In 2007, Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV group acquired Ignition Entertainment, a multi-location developer and publisher of games for several console platforms, from the PlayStation, Xbox and Wii families. Last week, Ignition unveiled three big games at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, one of the biggest events in the annual gaming calendar. We spoke to Screwvala, via email, about his experience at E3, the new games that were announced and UTV’s long-term strategy for the gaming business. Edited excerpts:
Ronnie Screwvala talks about UTV’s gaming strategy and the three big games unveiled at the E3 by the UTV group acquired Ignition Entertainment
Give us an idea of the announcement that UTV made at E3.
E3 is literally the Cannes of the gaming industry. This was a big one for the UTV group as firstly, this was our first showcase for the console gaming space. Secondly, while most global content games companies were revealing one or two games, we were, for the first time, providing a look at three properties. And all three are very high-end—in terms of graphics and gameplay. WarDevil is a third-person shooter, Reich is a first-person shooter and El Shadai is an action and adventure game.
Contemporary game development has become as expensive a proposition as producing full-length films. What is the amount of investment in terms of time and money that has gone into the games?
Well, console games development is on the high end—but I believe our competitive edge is that we have assimilated three fantastic teams in our creative studios in London, Tokyo and Florida, and our costs are much more efficient than if one of the major game companies were to do this. Our investment into Ignition overall and into the three games is close to $75 million (around Rs357 crore). Since you asked about films, the market for games worldwide is much bigger than a main line Hollywood movie. And the sequel cost is where you strike big. That’s much lower, so games are as much about outright hits as about generating demand for sequels.
Post-acquisition, has UTV been able to bring in any of its own experience with content creation into the game development process at Ignition?
Well, to start with, Ignition was a games publishing company when we invested in it. Its transformation into an IP creation company came with the UTV group’s core vision of creating content for the 16- to 34-year-old demographic. And that too for a worldwide audience, both on TV and big screen. We have also brought our worldwide marketing and distribution prowess to the fore here.
The current financial crisis notwithstanding, making and selling games has become a challenging proposition. Several large publishers such as EA have suffered huge losses. What is Ignition’s strategy?
First person: Screwvala’s UTV group saw almost a fifth of its revenue come from the gaming business last year. Devajit Bora / Mint
I believe the challenge has really been with the bigger and more established companies—where creative ideas have dried up. So they have all paid top dollar to acquire creative hotshot studios to create fresh content.
For Ignition, on the other hand, this is just the beginning. And at each of our studios we have great entrepreneurs and gamers who are obsessed with what they create 24/7.
What is the company’s strategy regarding console platforms?
We are creating for all platforms. Of course these are for the platforms that support the highest visual experience—the PS3 and Xbox. And we work closely with our potential partners like Microsoft or Sony. And if we were made a good proposition in order to make a game exclusive to a particular console, we’d be open to that.
Does Ignition currently have a base in India? Are there plans to have a captive facility in India as well?
Console games are an international play. For UTV, the key markets are the US, Japan and EU. India will not be a significant market for console games for quite some time but for Ignition, India is a base for both selling and outsourcing.
A launch at E3 is really the epitome of gaming. What were your thoughts on this occasion.
Well, I think this was the best place to premiere a product and get all the feedback. I think it’s even more special as we unveiled three games. That will have quite an impact.
Furthermore, we have been very quiet about our development work till date and so I believe the surprise and awe factor was even bigger.
Finally, from a long-term perspective, how does gaming content figure in UTV’s plans? Do you see sizeable revenues from the business?
It’s a very critical vertical—to our growth story as well as to our overall vision of being a content company with a worldwide footprint.
The gaming vertical in 2008-09 has already contributed 18% to UTV’s total revenue and with the launches of our new games and new online massive multi-player online role-playing game platform, we see this growing tremendously.