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BW Businessworld

Skill Gaming Will Lead Gaming Business – Bhavin Pandya, Games24x7

In conversation with BW Businessworld’s Ojasvi Nath, Games24x7’s co-founder and CEO Bhavin Pandya talks about the 15-year-old journey of the multi-game platform, his views on casual gaming becoming mainstream, skill-based gaming, and the growing acceptance of the Indian market that sees a surge in gaming startups lately. Excerpts:

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What’s new at Games24x7 and how has the growth story looked like in the past 15 years? 

It all began in 2006 as a shared passion in gaming of Trivikraman and mine. Being one of the most successful gaming companies in India, our diversified gaming range includes skill games like RummyCircle and My11Circle as well as casual games like Ultimate Games. With our specialisation in using behavioural science, technology, and AI, we have built a community of over 75 million gaming enthusiasts. Besides, we are backed up by marquee investors like Tiger Global and The Raine Group. 

We are extremely excited about India’s skill gaming space, which is growing at a CAGR of 40 per cent. We will continue to invest aggressively in India’s skill gaming space and launch innovative online editions of evergreen games like carrom that are already popular offline. In 2021, we forayed into the $70 billion global gaming market, focusing on the United States. We will continue to offer personalised game playing experiences to grow internationally and domestically through our innovative games.

Do you think casual gaming has made it to the mainstream or it has a long way to go? 

Internationally, casual gaming is mainstream. In India, there are casual players but not casual payers as consumers in India want something tangible for every rupee they spend. From OTT platforms to e-commerce shopping, consumers are increasingly looking for offers that give them something in return for what they spend. However, the appetite among Indians to match their wits against others is strong and the cash element in gaming as rewards adds the necessary spice. We believe, unlike the western countries, in India, this element of consumer behaviour has led to the exponential rise of skill games like chess, bridge, and rummy. It is skill gaming that will lead India’s gaming industry.

The interest of users in sports has increased after playing fantasy sports, says a report. Can this popularise other sports in fantasy except cricket, which has become a synonym for fantasy? What are your plans for My11Circle?

The tremendous growth of fantasy cricket has helped create a thriving community of cricket lovers over the last decade. The popularity of fantasy cricket in terms of participation and engagement has increased globally, enhancing cricket’s popularity among consumers, thereby creating a healthy sports ecosystem. 

Today, fantasy sports are synonymous with fantasy cricket. We believe that Indians will get introduced to popular sports like football, soccer, and basketball in the western world through fantasy sports. We plan to diversify My11Circle with more fantasy games and become a preferred destination for fantasy sport enthusiasts in India in the next few years. 

Your take on online real money gaming, whose legal status in the country is under the radar? 

India has rich jurisprudence and the legality of online skill games for money was never an issue. The Supreme Court has consistently held that skill games are legitimate and constitutionally protected commercial activities that can be played or organised for gain and profit. We believe that the recent ban on online gaming is unconstitutional and we have already challenged the same in court. We also believe that it is a natural course of evolution for online real money games we have seen in other countries that eventually decided to regulate, not prohibit such games in the best interest of the government and civic society. 

In 1957, the Supreme Court held the competitions which involve substantial skill, protected under the fundamental right to do business and profession which is guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution of India. In 1996, the Supreme Court held that gaming includes only games of chance and not games of skill. It said that a game of skill, on the other hand — although the element of chance necessarily cannot be entirely eliminated — is one in which success depends principally upon the superior knowledge, training, attention, experience, and adroitness of the player. Golf, chess, and even rummy are considered to be games of skill.

There can be a saturation in the gaming market that drove fierce competition for user attention. With an abundance of options in the growing market for gaming, users can be highly distracted, so holding that attention becomes a bigger challenge. How do you make sure to stand out amid such challenges? 

In our view, the gaming market is not saturated. India has a large and rapidly growing gaming market. We believe that the ability to understand player behaviour, innovate consistently, and personalise game playing experiences for players will define the success of every gaming company. Our philosophy of the science of gaming that includes the ability to understand player behaviour, investment in building a superior technology framework, and building a winning team has defined our success in the Indian skill games industry. Our steadfast focus on personalising game playing experiences and constant improvement will help us make a meaningful difference in this industry. 

Companies that can identify their target market, acquire players at low cost, and define a sustainable and competitive model to monetise will be able to distinguish themselves and emerge as the preferred platforms for gaming entertainment. Also, led by smartphone penetration, cheap data, and saturation in forms of entertainment, we have seen gaming gaining popularity as a form of entertainment among the new generation and a lot of companies have ventured into this space. Like all other sunrise sectors, we believe there will be a point wherein we will see a consolidation of smaller operators.