...we speak to Manish Agarwal of mobile gaming publisher Nazara Technologies about how brands are using video games as a media platform.
Remember Nokia's iconic snake game that we all played when the mobile gaming industry had just hit Indian shores? Well, now this industry is no longer limited to a snake chasing fruits, bugs and chicken. It has, in fact, grown in large proportions and is expected to garner revenue as high as 1.1 billion dollars by 2020.
India may be far from realising the goal of 100 per cent literacy, but when it comes to mobile gaming, India proudly occupies the fifth spot in the list of top countries by mobile game downloads. According to a US-based business intelligence and analyst firm - App Annie, India has progressed from the seventh position in 2015 to fifth in a year's time. Countries ahead of India are USA, China, Brazil and Russia, in that order. While 'Candy Crush Saga', 'Subway Surfers' and 'Temple Run' continue to remain top choices of Indian gamers, homegrown Indian gaming companies are gradually rising in popularity. 'Train Simulator 2016' by the Indian game development company, Timuz, was the only Indian game that made it to the list of top games - by downloads in India.
Manish Agarwal, CEO, Nazara Technologies, tells afaqs!, "We have roughly 120 million mobile gamers in this country today, who are active every month. That's the number which is almost growing at a 40 to 50 per cent rate. So, we expect this number to be roughly around 300 million by 2020. Also, since data prices have come down due to introduction of (Reliance) Jio, we believe that it's really going to be a big boost to gaming."
However, what caught our attention was not the sheer size and growth of this buzzing industry. It was, in fact, the cocktail of mobile gaming and advertising that is becoming increasingly popular in the Indian ad land. Nazara Technologies in association with POKKT has recently partnered with Dettol to create an interactive campaign in their flagship show 'Chhota Bheem'. In the past, Nazara has integrated brands such as, Dabur, Voot and Parle-G within their games.
In times when brands swear by advertising on television and digital platforms, why did Reckitt Benckiser choose to advertise its cash cow product, Dettol, on a mobile gaming platform? What is it that this platform offers that other media lack? Agarwal explains, "Here is a medium that is highly interactive, you can create your brand proposition in a very non-intrusive contextual manner. Today we have 12 million monthly active users. Out of which, eight million are kids. So, a brand can reach out to all these people immediately. Plus, when we launch a game we get some 2-3 million downloads within 3-5 months. So, if there is a 360-degree integration happening, this could fulfil a brand's objectives, which helps brand managers to innovate as well as show their sales volumes."
Curious to know more about this advertising trend, we asked Agarwal about the different ways in which a brand can integrate its products with the games. Agarwal informs us, "There are three ad formats. Let's say you are playing a running game and you have run out of energy, we then provide a rewarded video which once you watch, your energy gets replenished. Now, this format is not intrusive since it actually helps to progress in the game. You will watch the whole ad because if you don't then your energy will not be replenished. This is a great medium for brands to communicate with a potential consumer. Second is native advertising, in which background spots (such as, hoardings, posters, etc.) are used to advertise brand's logo or ad. These could be animated or static. We can tell the number of times, in a session this brand exposure takes place, just like the T.V. reach and frequency."
Elaborating on the third and the most engaging mode, Agarwal explains, "When a brand asks us if they an really involve gamers with their brand, we employ the third option. For example, in the game Chhota Bheem collects 'laddoos', however, we can replace some 'laddoos' with let's say Parle-G biscuits. We can even create a special jingle when the player has won a race. The jingle can be the brand's tune or song. This option is the most time consuming for us and it goes without saying that it becomes a big commitment from the brand to see it through."
Agarwal then tells us that Nazara is pushing for a fourth option which will ensure 360-degrees sales from the online game to offline sales and then back online. "Hypothetically, let's say I am playing a Chhota Bheem game and I have partnered with Knorr soup. Now I can integrate the product in such a way that when you run out of energy you need to drink Knorr soup to be reenergised. However, the bowl of soup can be unlocked with a special code that you get once you physically buy the Knorr soup packet."
Agarwal shares with us a major challenge that Nazara faces while collaborating with brands. He says, "People are still unaware about the mobile gaming atmosphere. While advertising their products, brands are not willing to take the extra initiative to create special promotional videos/ads which are in-sync with the game. What they give us instead are the TVCs, which may not be the best way to communicate with gamers."
Other Indian companies operating in the mobile gaming business include, Timuz, 99Games, Octro, Nextwave Multimedia, Moonfrog, among others. Nazara Technologies, which is headquartered in Mumbai, started its operations in 1999 with SMS-based mobile gaming. However, it was in 2015 when the company listed its mobile games on Google play and iTunes in India. Currently, it offers a variety of games aimed at a wide bracket of audiences. Agarwal explains, "We have three distinct age groups, one is from 5 to 9 years ('Chhota Bheem', 'Mighty Raju'); other is from 8 to 12 years ('Motu-Patlu' games) and then I have 13 years to 45 years male (racing games). Particularly in the age group of 5 to 9, the young parents are the last mile guys who download the app (they are not my direct consumer), get engaged in the process because they will ultimately initiate the download - the game is on their phones. Just like with FMCG products, you have the pester power of kids, the final purchaser is mom and she also ends up eating the same biscuit or ice-cream with the kid."
Just like brands, Bollywood, too, has received irregular features in the Indian mobile games domain. Previously, Indian company, 99Games, released titles like 'Dhoom: 3 The Game' and 'Fan: The Game' - both broke into the top 10 game rankings by downloads in India. It is interesting to note that the release of box-office hit 'Sultan' coincided with the rise to number one spot for 'Sultan: The Game'. Unfortunately, both Bollywood and brands continue to remain an untapped resource for the Indian gaming community and vice-versa.