When Alok Kejriwal founded Contests2win.com, a brand promotional site, in 1998, he had no idea that he would go on to become one of India’s first entrepreneurs in the digital space.
Palying to win: Kejriewal. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“I was working in my father’s socks-making company and I had a fair idea of the workings of the Internet and just started toying with business opportunities in this space,” he says. He approached various Fortune 500 companies with his idea of setting up a website for brands to host contests, and in no time, had at least 100 of these companies, including PepsiCo. Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Hindustan Unilever Ltd, as clients.
A serial entrepreneur, Kejriwal launched Mobile2win India Pvt. Ltd, a mobile marketing firm, in 2003; it was acquired three years later by Norwest Venture Partners. In 2004, he rolled out Media2win India Pvt. Ltd, a full-service digital marketing agency, and as if to complete the pie, he launched Games2win India Pvt. Ltd, a gaming company, in 2007.
With the Ficci-KPMG Media and Entertainment Industry Report, released this year, projecting that the personal computer (PC) and online gaming industry in India, which stood at Rs978.6 million in 2008, would grow at a compounded annual growth rate of at least 36% through 2013, Kejriwal is sprucing up his revenue model. He is getting into games that require consumers to pay small amounts even as he plans an extensive network to improve advertising revenue. He is now looking beyond India and aims to be among the Top 10 players in the world in casual flash games.
Games2win’s latest launch is an application called InviziAds, which tackles piracy, a problem that plagues the gaming industry. A revenue-generating tool, InviziAds helps the website make money even when its content is being pirated through the installation of invisible ads on stolen content. Today, Games2win is ranked among the world’s Top 50 online gaming companies by comScore Inc., a global Internet research firm. It is visited by consumers in at least 200 countries and has recorded at least six million unique visitors a month.
In an interview, Kejriwal goes into the details of the InviziAds concept and talks about the current trends in the gaming space. Edited excerpts:
What is InviziAds?
There are 500 legal sites that have original legal creators, while there are 50,000 websites that copy this content...even we are present on 5,500 non-licensed sites. And within 2-3 minutes of a fresh game going live, they start appearing on these sites.
So we thought, why not befriend piracy? We came up with the idea of InviziAds, which has games pre-loaded with invisible advertisements which appear automatically when they get picked up on non-licensed sites. This helps us make money because advertisers paying to be present on these games know they are getting the required visibility on these sites.
What are some of the key trends you see in the online gaming space?
Games are becoming very casual and are being produced in large numbers. Quantity is the new value proposition—the audience now expects more variety to be delivered to them rather than being stuck with a few games.
Games are going to people rather than people coming to games—hence the rapid (wide) availability of games on sites just beyond game portals. Now you can find “games” on general horizontal sites (such as an In.com) or a niche website like a Discovery.com. Also, playing with friends on social networking sites is a big trend.
Casual gaming with friends is a rich interactive experience compared to just chatting. We are also seeing brands piling into casual flash gaming in a big way—they find their consumers and target groups there, as well as engagement (with them), as a great deliverable. Imagine getting a 17-year-old to spend 4 minutes playing a Cadbury Perk game instead of watching a 30-second commercial.
A lot of companies are succeeding in making kids play and then pay for “monthly subscriptions” so that they can buy items in games endlessly. It’s like a content buffet that you have to pay small sums for.
How has this space evolved since Games2win was launched in 2007?
(There has been) amazing growth of online gaming in (the previously) non-existing online gaming markets. Today Turkey, Poland, Brazil, Philippines and Israel have massive gaming audiences attacking sites like ours—unheard of two years ago.
The popularity of “Indian” gaming themes beyond India—girls from 50 countries in the world have played our Great Indian Arranged Marriage game and demanded a “honeymoon sequence” that we had to produce for them—is amazing. Ditto (is) now happening for the Bridal Dress Up games—girls want Bridal Dress Up games for their own countries.
The explosion of Orkut in India and the gaming that’s happening on that site (is remarkable). More than 100,000 unique Indians “slap” each other on our Slapster application and more than 200,000 bowl (out) each other on our ICL ( Internet Cricket League) application—we never imagined this would happen. A lot of brands are demanding games for their own sites so that their websites can become sticky—frivolous games on serious brand websites.
The success of Club Penguin and its acquisition by Walt Disney Co. for $700 million (about Rs3,600 crore) taught everyone the value proposition of “virtual” worlds and virtual currencies.
How is this space likely to grow in the next two-three years?
One out of two users on the worldwide Web plays online games—I expect that number to become almost one out of one—so one billion people worldwide will be playing online games. Even the consoles and Wiis (hand-held gaming console) will have online scorecards as default—so boxes are moving online.
Big gaming websites will become social—so it will be a natural move to retain communities rather than letting them go outside to play games with friends. There will be significant acquisitions by large media companies in the world and entertainment groups to buy online gaming companies—if a Games2win can attract 20 million users virtually each month, why shouldn’t Walt Disney Co., which is used to attracting smaller numbers to its theme parks, acquire it?
Massive explosion of “avatar”-based gaming solutions like Club Penguin, selling virtual items to kids and even teens and grown-ups, is expected.
What are your future plans?
We are going ballistic to build our presence and reach out of India—we want to be among the Top 10 players in the world in casual flash games.
We have created a gargantuan flash games factory that will crank out one new game every day, bottled in 25 unique languages of the world. That’s 750 unique games a month. We have begun to evaluate distressed game companies in the US and Europe to buy out—valuations will reach their nadir (at the) end of 2009 and that’s when we will swoop in. We are sitting on cash from our last raise—$5 million in March 2007 from venture capital firms Clearstone Venture Partners and Silicon Valley Bank—and are going very tight on spends.
We plan to hire at least five business development and alliance managers in the US and Europe to pound the pavement, building distribution of our content and also doing direct sales on Madison Avenue, New York. We have begun by hiring our first business development vice-president in the US—he is an ex-Yahoo! Inc. and PriceGrabber.com, Inc. (a price comparison site) executive and is a US native and knows that market extensively.
We are planning an extensive and hyper intelligent ad network that will sit across all our properties (Games2win.com, GameCurry.com and InviziAds) and help brands laser target consumers using behavioural marketing, demographic and psychographic profiling—this will really help improve our advertising yields significantly.
Also on the anvil are (an) extension into boys’ gaming and lots of ww35 games, which are basically games directed at housewives (the target group being white women above 35). Most importantly, we are looking at de-risking our reliance on advertising and getting into games that require consumers to pay “micro” amounts. So in our Bridal Dress Up games, five types of mehendi (henna) designs come free but to try and wear another 10, it will cost $1—we want 50% of our revenues to come from consumers.