Namah Chawla

Poker contributes about 75% of our total revenue: Baazi Games’ Varun Ganjoo

PokerBaazi’s recent ad featuring actor Shahid Kapoor debunks the myth of luck playing an upper hand in poker. A chat with the platform’s co-founder and marketing director.

PokerBaazi, the online poker platform from the house of Baazi Games, recently launched a campaign, titled ‘You Hold the Cards’, featuring Bollywood actor Shahid Kapoor.

With this campaign, the brand aims to create awareness about poker as a skill-based sport. It is a game that is under the players’ control. The ad attempts to debunk the myth of luck playing an upper hand in poker.

In an interview with afaqs!, Varun Ganjoo, co-founder and marketing director, Baazi Games, speaks about the campaign, the media mix, poker’s contribution to the platform’s revenue, and more.

Edited excerpts:

How will the association with Kapoor help the brand? Why is this the right time for the brand to do a celebrity-led campaign?

Apart from the playing element, poker also has a lot to offer, in terms of entertainment. It has already become quite big on the global stage, especially in the investor markets of the US and Europe.

In India, our aim is to establish an ecosystem for the sport, and relevant content and IPs around it. We have taken the time to build this and now is the time to focus on poker.

The mobile gaming market in India is already on the rise. We feel that poker is entering its golden era now. Over the next 5-10 years, its growth will outdo that of other gaming verticals.

Poker is a skill-based game. So, it was important for us to get a celebrity who knows about, and resonates with the sport. The platform wants to attract the masses and make poker big. So, we needed a celebrity who cuts across ages and easily conveys our message.

Many online gaming platforms have lately been investing in celebrity-led ads, especially during IPL. How will PokerBaazi’s campaign be different from the rest?

Over the years, IPL has become a property that attracts not just the viewers, but also the advertisers. But I believe that the property is more relevant for seasonal sports like fantasy cricket. Poker is not a seasonal sport and is played throughout the year.

What we want to establish with our campaign is that poker is a skill-based sport. And, at the same time, it is also fun to play.

There is no taboo around it and it’s not something that can’t be played with family or in front of them. The ad talks about these elements of the game.

What is the campaign’s media mix? How are the overall spends divided across traditional and digital channels?

It is a 360-degree campaign, but since PokerBaazi is a digital-first brand, we always prefer going digital-heavy. Hence, digital accounts for around 75-80% of our media spends. The rest will be divided across mainstream channels like television, outdoor, print, etc.

The digital mix is divided between social media influencers and content platforms like OTTs. I believe that content marketing is a true way to cut through your audiences. So, the spending on it will be about 25-30%.

How have different product lines of BaaziGames supported the larger brand? What is poker’s contribution, in terms of the revenues and users it gets on the platform?

Poker contributes about 75% of our total revenue: Baazi Games’ Varun Ganjoo

We started off with poker as our first gaming vertical in October 2014. Over the years, we have diversified and, in 2018, BalleBaazi, the fantasy gaming vertical, was launched. It has different sports like cricket, football, volleyball, baseball, etc. Then came CardBaazi (earlier called RummyBaazi) - India's only multi-card gaming platform.

BaaziGames recently launched its social interactive casual gaming segment, called Baazi Mobile Gaming. It has games like ludo and carrom that attract large audiences. Every vertical has its own charm and USPs, and they contribute to the overall goal of getting the masses to play these games.

In terms of the contribution to playing volume, poker stands in the second place. It has over two million users. BalleBaazi has acquired around 8.5 million users. Other games like CardBaazi has about a million users and Baazi Mobile Gaming has around 200k users.

Revenue-wise, poker is a fairly high-ticket game, as compared to all the games out there. It contributes around 75% of the overall revenues of the group. BalleBaazi contributes around 15%, and the remaining is between the other two verticals.

There is a perception that Indian audiences have about poker. How will your ad address these perceptions?

This perception challenge existed for us back when we started. Poker is new to India, when compared to certain other games that have been played in the country for a long time now. And, because it also involves money, there is this perception that poker is not a skill-based game.

Over the years, people who have engaged with the sport, have proven that this is not right. We have seen, over the past few years, that some top players keep winning again and again at various tournaments. This proves that it is not a one-off and chance-based game. This is also reinforced by the fact that poker is taught in some of the top management institutes globally and now, even in India.

Online gaming platforms gained many users, especially during initial COVID-induced lockdowns. What were the few interesting trends that you noticed during this period? And now, when everything has opened, have there been any changes?

Certain industries saw a spike during the pandemic. So, people were intrigued about the trend there. As no sport could be played globally in the initial lockdown phases, the fantasy vertical also came down to a standstill, in terms of revenue.

However, we kept the users engaged through virtual games. Eventually, when IPL and other sports came back, fantasy games also picked up. It was interesting to see that casual games like ludo and carrom saw a spike.

As gaming was already on an upward trend overall, poker also grew at a fast pace. The pandemic brought in a spike. After the first lockdown spike, the consistent trend of growth continued.

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