Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

UKYIE - Business Visits in Mumbai

As you may know I’m currently lucky enough to be travelling with the British Council on a market visit to India as part of their Young Interactive Entrepreneur programme. You can read more about my findings on the BIMA blog but I thought I'd take the opportunity to run you through some of the awsome people we've met thus far.

The first stage of the trip took us to Mumbai and whilst we were there we visited three very different games studios:

  • Games2Win – flash games developers and games portal owners.
  • IndiaGames - who largely build mobile games but also supply a download games service known as Games On Demand or GOD (thanks for the shirt guys!)
  • And Trine – a developer and publisher of AAA games on major console platforms.
We also visited a charitable organisation called UnLtd India which is affiliated to UnLtd in Britain and whose remit is to help social entrepreneurs in India with financial support and advice.

Whether these businesses represent a typical cross-section of the industry over here is difficult to say but the three games companies share two key things in common: Firstly all of these businesses are fronted by charismatic, sharp and driven individuals who are well informed and have a clear and ambitious strategy for their businesses. Secondly they have all identified a different key challenge for their businesses and have innovative approaches to those challenges.

Games2Win
Perhaps unsurprisingly of the three studios we visited I could most relate to these guys since their practice isn’t wildly different to that of Kempt’s. We met with the extremely likable CEO Alok Kejriwal who took us through his business and his thoughts on the interactive business in Mumbai. Alok’s business is built around his flash games portal games2win.com and their self-produced and published content which is spread around the extended web in a similar way to our Advergames. Considering traffic from the portal and from the extended web G2W currently enjoys an audience of around 20 million unique users.

In my opinion one of the most interesting point Alok made was that they’re in a “No Hits business” a point which he makes with a degree of relish. The hypothesis that Alok is working to is that unlike the mainstream games industry which is necessarily obsessed with the creation of hits in order to drive revenue, in the flash games scene there’s no need for this approach. You can be extremely successful by producing large amounts of simple games content which appeals to the lowest common denominator. Therefore their games tend towards cheeky, slightly suggestive dress-up games and such like, each one enjoys a degree of popularity and by getting enough games out regularly then an extremely powerful media channel is created.

IndiaGames
This, the second studio we visited on day one was based in Mumbai’s IT park, Vishwaroop, about an hour and a half north of where we were staying. There we met with one of the directors, a charming and extremely open man called Hrishi Oberoi. Their core business is in mobile games, both development and publishing thanks to their exclusive relationship with the mobile networks in India and given the penetration of mobile phones in India relative to games consoles or PCs it’s clear that they have a good business here and a great deal of future potential.

However what I found most interesting was their newest venture GamesOnDemand or GOD for short. GOD is a low cost subscription-based download games service. IndiaGames identified that the core challenge with retailing games in India is piracy which is prevalent. Their strategy therefore is to bypass this issue entirely by offering unlimited games content to subscribers for a very small monthly subscription, a smart and successful strategy as they’ve already amassed thirty-five thousand subscribers through their clever buzz-marketing featuring a range of takes on GOD based slogans such as their “I am GOD” tee shirts and “Beware GOD Ahead” signage.

Trine
The final games studio we visited on Saturday afternoon was Trine, India’s only AAA games development studio that’s on the verge of becoming a significant publisher in its own right. We met with their charismatic front-man and sole shareholder Sangam Gupta. Walking into their studio was startling considering the overall Mumbai experience and the other studios we’d visited, hidden within a fairly humble looking tower block was an extraordinarily modern and well equipped studio.

Sangam is a man with his eyes on no less than global domination. He speaks with notable pride that they were the first and this far only licensee in India of the fantastically expensive Unreal engine which is the power behind many of today’s top console games titles and waxes lyrical on the imminent release of their first self published title: Wii Yoga for which they have immensely high hopes and there’s a notable glint in his eye when he talks of future success that might one day allow them the opportunity to acquire their own publisher. It’s clear that this man believes it’s possible.

UnLtd India
Sadly when we visited UnLtd the director was unfortunately unwell and therefore unable to meet us however we were able visit their offices and check out the hub that they also run which is essentially a hot-desking space for social entrepreneurs and met with one of their hub hosts a charming lady whose name unfortunately escapes me who left a career as a clinical psychologist to work with UnLtd. She told us all about their members, some of the challenges that face them and some examples of projects that their members were undertaking, I have to say they’re doing really sterling work and are to be congratulated.

Other Mumbai Contacts
In addition to meeting all the wonderful people above I was also lucky enough to be able to arrange meetings with two of my contacts in India Yashraj Vakil, a former client of ours at Zapak now at Dream 11, an online fantasy cricket game and Saagar Dhoke, our current contact at Zapak.

These two guys are both young hands on practitioners and meeting these guys added a really valuable second perspective on the interactive industries in India, what it’s like on the ground so to speak. It was also really good to finally meet them in person and I look forward to working with them again in the future.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Monday, 2 November 2009

UKYIE 09 - Thoughts on Mumbai.

Over the last few days I've been on a market visit with the British Council to Mumbai, India. Although the focus of the visit is business, I thought it might be useful to share a few thoughts about Mumbai the place as a bit of background:

The first thing to say about Mumbai is that flying in is a remarkable experience, it’s a simply gargantuan sprawling metropolis which demonstrates very little plan or system in its construction. The city hugs the coastline for miles and blanket of smog hugs the city in return. As you get closer to the city itself and start to be able to discern a little more detail you start to notice the slum areas dotted all over the city right taking up seemingly any available space. Weirdly, from the air these areas are quite possibly the most beautiful features of Mumbai. Each area is a fairly regular shape within which hundreds of small shacks (most no bigger than a garden shed with mixture of tin and blue tarpaulin roofs) have been thrown together utilising any and every space possible. However putting aside the reality of the place for a moment, the overall effect from the air is that of a series of warm patchwork quilts having been thrown over the city. It’s really quite stunning. (see inset picture of Dharavi slum by markhillary)

Coming on to the city itself, Mumbai can be summed up in one word – chaos. I wouldn’t even say organised chaos. I would agree, that it does seem to somehow work, but I’m damned if I know how. I’ll save you lengthy descriptions of the traffic, the remarkably unfinished state of almost every area, the largely dreadful roads or even the beggars, street children, hawkers or eunuchs, you can get that from any guide book. What I will say this that outside all of this Mumbai and its residents impart on their guests a remarkable and truly infectious feeling of opportunity and enthusiasm for change and the new. There’s a feeling that anything can, will and probably already has happened here.

However, in my opinion the most charming aspect of the city is the feeling or being very relaxed with the unknown which comes out of its chaotic nature. As was eloquently expressed by Tas, our host from the council: there’s no point getting worked up about punctuality here, for example: due to the traffic it could take forty-five minutes to get from one place in the city to another but it could take an hour and a half, there’s really no way of knowing. As a result the city, and therefore business within it, is laid back and open to change and opportunity. It’s really rather infectious and to be honest I’m a little sad to have left.
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