Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Marketing

Can smartphone sub brands POCO and iQOO find their calling with the gaming push?

The extensions from Xiaomi and Vivo are associating ‘gaming’ in product features and storytelling while finding a place in the smartphone market.

Games can be played on mobile phones, but can gaming become a brand’s core marketing plank? iQOO and POCO, the newer sub-brands of phone companies Vivo and Xiaomi (respectively), are actively integrating gaming into their proposition.

Both of these initially started as product lines. While Vivo launched the first iQOO phone in February 2020, Xiaomi relaunched POCO as a sub-brand last July.

Now, there are gaming phones, and phones that can also be used to play games. The designation of ‘gaming phones’ has for long been reserved for players like Asus ROG, Xiaomi’s Black Shark and Nubia Red Magic.

Apart from the marketing and positioning, these devices are built and designed to appeal to the active gamers. For instance, they come with fan attachments to help them cool down faster. Then, they have software features to provide an uninterrupted gaming experience. They also have flashy RGB lights and trigger buttons (like a handheld console controller).

ASUS ROG
ASUS ROG
Jioforme

These ‘gaming’ phones come with a hefty price tag, with base models starting at around Rs 50,000.

iQOO and POCO are now actively adapting gaming-focused features at a significantly lower price point. Interestingly, both Vivo and Xiaomi do not have dedicated gaming segments withing their own product portfolio.

The first iQOO phone, iQOO 3, which had gaming hardware features (like air triggers, liquid cooling, etc.), sold at around Rs 35,000 at launch. Similarly, the new iQOO 7 has a dedicated e-sports mode (among other features) and sells at around Rs 30,000. The soon-to-be launched iQOO Z3 has ‘budget gaming’ written all over its marketing communication.

Apart from just gaming, the brand has also been highlighting other features, like its camera, to appeal to a wider audience. This could be because, gaming phones (even the high-end ones) are known to go easy on the camera side and focus more on performance.

POCO is building itself on the back of pocket-friendly performance, or ‘proformance’, as the brand calls it. The brand’s soon-to-be launched POCO F3 GT is calibrated for gaming. Apart from the hardware features, like physical trigger buttons and RGB lights, it is also expected to have the gaming aesthetics written all over it. It is expected to launch at a sub-Rs 30,000 price point. It’s previous model POCO X3/X3 Pro also catered to the budget gaming audience.

The POCO F3 GT and iQOO Z3 launches are also timed around the relaunch of PUBG Mobile (Battlegrounds Mobile) in India.

Now, unlike gaming laptops and PCs, that are specifically designed and built for gaming performance, most phones that have the right chipsets/storage can play games. Like say, the latest iPhone can play all the games, though it is not positioned as a gaming phone. Similarly, OPPO’s Reno 5Pro 5G can play games, despite its camera-centric positioning.

So, will the ‘gaming’ positioning actually help these sub-brands stand out?

Faisal Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst, techARC (a tech research firm), says the sub-brands are yet to really find their purpose, which is different from the mother bands.

“I’ve seen this happen repeatedly – brands looking for a reason to exist. Gaming is definitely one opportunity and they will try to ride that. One year down the line, it might be something else,” Kawoosa says.

Faisal Kawoosa
Faisal Kawoosa

He mentions that a serious gamer would not want to be on a smartphone, even the high-end devices like ROG, and will, instead, invest in a proper gaming laptop, or a console.

“Even the ROG phone hasn’t seen great success in the Indian market. To really expand the smartphone gaming ecosystem, players have to explore the Rs 15,000 to Rs 35,000 price range.”

Navkendar Singh, research director – India & South Asia, IDC, says that the ‘gaming’ identity denotes that it’s a powerful device. “To a consumer, it means that the phone can handle anything and everything. That’s the bottom line.”

Singh echoes Kawoosa’s view that hardcore gamers will stick to PCs and consoles.

He mentions that it is hard to put a pin the scale of mass gaming, since the industry estimates include all sorts of games (like Candy Crush, Ludo, etc.), and do not focus on the high-end games alone.

Navkendar Singh
Navkendar Singh

Reports say that India, with a population of 500 million smartphone users, has over 350 million gamers. The player base of high-end games like COD Mobile, PUBG and Genshin Impact, that require high performance phones, could be significantly low.

“From the marketing standpoint, it allows some differentiation. In this process, some consumers, who can’t buy a Rs 50,000 phone, will buy it and use it for casual gaming. Even a hardcore phone gamer will go for the ROG types.

Abhishek Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO, Trinity Gaming (a gaming talent management agency), says that the lower priced gaming-focused devices will appeal to the consumers who aspire to have, but can’t afford, a ROG-like device, especially in the Tier-II/III markets.

Abhishek Aggarwal
Abhishek Aggarwal

“If a brand is marketing its product to the certain aspirations of a gamer, they will naturally be attracted towards it. The gaming aesthetics and features, like RGB lighting, air triggers, etc., are something that non-gamers will also be attracted towards. Even non-gamers are motivated to procure that sort of a product,” Aggarwal signs off.