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BW Businessworld

India’s Gaming Sector Will Grow The Global Pie – Rajan Navani, JetSynthesys

The founder and chief executive officer of JetSynthesys, Rajan Navani, was among the early believers of the massive potential of India’s gaming industry. In a conversation with BW Businessworld’s Ojasvi Nath, Navani, who also chairs the CII’s [email protected] Council, shares how the government is looking at the growth potential in gaming extensively. He also talks about his company’s latest partnership, the dearth of talent pool in the industry, and growing local and global synergies in gaming. Excerpts:

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How is JetSynthesys leveraging the technology in gaming with the last infusion of investments?

There have been a few drivers to our business lately. For capital infusion, our focus remains on three strong points. The first is to look at our global expansion plans – if there is tremendous merit in executing the plan keeping in mind the massive opportunity and partnerships.

Secondly, we try to bring in world-class talent to strengthen our capabilities in India and overseas. We have seen growth in user acquisition and new markets, especially around our existing in-title games where we have expanded the user base and formats. Developing the whole funnel, taking the journey from casual to mid to professional-level gaming, is what we have strongly been focusing on.

We will shortly be announcing few partnerships with some large global studios in the next couple of months. Our focus on Japan, which is the world’s third-largest market, has been strong recently and we believe in the powerful synergy developing in gaming between the two countries. The collaboration would be a significant one, not only in each other's markets but also globally.

Besides, we will soon be launching our in-house gaming titles. More on this will be revealed later next month.

JetSynthesys announced a partnership with Square Enix, a Japanese gaming giant in February to launch a mobile game called Ludo Zenith. We are witnessing growing synergies in the gaming industry lately. What do you think have been the drivers for such investments and M&As?

India is a massive market from a casual gaming perspective. We had the highest number of downloads in games around the world. It is a large market with low data costs resulting in huge internet and mobile penetration that have facilitated user attention in the casual gaming segment. Soon we will witness large companies looking at India in different ways. The first way will be to tap into the potential of the Indian market. This however will demand working with a partner who understands the Indian consumers.

We at JetSynthesys have a very deep understanding of Indian gamers especially when it comes to mobile. That is what Square Enix looked at when we decided to do something together and picked a genre or a game style that is played by the masses. Those who understand or play ludo in India are a massive number. After picking up the Indian aspect of ludo, we roped in Square Enix, which is popular for Final Fantasy. We tried to inculcate the special abilities and unique powers that give a strategic edge over other players while planning moves in the game.

The players may initially find it difficult looking at the strategy and special ability part – the reason being, they are used to playing a particular type of game. With Ludo Zenith, we will be looking to create the ultimate Ludo Zenith champion.

Being a veteran, do you think a sudden rise can also lead to stagnancy in the industry in the coming times in terms of numbers? Do you think there would be ample opportunities for the start-ups planning to debut in gaming or we can see a market saturation?

The inception of the gaming start-up begins with few gamer friends who come together to build a game. Gaming being a hit-or-miss industry is altogether a different story. There is that offbeat chance that you might create something that will work with a large number of people. Thus, the excitement to create something pretty valuable is there, however, the opportunity is limited. It is a rare occurrence, which might be unplanned. Even if it happens, it is a short blip followed by the standard procedures of building a business.

In this sense, the Indian market is still very fragmented. We have small indie studios that come together with that passion. Some might merge into larger corporations while others keep on building talent or leave. The gaming industry is not an easy space to be in. But there will be a rise in the number of new entrants and start-ups will continue to emerge because eventually, gaming is also about being able to tickle the consumer in the right place.

There will always be gamers, gaming studios, and start-ups. The market in India is massive. Our perspective speaks that we are just 1 per cent of our journey as of today from what we want to build in the future.

The potential is massive but the start-up can face challenges. Even the investors may find it difficult to spot mature companies or start-ups in India. This is because very few companies can get past the initial pitches of being able to create a good product and have a good management team.

The change in challenges from the time you entered the gaming industry and now.

More opportunities have come up today than challenges. We have that early mover advantage being in the system for a long now. This helped us gain understanding at the company level, in portfolio expansion, which is more global now, and better capability to deliver outcomes. We saw the value chain of building, going from casual to professional gaming, and co-founded Nodwin Gaming, an esports company, with a 50 per cent stake. The acquisition was in 2014.

Even though we have an established gaming studio looking to expand and grow, the talent crunch at the India level is there. There is a dearth of a high-quality talent pool in India. The Indian companies haven't created that much success globally especially in some the areas like engineering. We might be good at creatives but when it comes to game design, we lack to deliver deeper products. Being able to build products that can generate several hundred million dollars of revenue a year is still a dream.

Another challenge is the gap between the way our user is monetised in India and other established global markets is still significant. The dependence on a few advertising revenues compared to in-app purchases being higher in countries like India is required.

Being a frugal market when it comes to being able to demonstrate value, India still gives high levels of performance. Nobody pushes the price-performance curve as an Indian consumer does, that is what makes us competitive. We can continue to deliver greater performance at a lower price thus becoming super competitive. Hence, I believe in India. We will be able to take new models to the world, take new performance measures, and do at a better price point like been done in so many other industries.

The Indian gaming industry lacks a game design talent pool due to its nascency, resulting in a lack of in-house large-budget games. What can fill the gap between the gaming industry and the talent required? Also, what role can the government play in facilitating a suitable ecosystem for the gaming industry?

At JetSynthesys, we hired global talent to train our talent in India to leverage them for building capabilities extensively in India for different formats. The gap will start getting filled as the interest in larger gaming studios increases in India.

From the government standpoint, I have had extensive discussions with the commerce as well as the IT ministries. With the respective ministries, we have been vocal about the needs and potential to create livelihoods for young professionals through gaming. I think gaming brings a diverse set of talent pool ranging from engineering and art to animation and visualisation. There are tons of pools required as we see this space growing even in terms of advanced technologies like AR or VR. These will all be the key drivers to bring in new types of talent needed for the gaming industry in India and globally.

Investing in training infrastructure for this talent pool as well as incentivising the industry in terms of building more infrastructure in similar lines to what Telangana has been doing – creating technology parks specifically for gaming and animation is required. I am seeing governments both at the state level and national level looking at this opportunity extensively. Being involved with Prime Minister Modi's vision of the new India of 2022, I think I have seen closely how this USD 1 trillion of the new age business economy will be shaping.

Soon the government investments and incentives will flourish for the gaming sector, increasing large-scale mobilisation of resources. The trillion dollars in that USD 5 trillion global economy will be from gaming and esports. The gaming industry will contribute massively to the global economy soon, hence growing the global pie.