What would you say if your boss asked you to play cricket at work, in your cubicle?
A fantasy? Yes, in more ways than one.
UK-based Fantasy League Ltd plans to open a Mumbai office to sell its software that allows users to play virtual cricket matches without breaking a sweat. It wants to target companies with youthful workforces crazy about cricket.
Meanwhile, business processing outsourcing outfit Genpact has already signed up 150 employees to create and track three cricket teams, winning points pegged to the ICC World Cup Cricket series over the next few weeks.
Fantasy sports, long popular in the West, have been steadily gaining ground in India, namely, among fans of football and cricket. But now media firms and sports consultants say they see a market in Indian companies that might want to use the virtual games as a training resource and team-building exercise.
Fantasy League estimates more than 7.5 lakh enthusiasts play the game in India. “The company leagues could be in the hundreds,” said Fantasy League marketing manager Ashton Atkinson-Hope.
He said the entry is planned for June.
The company also developed the cricket game on UK-based Sky Sports Online’s website, where a match between Team India and the rest of the world waged on Friday (India won).
Besides targeting individual users and workers who think they’d make better coaches than India’s Greg Chappell, makers of online games also sell their packages to companies in need of a marketing stunt.
A newer market, the game’s makers say, lies in the companies needing internal campaigns or fun ways to relay messages to employees.
UK-based Silent Manager’s sales head Graham Haris recalls last year’s football World Cup helped him land a contract with Microsoft to design a game for its internal employee site. The company used the game to rally excitement and anticipation for its plans for Windows Vista, the operating system launched in January.
“Employers are using the game to talk directly to their staff in a way that’s fun, but still getting a positive marketing message across,” he said.
Silent Manager also designed the cricket game used on www.indya.com, the Internet partners of the International Cricket Council, organizers of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Genpact is hosting an internal competition called the “War of Selectors” at its Kolkata facility. The 150 employees who signed up had to select three teams from the 16 teams participating in the World Cup, each team comprising five players. After the final match of the actual Cup is played, the employee with the highest combined points for all three teams will be declared the winner.
The excitement is expected to grow as the tournament progresses. But there are a few more surprises in store. “We have to keep the momentum going, or people will start losing interest,” says Subhasis Das of Genpact Kolkata’s finance department, one of the three-member team that designed the game.
Fantasy leagues have long been popular in the US and Europe, mostly drawing fans of baseball and both international and American football. Some virtual battles have gotten so testy and combative that sites have sprung up to actually arbitrate disputes among parties. To play many fantasy sports overseas, users often have to pay, and some critics liken the pastime to gambling.
Fantasy League said it is still studying India’s laws, which prohibit gambling.
At Ahmedabad’s prestigious Indian Institute of Management, students have developed a unique cricket stock exchange, where registered members invest virtual money on cricketers. The service is free, and the students hope to make money through advertisements, says Rahul Roushan, the chief brain behind the project. “Fantasy leagues are played by people who love cricket, our members are those who also love the stock exchange,” says Roushan.