Nazara is targeting India’s hundreds of millions of gamers with popular local IP and the best global brands. But it also has ambitious global plans. In our continuing Executive Interview series, Chirag Shah, Head of India and APAC business at Nazara, explained all to MEF Minute…
A few weeks ago, Nazara struck a partnership with Stick Sports to develop a game featuring Virat Kohli.
This was a huge coup for Nazara.
But many readers of the MEF Minute will have one important question about this deal.
Who the heck is Virat Kohli?
That’s because Kohli is the biggest star of Indian cricket. Now, this may not mean much to readers in Brazil or Indonesia or the US. Self-evidently, it’s the opposite in India.
When the deal was struck Manish Agarwal, CEO of Nazara, said: “Given the high level of interest in cricket, we hope that the new game will have at least two to three million downloads a month.”
In winning the licence, Nazara once again proved its credentials as India’s mobile gaming powerhouse. The firm has a huge presence in its home country, where it acts as a publisher and developer of in-house and third party games.
The firm has sought out key licences around Bollywood and cricket, and even animated characters like Chotta Bheem. And it has also cherry-picked the biggest ‘Western’ brands to bring to India.
Most notable among these deals was with ZeptoLab for its world-conquering Cut the Rope game in 2015. At the time, Nazara said it was targeting 50 million downloads for the Cut the Rope franchise in the Indian subcontinent over next five years.
Of course taking something like Cut the Rope to India is not straightforward. It has to be localised and possibly made smaller (in terms of the download size). Then there’s billing.
According to Chirag Shah, head of India and APAC business at Nazara, India is in the slightly odd situation of a being an overwhelmingly smartphone-centric market, but with a mostly unbanked population. That means many gamers are going to app stores, but lack the credit and debit cards to make premium purchases.
Clearly one solution to this is carrier billing. Shah says: “25 to 30 per cent of Indian customers use smartphones, so yes we need to get the billing issue resolved,” he says. “It will be the biggest factor to change the market in regions like India. We know what’s needed, and we’re talking to Google and others.”
Since MEF Minute spoke to Shah, there has been some progress. Weeks ago, Google launched carrier billing on the Play Store in India – though only to subscribers of Idea Cellular, the country’s third-biggest mobile operator. More should follow.
In the meantime, Nazara works with brands (via agencies) on sponsorship and advertising to fund its games. And Shah believes the experience gained in how to keep gamers coming back can only benefit Nazara when carrier billing offers the chance of premium and in-app payment revenue too.
He says: “The overall market is huge. There are 160m gamers in India, and there could be 300m by 2020. I think we’re in a great position to understand all about user retention so that we can migrate gamers over to things like in-app purchases when the systems are in place.”
Of course, Nazara is far from being just an Indian games company. It runs a game subscription service — Games Club – in 44 countries and 90 operators across Asia Pac, Middle East and Africa. It recently launched in the LatAm too.
Outside of its home country, the set-up is a little different. Smaller overall smartphone penetration means a focus on old-school carrier VAS portals (alongside app stores). Nazara also works on pre-loading localised content with the new breed of smartphone OEMs in these markets.
But in its search for commercial content, the company is prepared to look everywhere. In the last few months, Nazara has acquired a 26 per cent stake in London-based mobile gaming startup Mastermind Sports. This followed an investment in another UK developer, Truly Social, which focuses on female-friendly games.
That deal indicated again Nazara’s determination to drive into every corner of the democratic mobile gaming space. Manish Agarwal expects the rewards to be significant. At the time of the acquisition he said: “The women centric genre is a very important space for us to target, there’s a largely untapped gaming audience in India and their product has the potential to gain over one million downloads in a relative short time span.”