Anirban Roy Choudhury

Gaming in India is "poised at a very interesting level"

In a panel discussion on media rights and if it is the time for intellectual property rights owners to cash in, Akshat Rathee, Satya Raghavan, Supratik Sen, and Vivek Jain shared their views.

In March last year (2020), most of the world was locked inside as there was an invisible virus outside. The Coronavirus pandemic forced people to experiment with and explore more entertainment and social networking windows.

One of those turned out to be gaming. For the fanatics, gaming always existed, but for those who were glued to 'Candy Crush' on their mobile phones while commuting, it became more than just a time pass.

Playing a video game on the mobile phone or console or PC was one of the very few good reasons to stay indoors. The gaming ecosystem, which includes both 'noobs' and 'pros', added new players and, in some cases, new avenues too. Many casual gamers transitioned to become professionals, and some of them even ended up challenging the 'clans' who ruled the roulette for long.

Gaming saw a surge not only in India, but globally too. Weekly newspaper The Economist reported that the number of players logged into 'Steam', a popular gaming platform on PCs, reached record highs in late March (2020), with 25 million players logged in at one time. Nintendo’s share price increased by 45 per cent in a month after March 16. Amazon's Twitch saw its traffic jump by 50 per cent from March to April.

The lines between real sports and video games blurred further during the COVID-induced lockdowns. This brings us to the subject of discussion in the recently concluded Gaming Week. Organised by afaqs!, the four-day-long webinar focused on discussions around gaming and e-sports.

In a panel discussion on media rights and if it is the time for intellectual property rights owners to cash in, Akshat Rathee, MD and founder, NODWIN Gaming; Satya Raghavan, head, YouTube India; Supratik Sen, CEO and co-founder, U Sports; and Vivek Jain, COO, MX Player, shared their views. The session was moderated by Anirban Roy Choudhury of afaqs!.

Raghavan said that when it comes to YouTube India, the video-on-demand (VOD) platform is witnessing a massive acceleration with gaming. He shared that the traction around gaming was already on an upward trajectory.

"There are many more streamers and games. Then, it became many streamers streaming many games in many different languages. Earlier, it was the Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru kind of crowd, but now, we are seeing people from smaller towns too. Youngsters, teenagers and now we also have women gamers and streamers."

Last year, YouTube acquired the rights to stream Activision's 'Call of Duty' and 'Overwatch'. It will now stream the marquee tournaments in a bid to outperform Twitch to rule the streaming business globally.

However, when it comes to India, mirroring the west won't work, said Rathee of NODWIN Gaming. "For me, to go out and sell something to YouTube, and say it is their problem to solve, won't work in India. The western way of doing things will hit a roadblock in this country."

Last year, Epic Games, the publisher of 'Fortnite', launched a 'World Cup'. "Anyone could apply to play: 40 million did so. The finals filled 19,000 seats of the Arthur Ashe stadium in New York and $30 million of prize money was dished out to the winners," stated The Economist.

For gaming to reach those heights in India, the government, says Sen of U Sports, will have to play a vital role. "2021 to 2024 is a vital period," he said, adding that the government will need to draw a legal framework, which is what even the athletes want.

Times Internet-owned MX Player has gone public with its plan to invest in gaming. There are many games already available on the platform. Jain said that in the initial phase, it will continue to focus on mobile-based games in India. Simply because out of its "300 million users, 60 per cent are from India. Moreover, we have an ad sales team in India so it makes sense to focus on the local business."

MX Player, which is an AVOD platform, is ready to evaluate media rights acquisitions of gaming properties, said Jain. The crucial consideration during evaluations of such acquisition will be, "How much synergy it has with the existing library, what kind of engagement it can give and monetisation potential."

The session ended with Raghavan of YouTube saying that gaming in India is poised at a very interesting level.

This panel discussion is part of Gaming Week, a webinar series hosted by afaqs!. The week-long conference is powered by Akamai Technologies.