Online gaming firms explore ways to keep users engaged

PUNE: Online casual gaming firms saw traffic surge just days into the nationwide lockdown that began on March 25, industry players told ET, as people spent more time indoors and as first-timers took the plunge into internet gaming.

Casual gaming is targeted at a mass audience and normally requires a lower investment of time and money.

Poker network Pocket52 said it grew its user base five-fold over the last three months, while Paytm First Games said it added 100,000 users a day. Regional language gaming platform WinZO reported 150 million micro transactions on its platform.

“The initial surge was in games that people already had installed on their devices,” said Rajan Navani, CEO of JetSynthesys, which has popular games like Sachin Saga and Being Salman.

More important, he said, there was a significant increase in the number of ‘whales’ — high spenders in gaming parlance — during this time.

“The number of first-time spenders increased by about 25% but the increase in people spending larger amounts was about 40%,” said Navani, who is also chair of the CII Indian Digital Gaming Society.

JetSynthesys is exploring newer formats through its e-sports venture Nodwin Gaming, by allowing users to watch other people play and introducing a subscription-based model for certain games.

“There’s been a positive change in user behaviour and we will keep introducing new formats to keep people engaged,” said Paavan Nanda, cofounder of WinZO, which is experimenting with formats that let people compete in teams that they create.

WinZO, which has accelerated its development pipeline, intends to launch 30-40 games over the next two months.

“Ninety percent of our audience is in Tier II and III towns where entertainment options are restricted, and during this lockdown we’ve actually added a lot of users in Tier I towns,” Nanda added.

The overall size of the gaming market in India is pegged at under $1 billion compared to $150 billion worldwide. The average user spend is about $1.5 to $2 per month in the country.

Gaming platform Adda52 said it had launched a free app to get more people into the game and will continue to invest in brand building.

“Online gaming not only gives one an opportunity to entertain and challenge oneself, but it also works as a medium to socialize with friends, which is very similar to the idea of catching up for a cup of coffee or drinks with friends,” said Naveen Goyal, CEO of Adda52, a platform for poker and other card games.

Paytm First Games said it had improved monetisation with over 20% daily visitors now paying to play.

“Post-lockdown, we are expecting strong continued growth as our app offers more than 300 games with new ones being added every fortnight… the comeback of fantasy sports will contribute further. We have also added more categories like Esports and expanded in new regions beyond India,” said chief operating officer Sudhanshu Gupta.

Over the last few weeks, however, as the lockdown was eased and people started getting back to work, the time spent on gaming platforms has been declining.

“In March-April, spends dropped to 30% of pre-lockdown amounts, even as we registered a 2x increase in customers,” said Amin Rozani, managing director, Spartan Poker.

As companies started deferring salaries and letting go of people, discretionary spends have started to drop. Gaming firms are now looking at different ways to keep users engaged, even as the time spent starts dropping.


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