New Delhi: Convinced that there’s nothing like a little practice when you are dealing with as uncertain a thing as the stock market, several gaming companies have launched virtual investing or stock-trading games in recent months.

The Indian stock market has seen volatile times over the past two months with Sensex, the benchmark index of the Bombay Stock Exchange falling 24.91% from its 10 January peak of 21,206.77 to close at 15,923.72 on Monday. That kind of fall is bad for foreign institutional investors who, with more than $17 billion of investments in 2007, took the stock market to historic highs. For small investors, attracted to equities by the Sensex’s superior returns over the past three years, such a fall is downright fatal.

As is the volatility. On Monday, for instance, Sensex was down around 600 points at one time before finally closing 51.8 points down at 15,923.72.

Net practice: Gaming companies, such as Zapak, are hoping their games will help small investors hone their trading skills in the virtual world before they venture into the real thing.

Zapak Digital Entertainment launched a game called “Game for Money" in January. Players invest a virtual capital of Rs3 lakh in shares, mutual funds, property and insurance. They are judged on the basis of returns and the player with the highest return at the end of every month wins. The game, according to the company, has around four million registered players.

In Reliance Mobile World’s “Stock Mania", a game played on phones, players have virtual capital of Rs10 lakh that they invest in stocks. The winner is the player with the highest return at the end of the trading day. Reliance Mobile World claims at least 200 people play the game every day. Both Reliance Mobile World and Zapak are part of the Reliance Anil D Ambani Group (R-Adag).

“Gaming is very thematic. Games are usually built around subjects that are hot. An increasing interest among common people in stock markets is a current phenomenon that gaming companies are trying to cash in on," said Krishna Durbha, head, sales and marketing, applications, solutions and content group, Reliance Communication.

A recent consumer study by IIMS Dataworks, a New Delhi-based research firm, said the number of people in the 18-59 age group who invest in mutual funds, stocks, life insurance and banking products has gone up 10% in the past three years. “In 2007, India had as many as 121 million retail investors as compared to 110 million in 2004," said Sandeep Ghosh, executive director, IIMS Dataworks.

The gaming firms are targeting young people among these investors. “With youngsters becoming financially independent at an early age, serious topics such as the budget and stock market can be addressed in a fun way through such games," said Rohit Sharma, chief operating officer, Zapak.

The response has encouraged others to join the game. The Economic Times, the country’s largest selling financial daily published by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, plans to launch a game based on stock market investing on it’s website, “It (the game) is likely to launch some time this year," said a person close to the development who didn’t wish to be identified. Mint, published by HT Media Ltd competes with The Economic Times.

Jump Games, another gaming company, is also looking to enter the space soon. Its theme, however, is likely to be around banking. “We are in talks with a couple of banks for a tie-up," said Salil Bhargava, chief executive, Jump Games.

Stock market games, however, are not entirely a new phenomenon. Two years ago,, part of Network18 Fincap Ltd, launched a game called “Moneybhai Investor". The game featured a virtual stock market where players could trade in shares. The company claims that the game is played by close to 500,000 people a day and that its popularity has encouraged Network 18 to develop a television show that is aired on CNBC Awaaz where the week’s best investor is interviewed and awarded. “We are in the process of launching this game on a mobile platform (now)," said Arjun Chatterjee, marketing manager, finance portals and mobiles, Web 18, the group’s Internet arm.

Some of these companies are also trying to pitch their products as educational tools for investors. “It’s (Moneybhai investor) not just a game for us. It’s a serious platform where investors can learn to trade without risks," Chatterjee added.

Not all stock market games are oriented towards education. Games2Win India Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based Internet gaming firm, recently launched a game dubbed “Stock Market Suicide". The game has investors trying to commit suicide by throwing themselves off tall buildings, while players try to catch the falling figures using a net that is that is held by finance minister P. Chidambaram or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The game, according to Alok Kejriwal, chief executive and founder Games2Win, received at least 50,000 visitors in the first five days after its launch in late January.

Still, even this game has a moral, said Kejriwal. “Our game has a serious message at the end that warns players to take trading seriously or it can actually lead to casualties."