While the overall laptop market is struggling, gaming laptops as a sub-segment has grown well. Players like Dell, Lenovo and Asus are busy building their gaming arms like Alienware, Legion, ROG, etc. Dell's new offering Area 51m is modular and can be upgraded like desktops.
The more recent idea of gaming centres around smartphones with games like PUBG, etc. gaining prominence. Earlier, gaming was viewed as the preserve of desktops. This had its own reasons - the modular nature of desktop computers (can be upgraded as and when required), large screens, better cooling systems, direct power, etc. But, it is in the gap between the hyper-portability of smartphones and the performance perks of a desktop PC that gaming laptops are emerging as a rapidly growing sub-segment.
While the volumes of laptop sales in the country suffered a degrowth in 2019 in India, players are actively looking at gaming for steady growth. Eight to 10 per cent of the PC market today is dedicated to gaming. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the gaming laptops and PC segment has grown by 41.1 per cent in the last quarter and is defining the growth of the whole PC segment. Gaming laptops account for five per cent (year to date) of the overall laptop sales (close to four million units yearly) in India. This figure was 2.5 per cent in FY 18-19. Prices start at around Rs 30,000 and extend to a few lakh rupees, depending on specifications. Global market research agency GFK pegs Asus' share in the gaming laptop category at 40 per cent, making it the leader in India.
Almost all the players in the personal computers (PC) and hardware space are putting their product and marketing muscle behind building their presence in the gaming laptops space. American company Dell is among the earliest to explore this space by acquiring Alienware, a gaming oriented hardware company in 2006, and turning it into its gaming arm. Similarly, Asus (Taiwanese) has its gaming oriented ROG, TUF and Vivobook series. Lenovo (Chinese) has its Legion line dedicated to gaming PCs. Acer has its predator series.
What's driving growth and who's playing?
"Gaming laptops have become the first option for many gamers as they have narrowed the performance gap with gaming desktops in the last few years. This is due to the advances of CPUs and GPUs (graphic processor units) that have enabled high-end gaming on the go, as well as the growing popularity of display panels with high refresh rates (144hz versus the conventional 60hz) for demanding gamers. Portability has also become a very important factor," says Shailendra Katyal, executive director, Consumer PCSD, Lenovo India.
Arnold Su, business head, Consumer and Gaming PC, ASUS India mentions that the rise in customer base is complementing growth as it has led to a plethora of new devices entering the market and bringing down the average prices.
Easy availability of downloadable content (like skins, themes, etc.), the rise of e-sports, live-streaming of games, e-commerce and the capability of gaming laptops has positively affected the market. Although a few higher tier cities are contributing to a major share of the sales, customers emerging from smaller states and cities are fueling growth.
The gaming audience in India is primarily students and predominantly male. As per a recent study by tech website Digit, audiences in the age group of 18-24 form 57 per cent of gamers and those aged 25-34 form 18 per cent of the gamer base. PC users within the age bracket of 18 - 35 are more likely to invest in a gaming laptop. The millennials and Gen Z are the prominent demographics opting for gaming laptops. A small portion of gamers may own both, a gaming desktop and gaming laptop.
Anand Subramanya, director, Product Marketing, Consumer and Small Business, Dell Technologies, India, opines that the user base is also witnessing a gender shift with more female users stepping in. (Lenovo also had a female gamers' tournament - the Legion Of Valkyrie). Subramanya classifies users broadly into three categories - Casual, Enthusiasts and Pro/E-sport gamers - based on the number of hours they play. Casual gamers (a wide bracket) take to gaming purely for entertainment and a Dell G3 (entry level) will serve their purpose. On the other hand, Pro-gamers, (play for 18+ hours) are more likely to spend on an Alienware (high end). "We target casual and professional gamers, game developers, shoutcasters and anyone who wants to pursue a career in gaming," he adds. Like Dell, Asus categorises consumers as Casual, Mainstream, E-Sport, Core and Hard Core gamers.
Subramanya explains that the basic asks include portability, performance, work and play etc. He mentions that gamers aren't ready to compromise on tech that backs their performance and affordability is not necessarily an issue. Both Lenovo's Katyal and Asus' Su echo Subramanya's opinion when it comes to pricing.
Dell also introduced Area 51m, a gaming laptop that can be upgraded like a desktop; customers can upgrade even the CPU and GPU.
If consumers are happy to pay, then what's the hard task?
Asus' Su mentions that gaming laptops require stable and consistent high-performance which is based on three key pillars - performance, display and cooling. Finding the right balance is key. "There is a growing demand to make gaming laptops thinner without compromising performance. This is easier said than done, as high-end and powerful components require breathing room to cool down. The higher the performance, the more heated the system," he explains.
"The key challenge would be to educate consumers about the right products for them which not only fit their budget but also offer expected experience. Moreover, the gamer community seeks more than just raw specifications," he adds.
Getting them into the game
While 'pro-gamers' is a niche target audience and better performance comes at a higher price, brands are out to attract more customers (casual gamers/enthusiasts) to the category with introductory offerings at a lower price point.
Asus offers options in multiple price bands - ‘VivoBook’ (Rs 35,000+) targets casual gamer and first timers, ‘TUF’ (Rs 50,000+) is for e-sports lovers and ‘ROG’ (Rs 80,000+) offers upgraded performance. Similarly, Lenovo has an entry-level 'IdeaPad Gaming' 340 (Rs 60,000), mainstream 'Legion Y540' (Rs 80,000) and high-end 'Legion Y740' (Rs 1.3 lakh) models. Dell offers its affordable 'G Series' (Rs 60,000+), and a more advanced 'Alienware' (Rs 1.5 lakh+).
Brands also offer gaming oriented accessories like headsets, gaming mouse, gaming keyboards and gaming backpack, helping users customise their requirements.
Versus the rest of the world
Su opines that markets outside India are quite developed in terms of infrastructure and these avenues produce professional gamers on a very large scale. "This generates demand for high-end products that require constant innovation to face competition. In India, the rising internet penetration and rising per capita income have set the stage for similar gaming infrastructure and demand for high-end products in the country," he adds.
Finding them where they are
When it comes to advertising, targeted social media campaigns and offline partnerships are the mediums of choice. Brands maintain their presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch. A key brief to advertising agency partners is to highlight product features/design and educate consumers.
"Our advertising addresses the common reality that there is a duality in our lives today – we work or go to school during the day in the real world, and we easily transform into our online personas when we play games during our break times. This constant movement between the real and virtual worlds is the norm for many people and we celebrate it," Lenovo's Katyal says.
"For offline marketing, alongside sponsorships the best channel is to have more gaming events that attract professional as well as amateur gamers," says Su. Asus sponsors or participates in gaming events like IGX, ESL, Dreamhack etc and also sponsors a DOTA 2 team called ROG TITANS, who represent the brand in tournaments in India.
2019 saw the entry of Lenovo's Legion into the e-sports arena in India with the brand's e-sports properties Rise of Legion (for avid gamers) and Legion of Champions (for pro gamers). The brand also has a streaming programme with emerging gamers having large subscriber bases. In January 2020, Lenovo Legion announced a global partnership with the Apex Legends Global Series, a global e-sports tournament with over 70 million players globally. The brand also works with influencers, gaming communities and opinion leaders.
Dell is the title sponsor of the Indian LAN Gaming (ILG) - Season 3 (premier e-sports competition across 20 cities, 30 gaming cafes and 600+ tournaments). The brand has also set up Alienware Experience Zones across five gaming cafes in India. Dell recently brought Ankit Panth, a professional gamer, to engage with customers at Croma outlets, by conducting workshops and product walk-throughs for them.