Outlook for Indian Gaming in 2021 – Optimism amid call for ban in certain states

In 2020, online gaming was one sector within the digital ecosystem that saw tremendous growth. With people having more time for leisure during the lockdown, many resorted to online games to pass their time. As a result, the gaming ecosystem grew tremendously with new users, higher time spent and new players in the market. According to Statista, India recorded about 365 million online gamers in FY2020, and this number is estimated to reach 510 million by FY2022. Overall, India ranked the highest in terms of the growth in online game downloads on app stores, with a growth rate of 165 per cent between 2016 and 2018, Statista said.

According to FICCI-EY’s report, titled ‘The Era of Consumer A.R.T.’, the online gaming segment grew 40 per cent in 2019 to reach Rs 65 billion. The report projected the segment to reach Rs 187 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 43 per cent. The number of online gamers in India grew 31 per cent in 2019 to reach around 365 million and is expected to reach 440 million by 2022.

Gaming outlook for 2021

This year is going to be extremely important for gaming platforms as they look to capatalise on the growth they saw last year. During this time, retaining users, achieving perfection in terms of the product and UI/UX and reaching out to newer markets will be extremely important.

Gaming platforms will also be focusing more on the ROI factor of their business by acquiring new users on their platform.

According to Amit Purohit, Founder, Fantasy Akhada, “2021 is expected to be the biggest year for fantasy sports so far. Apart from the growth in numbers, this industry has gained a lot of prominence in the last one year with Title Sponsorships of big ticket events. This has led to increased acceptance among the Indian population and with the inflow of venture capital money, the user acquisition is expected to grow like never before.”

Gaming platforms will also try to anticipate any trends that they foresee for the year 2021. As the gaming ecosystem is so dynamic, keeping a track of changes in the market further grows in prominence.

Listing the trends for 2021, Varun Mahna, CEO & Founder, PokerDangal, said, “From game art professionals to game animation, game testing and professional gamers, there are huge career opportunities that are set to influence the online gaming industry in 2021:

  • One of the key trends in the online gaming industry will be the continued expansion of mobile gaming. Even the State of Online Gaming 2020 report reveals that mobile phones continue to be the most preferred gaming device followed by computers, gaming consoles and tablets.
  • Penetration of more Interactive Games is also going to be a continuous trend in the industry
  • Rise in esports will also prove to be a trendsetter
  • More attention to 'Responsible Gaming' will be one of the major trends in 2021.”

Gaming platforms will be looking to make the most of 2021. Growth and reach become extremely important for these platforms to take Indian gaming to the next level. This is the year when the industry is expecting Indian gaming to finally burst on to the Global Gaming Market with an impact.

Giving his expectations on the growth of Adda52, one of the biggest poker platforms in India, Krishnendu Guha, Marketing Director, Adda52, said, “Poker being a mind game requires patience and we are expecting new players to spend 15-20% more time on our platform in 2021 than they used to spend earlier. This is from the fact that users are finding it quite engaging, which is evident from the daily active user jump that we have seen during the lockdown. We expect to see the daily active user count grow by at least 15% in 2021, which will also boost the overall revenue by similar percentage.”

Regional India are gaming buffs!

With digital penetration increasing and smartphones more widely used in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities of India, people in smaller towns have adopted gaming very quickly. Mahna noted, “Regional markets are growing by more than 100%, whereas the response from the vernacular market is also great. Hence, offering staggering deals and promotions that pay off is one of our ways to grow the platform provincially.”

Further speaking on the regional market and their plans, Guha said, “We have actually seen different types of users coming from regional markets. Contrary to the preconceived notion that good quality users only come from Tier 1 cities, we have actually seen a mix from Tier1/ 2/ 3 as well. Currently, our site is in English, however, to penetrate more into the regional market we will be moving towards more native languages so that its easier for players to understand the game better. We already do regional ads and have seen success in that so moving towards a platform in regional language is the obvious next step.”

Government issues

While online gaming saw tremendous growth in 2020 and everything seemed hunky-dory, state governments, especially in South India, decided to move towards banning online games. An official statement from the Raj Bhavan cited the fact that innocent people and youngsters were being cheated due to online gaming and some have even taken the route of suicide as an escape.

Gaming platforms are having discussions with the state governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to come up with some form of regulations rather than banning online gaming altogether in these states. Purohit remarked, “As far as the regulatory environment is concerned, clarity is what we prefer always. We would want the central and state governments to take notice of the various verdicts that have been passed by the honorable courts. However, if some states do have apprehensions and pass legislation not allowing fantasy sports, we have been very obedient in following all guidelines and would continue to do so. Niti Ayog’s efforts have been encouraging recently to understand this game of skill and we expect some positive development in this regard in 2021.”

The road ahead

Although the year 2021 seems like the most prosperous year for online gaming yet, it will also have its own set of challenges. Adda52 expects to see their daily active users to grow by 15% this year, while Fantasy Akhada aims to end 2021 with close to 2 million users.

However, there are still some challenges along the way when it comes to acquiring new users, marketing initiatives, trends and challenges with the government regulations. Gaming platforms will also closely monitor consumer behaviour to keep up with the needs of their users.

Talking about the challenges in 2021, Ishaan Arya, Co-Founder, The Esports Club, said, “The biggest challenge in 2021 is navigating the offline esports space as brands are looking to get back into offline experiences and touchpoints with consumers, however ensuring everyone’s safety remains our first priority as we look at continuing online events without any changes for at least the first half of the year at least.”

Purohit felt that the uncertainty around regulation remains the biggest challenge. “Apart from that, in a crowded industry, we aim to be innovative with our marketing campaigns and digital marketing strategies. We have Harsha Bhogle as our brand ambassador and our intention will be to use him intelligently,” he added.

Speaking about PokerDangal, Mahna said, “Well, the most usual challenge that we confront is to drive the ROI in digital marketing, and that is also under our utmost focus. However, if to talk about the strategies for this year, then it’s like always. Offer out of the box deals to reach the maximum audience while improving the user’s experience on all our platforms.”

Talking about the challenge of stigma associated with Poker, Guha said, “In marketing, one of the biggest challenges that we have faced in the past is the social stigma associated with real money gaming, which doesn’t allow us to drive our campaigns with full steam. However, over the years things have improved and people have also realised that poker adds a lot of value in recreational gaming segment and that has helped us to grow, especially when you see lot of professionals from different fields have taken up poker as their main profession. We expect this to further evolve in 2021 giving us more flexibility in driving marketing campaigns through more channels.”


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