Q. Can you update us on the MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) scenario in India? Is it in the nascent stage?
A.It is the beginning of a very successful genre of entertainment. Worldwide, it has been proven that young people and games are inseparable. MMOGs and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) are the latest expression of games that offer the best of all worlds. An MMOG has video game quality; it’s online so you’re not playing alone, and it has a huge social community. Look at the way social communities are developing. You can make friends and chat with them online while playing the game. Young people want to talk to each other and share common interests. And online gaming is a natural way to do it. I personally believe that MMOGs and MMORPGs will be successful in India in the future. Today it is just beginning. We are creating the category now and populating it with titles.
Q.You are launching an MMOG, which is a relatively new category in India. Tell us more about this game.
A.It’s called CT Racer (pronounced ‘City Racer’) and you can play it only from cybercafés and Sify Gamedromes at the moment. It’s a game with a setting in Shanghai or Seoul. One drives his car on the streets or racetracks in these two cities. You can drive solo or with your friends or create leagues. Groups can race against groups. You can also do cop-and-robber chases. Within the game, you can use a car that can be upgraded with various parts and stickers. The central server is based in Mumbai, and the clients are in the cybercafés.
CT Racer has been developed by SEGA and Hyundai Digital Entertainment of Korea (“Hyundai Digital”) and published and distributed globally by SEGA and Hyundai Digital. The game makes it debut in India through Games2win.
Q.How has CT Racer been received in China and Korea?
A.It has done fairly well there, because these countries have massive success stories. Bandwidth is quite good in those countries. It’s been successfully implemented and it has got its own community there. There are between two and three million people who play it in China and about a million players in Korea. So, we hope that kind of success is repeated here.
Q.Can you explain the method for payment for those who want to upgrade the cars in the CT Racer game?
A.We distribute Rs 100 game cards in cybercafés. When you scratch them, you get a code. Enter that code on the CT Racer website (www.ctracer.in) and your account gets credited by that amount. And as you start paying for items in the game, your credit decreases.
Q.What are your distribution plans? How many cybercafés are you targeting?
A.The initial plan is to launch these games in the top 20 cybercafés in the top 10 cities. We have a partnership with Sify, and so we will be available at all the Sify Gamedromes. And that brings the total to about 500. We expect to do this by March 2008. Once we have this experience, we will go to the B and C towns with the help of ISPs. We will tie-up with BSNL and others to take our game products into their markets. The ISP will be the distributor and also the payment collector.
Q.Are there any impeding factors such as poor bandwidth?
A.I don’t think there are any. So what if we don’t have the world’s best connectivity? We can still make do with it. For instance, our games will work even with a 256 Kbps line. The challenge is to take games and adapt them for the local environment. And every environment is not Korea and Japan. Internet connectivity has vastly improved in India over the years. My only concern is that gaming should become another format of entertainment along with the other choices for entertainment that are available in the country. In India, gaming will have to become part of that entertainment basket.
Q.How does the Indian gaming community compare with that at the international level?
A.In India, we have a very parent-driven society. Even grown-ups listen to their parents. I think the older generation has not yet understood the concept of gaming. They have concerns about gaming: can you make a profession out of it? Can one make money from it? So now the community is being created from the cybercafé.
In the evenings, friends meet in cybercafes to play Need for Speed or Counterstrike together. And that’s a community. Some play at international level, and log on from home. For instance, some play World of Warcraft from India. So, now they are becoming part of international communities. There are sponsored teams who represent India in international gaming contests.
Flash game sites such as Games2Win.com are attracting many international visitors. And a community is being created on such sites. Since gaming titles are now being launched in India, the interest is picking up, and people are beginning to share interests through online communities.
Q.What is the revenue model for Games2Win?
A.Games2Win is a free site offering Flash-based games. Advertising is the primary source of revenue. In the past, we have done campaigns for clients like Intel, AOL, and others. We want to build online communities (of consumers) because we believe brands follow consumers. Advertisers communicate their message to gaming communities through this site. It is interesting to know that about 80 percent of the traffic Games2Win gets is from outside India. So, the international advertising opportunity is immense, and has a lot of value that can be created for us.
And for the second business line, which is MMOGs, we are launching a SEGA game that is produced by Hyundai Digital. CT Racer is again free for the consumer. We don’t ask for a subscription or registration fee. But as you play the game, you can select a car and then buy embellishments (stickers, spoilers, wheel caps). There are car parts such as tires and motors that can be purchased. A sticker will cost you Rs 15 and a brand new car costs Rs 150.
We have been beta testing CT Racer in about 100 cybercafés in India, and people are eager to buy embellishments.
Q.We see that many of the games on Games2Win have an Indian flavor. Games titles like Raju Meter, Bombay Taxi, and Munni Matkewali are so Indian.
A.To be different, we have to create a specialty. If we are just another Flash gaming site, it’s no big deal. So, we are a Flash gaming site with a little Indian touch, and it is free to play. There’s a game called Bombay Taxi where the challenge is to park a typical taxi on the crowded streets of Mumbai. You can’t drive a local taxi anywhere on the Web, except on Games2Win. Also, you can drive an auto rickshaw in a game called Raju Meter, which is also unique to Games2Win.
We strive to offer an Indian touch with an international experience. The games are extremely customized and whatever we do, there’s always an Indian touch.
The international audience is very interested in playing these games that can’t be found elsewhere. And this is getting us a lot of international traffic.
Q.Some have a negative perception of gaming. Some feel it can improve certain skills like decision making and hand-eye co-ordination. What are your views on this?
A.Gaming leads to a sense of achievement. There are few things that can be done quickly and easily that lead to a sense of accomplishment. Gaming allows you to prove your skills in various avenues such as racing and slaying a dragon. When you win, that feeling of accomplishment is immediately realized. In this age, this kind of self fulfillment and confidence that small pieces of episodic achievement give, are very important for young people’s growth and development. In the real world, they have major challenges at interviews. They live in a world where high percentages are the only thing that matter, and one is easily discouraged. So this winning increases self-esteem.