The app became the first Indian mobile game to cross 100 million downloads. During lockdown, it recorded maximum daily users - around 51 million...
A quick search for the top ‘free to download’ mobile games in your app downloader – Android or iOS – will, in all likelihood, reflect ‘Ludo King’, the nostalgic board game. Based on the ancient Indian game - ‘Pachisi’, the 2016 released app may not be fancied by professional gamers who’d rather go for more action and thrill of the likes of 'Call of Duty' or 'PUBG'. But it has surely established itself as a light entertainment escape in most Indian households, especially during lockdown.
With over 51 million daily active users (DAUs) recorded during the lockdown, ‘Ludo King’ is currently marked as the ‘number 1 family game for 4+ age group’ in both Android and iOS app store. Sitting at over 350 million downloads, it was the first-ever Indian mobile gaming app to cross the 100 million download mark, according to Vikash Jaiswal, founder and CEO Gametion Technologies - the game’s developer.
From the beginning…
Jaiswal, who was born and raised in Patna, Bihar, had a thing for video games ever since he was first introduced to the gaming parlours. “As a child, I loved playing video games. I wanted to own a machine of my own. But eventually, the gaming parlours were banned around 1991,” he tells afaqs!.
As was the ‘trend’ in the 1990s, Jaiswal opted to study engineering after school. During his college days (around 2003), the ‘computer engineer’ developed ‘Eggy Boy’, a seven level jump game like ‘Mario’, in three months. He distributed this game to his college and hostel friends. It was listed as 'Game of the Month' by PCQuest, in its magazine CD, and was mentioned in other gaming magazines as well.
The success of the desktop-based game motivated Jaiswal to take his gaming business further. Post-graduation, he took up a job at Indiagames, a Navi Mumbai-based video game publisher company, as a tech lead. During his four years in this job, Jaiswal developed his own games, and published them on oneonlinegames.com (most of these games are active even today).
“The traffic earned from these games was huge. I knew if I could do this full-time, I could make the website even more engaging…,” Jaiswal shares.
He quit his job in 2008 and became a freelance video game developer. After working from home for two years, he founded Gametion Technologies, a mobile app developer, in 2010, and set up a small office in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, with three team members.
But then, mobile games beat video games…
Jaiswal recalls that the video game traffic started dipping when gamers started moving to mobile-based games. “It was around 2013 that we realised that the craze for video games was slipping. We had published around 15-20 games during this period, but could not hold enough traffic. We made our entry into the mobile gaming segment then, but we knew we were late…”
It was in 2015 that the idea of ‘Ludo King’ came up. During a telephonic conversation, Jaiswal told us that there were already two other Ludo games at that time, one of which was developed by a Nepali publisher. Today there are several other Ludo based games available in the app store, including Ludo Club, Ludo STAR, and Ludo Stars: Family Dice Game.
“In our research, we found that the rules for this board game had variations. While some used both ‘six’ and ‘one’ to open a token, many pointed out to us that unless you beat one of the opponent’s token, you could not finish the game. The task at hand was to simplify these rules,” says Jaiswal.
The app was launched in February 2016 with generalised game rules.
And thus began the journey…
“We introduced the ‘dice pad’ and made the movement of tokens interesting with added soundtrack. We had simplified the rules and the user interface for this game. We launched the jump in token movement in this game,” Jaiswal states.
The game was released with only ‘Play with computer’ and ‘Play with friend’ feature. The ‘Play online’ feature was added after multiple requests from players. It is today available in 15 languages – English, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Bahasa Indonesia, German, Spanish, Hindi, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada, French, Arabic, Marathi and Italian. Introduced with the old school look of the board game, the app has now added live themes that can be unlocked by completing ‘missions’ in the online multiplayer mode.
During the early days of release, the team faced issues of the games being hacked. “We had to change our back-end and front-end coding, and relaunch the app,” Jaiswal tells us.
Another issue is related to the version of the game being used by the players. “A lot of players are, till date, using very old versions of the game. We had added ‘update your version’ pop ups for them, but they tend to decline these requests and continue playing…,” he tells.
Riding on the popularity of the game, the brand, in 2018, released the first advertisement - ‘Ludo King’: Official Ludo Song with playback singer Mika Singh.
Played mostly by those in the 18-34 year age group, the app gets maximum traffic between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. during the day, and 8:00-11:00 p.m. in the evening.
“In the first week of the lockdown, our servers started crashing after 9:00 p.m. We weren’t expecting this user load. Since the team was working from home, it took us about 10 days to resolve this issue. We had to introduce ‘maintenance pop-ups’ to manage the traffic. This allowed the players who had already started playing the game, continue, and stopped new player to start a game. If we allowed any new players, the servers would just crash. We moved up from eight servers to over 200 during this time,” Jaiswal reveals.
With the lockdown diluting in many states now, the app is currently seeing a decline in the number of DAUs. The number, however, is still around four times, as compared to pre-COVID times. Last week, the app saw around 46 million DAUs, as compared to 13-15 million DAUs until February this year.
Jaiswal says that the app’s revenue has grown three to four times since the lockdown began. He credits this success to his team of 20, including his wife Soni Jaiswal, who manages Gametion along with him. Soni currently heads ‘Carrom King’ and ‘Sudoku King’, the brand’s two other board games.
Going forward, Jaiswal has plans to introduce audio chats in the games. As of today, players can use stickers and texts to communicate with opponents in any play mode. “We might also increase the number of players, from four to six or eight in online mode, going forward. Plans of ‘Ludo Tournaments’ are also in pipeline...,” Jaiswal tells us before signing off.