New Delhi: Gaming provides entertainment but is also serious business in India. Bhavin Pandya, CEO and co-founder of Play Games24x7, an online desktop and mobile gaming platform, knows that well, having launched his first game in 2009. By 2017, over 15 million players had played one of their games, making it India's highest grossing mobile gaming business.
In an interview, Pandya spoke about his journey and other issues on the sidelines of second edition of Gaming Summit and Expo called GATO 2.0, organized by IAMAI on Wednesday at Gurugram. Edited excerpts:
How does your company handle the delicate balance between entertainment and gambling when it comes to playing Rummy?
Our flagship product is Rummy circle. You can play for free (practice games) or you play for money. In gaming, there is a distinction between games of skill and games of chance, and wagering money on a game of chance is gambling while wagering money on a game of skill is like any other business. In 1968, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Rummy is a game of skill therefore playing it for money is not gambling. Our journey has been hard because the perception is not always positive—there are cards and there is money but we have ensured that people use our product purely for entertainment.
How does it work?
A player can start from as little ₹25 to a maximum of ₹5,000 for a new player and gradually can add more. We are a service provider so we charge a small fee for matching you with a real player and facilitating the game.
What are the demographics of the players?
We have mostly 25 plus males playing as they have the money to spend and we also only target these. Our key markets are predominantly Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and now we are getting players from Maharashtra too. In the south, Rummy is very popular, most people know the game since they have played it in their childhood so this comes naturally to them.
What about regulation?
We have four major operators in this segment and we believe in responsible playing. We have The Rummy Foundation (TRF) that aims to encourage, develop, facilitate and support the online rummy operators to adopt a common set of standards and practices with the goal of building a self-regulatory framework that will lead to a responsible industry and protect player interests. We are in the process of getting ourselves audited by a third party like Deloitte to make sure that all the operators are following the same rules and ensure that everything is safe and kosher. Our goal is not to make money but to make sure that our players are playing responsibly and if we continue to do this as an industry there is no reason why the government will not take note.
What role does technology play in your business?
We have a tech team of more than 100 people working at the back end–gaming is just incidental, understanding consumer psychology is important to us. The amount of technology that is leveraged is phenomenal—it is just incidental that we are in the gaming space. We could use this technology in the e-commerce space, acquire players, monetize them and keep them engaged because of the systems we have built.
We use machine learning and data analytics in a big way for customer acquisition, customer behavior, and fraud detection. It also helps us innovate.
For example, how quickly can we get the players money out of our system. No one in the company has access to any live games at all in the company, despite that we have to figure out who has won the game genuinely or not so we track events, we use patterns to detect if there is anything amiss. Also, the moment a player comes in we know enough about them to figure out how long he or she will stay with us, what they will play, how long they will be engaged and using all the data that we have we are able to customize journeys for our players.
What are your future plans?
Our goal is now diversification to the North and East. North Indians prefer games like teen patti that's part of the cultural fabric, so you have to coach them into playing rummy. We have started a demo and tutorial for them and see a lot of potential in this market. We have a platform which can allow you to add money from your account, withdraw money, show you offers, promotions and messages. Gaming is incidental. You could plug in any business logic in here and make a full product suite out of it. I could do the same to sell insurance or travel tickets. So if others want to leverage our platform we want to be in a position to do that.