. The big question is: How will they transform themselves once the elections are over? 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 02-06-2014)

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