Fun in quarantine: As people lock down, online gaming takes off

Last Updated 27 March 2020, 05:25 IST

At a time when people are locked up inside their houses to help limit the spread of COVID-19, online gaming in India has seen a spike, with gaming companies witnessing a surge in user engagement as people are increasingly turning to video games.

WinZO, a vernacular social gaming platform, saw a 40% surge in T1 traffic over the last week. Games played and the time spent on the app increased almost threefold, recording an all-time high.

Saumya Singh Rathore, co-founder, WinZO, said Italy has seen 70% growth in mobile gaming over the last two weeks of lockdown, and a similar trend is observed in India. “Surprisingly, most of the traffic is coming from Tier-1 cities. Most of this traffic is organic as we are not even marketing our platform to this audience. We are on calls with Amazon Web Services (AWS) almost every day as we are scaling up servers.”

Currently, there are about 300 million online gamers in India and the number is expected to grow by 46% to 440 million in two years, according to online market researcher Statista.

The market value of the gaming industry in India was around Rs 6,200 crore in 2019 and is estimated to go up to over Rs 25,000 crore by 2024. According to a KPMG report, online gaming industry revenues are expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 22.1%, to reach Rs 11,400 crore by 2023. Experts believe that fierce measures like quarantines to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic will further boost the burgeoning industry.

COVID-19 has impacted real money gaming in two ways, both resulting in stronger growth, said Vaibhav Gupta, co-founder of gaming startup Rein Games.

“Cost of acquisition (cost spent to acquire a user) has gone down as other operational startups have cut down on their spends, thereby freeing up ad inventory on Facebook and Google. This has resulted in driving new user growth. The existing users, at the same time, are playing more games and spending longer hours on the game.”

Ashish Bhakuni, Head of Marketing, Adda52Rummy, reveals that due to COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a 40% increase in the company’s month-on-month (M-o-M) revenue and a 50% increase in its user base.

“We are doing our bit to help people stay mentally fit amid this crisis. We are introducing Adda chips which will help people get tax benefits on playing rummy. We also expect to introduce weekly 5 lakh prize pool tourneys in the coming weeks,” said Bhakuni.

Fantasy sports games

Another area of online gaming, fantasy sports games, where participants create ‘fantasy teams’ during real-life matches, has witnessed the opposite reaction.

Akhil Suhag, CEO, FanFight, said that online gaming overall should see an upsurge as people are left with few other entertainment options during lockdown. However, fantasy sports games being so heavily dependent on live sporting events, have been adversely affected.

COVID-19 has resulted in almost no business for them.

"In IPL 2019, fantasy sports startups had claimed over a 3x surge in the number of users. With many millions invested into fantasy sports platforms between last year and now, the 2020 IPL would have been one of the most significant events for fantasy sports gaming companies," mentioned Ratul Sethi, Founder of mobile-based fantasy game, Apne11.

All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) CEO Roland Landers said that the Digital India initiative by the government of India, which promotes internet access to citizens at affordable rates, has led to the robust growth of 10-12% in the digital gaming sector in India during this pandemic.

“Games like online card games and digital e-sports have seen a higher uptick in the past few weeks. The volume of data going to online gaming has been increasing for a while and it will keep on growing if the situation persists,” said Landers.

(Published 26 March 2020, 19:16 IST)

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