ADITYA SUSHANT doesn’t have millions of fans on YouTube or Twitter. He isn’t sponsored by a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate and he doesn’t represent any country’s official sporting team. What the 24-year-old Chennai native does have is a respectable standing among the country’s select lot of online enthusiasts of poker, a game that was first played several decades ago—long before Sushant was even born or the traditional game made its way into modern, Internet-savvy homes. Sushant secured the 94th place in one of the events at the 2014 edition of World Series of Poker, considered the Mecca of poker players.
Sushant is not alone. There is a growing tribe of online poker players in India. In an era when Internet usage is at its peak and smartphones are ubiquitous,
traditional table games like poker, bingo and rummy are making a comeback in the online space.
We all know that online gaming has attained mammoth proportions in recent times. What’s not so well-known, however, is that these classic games—even without the glamour of high-end stadiums, sponsorships, live streaming or millions of online viewers—are increasingly finding a place in the gamer’s smartphone, iPad or computer screen via apps and websites.
The benefits of playing these table games are probably quite obvious to fans, who enjoy the game on their smartphones or computer screens: the game is faster, more exciting, completely individual, and can be changed at the click of a button. It’s also far more convenient than most real-world table games, which have limited playing options or capacity.
“Of the top 100 grossing apps on Google Play Store, 60% are games. This is an indicator of the revenue-generating ability of mobile games,” says Saurabh Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Octro, an online mobile gaming company. Some of the company’s offerings like Teen Patti-Indian Poker, Indian Rummy and Tambola-Indian Bingo are chart-toppers on Apple iOS, Google Play and Windows Phone 8 platforms. “Two of our games, Teen Patti-Indian Poker and Indian Rummy, are consistently on the ‘top grossing apps’ list on Google Play. Teen Patti-Indian Poker has more than 30 million registered users across platforms,” he adds.
“Globally, the industry estimates the online gaming market to grow by a high one-digit percentage point annually up to 2017. Anything new has always worked for the gaming sector and I am very positive that social gaming will grow further before it stabilises at some number,” offers Parikshit Madishetty, founder and managing director of Grid Logic Software, a privately-held and India-headquartered online gaming company with operations in Europe and Singapore, and offices coming up in the US soon. One of its online ventures include Taj Rummy, a popular game, which started in 2013 and records up to 40,000 log-ins every month with a staggering 90% return customer base.
What has certainly paid off towards the resurgence of traditional table games online is attributed to the growth of the smartphone segment. “With mobile penetration increasing, and more so in the smartphone category, it is certainly the fastest-growing segment in the
gaming industry. The revenues expected to be generated from this segment are estimated to come close to revenues of the console segment,” says Madishetty of Grid Logic Software.
“Indians have adopted a lot of social online games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Fruit Ninja, etc, much in line with their popularity globally,” explains Anuj Gupta, founder of Adda52, an Indian online gaming company. “We wanted to provide popular games of skill like poker, rummy, chess, pool, bridge, etc, to the Indian audience online. We initially selected rummy and poker, both very popular games the world over,” he adds.
In February, Adda52 announced the launch of Team Spades, India’s first professional poker team. The team includes renowned players from the poker fraternity, including Amit Jain, Kunal Patni, Aditya Sushant and Muskan Sethi. Team Spades will represent Adda52 at both online, as well as offline poker tournaments. “Through Team Spades, we will strive to align the Indian poker industry so that it can gain a strong footing globally. As the popularity of poker is still in its nascent stages in India, the aim is to spread awareness about poker among the masses,” says Gupta.
As per Vishal Golia, CEO of Gamiana, an online gaming start-up, it’s all about ‘change’. “Earlier, social games were made for Facebook on the PC browser. Today, we cater to social gamers on smartphones and tablets through native apps. Tomorrow, it could be for VR (virtual reality) headsets like the Oculus. The key is to build the right content for the end user in a device and format of his convenience and liking.”
Commenting on the popularity of table games, Golia says Indian users usually prefer titles where the learning curve is small or almost non-existent. “Therefore, to succeed in India, you have to keep it simple. Casino games are intrinsic in a lot of ways and don’t really require the player to go through extensive learning to play and enjoy them. Hence, the large user base for such games,” adds Golia, whose flagship title Vinashi, a strategy MMOG (massively multi-player online game) based on Indian history, was featured among the top-rated strategy games on Facebook.
If one looks at the ranking charts across Android (the dominant platform in India), explains Golia, one will find that almost 80% of the top games have one thing in common: it’s very simple to pick them up and start playing right away. “With the exception of strategy games genre, almost everything else has a near-flat learning curve and short session times (the real differentiator between PC and mobile),” he adds.
Games people play
Madishetty of Grid Logic Software observes that a large section of online users who prefer rummy are from India. “As per the trends we have observed for Taj Rummy, while most gaming enthusiasts are within the age group of 25-35 years, a sizeable portion of them are working women and homemakers. The gaming platform has also recorded 30% registered active players from the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh regions, followed by West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Kerala,” he explains.
As per Aggarwal of Octro, the company’s games cut across geographies and economic status from a user perspective. “Our user insights reflect massive engagement among users between the ages of 16 and 45 years. We get users from across the country in huge numbers. Having said that, penetration in Gujarat and Maharashtra is maximum. Our games like Indian Rummy and Tambola are liked by men and women alike,” says Aggarwal, adding: “Our upcoming game Carrom Live! is built to appeal to an international audience and to be omnipresent.”
Going forward, mobile and social gaming will go hand in hand and will complement each other’s growth, say experts. “I see that this is no less than the entertainment industry and it has a long way to go before it reaches a consolidation stage. The more the number of operators, the better it will be for the industry, as competition will bring more creativity into the market and create many opportunities on all fronts. The ecosystem of gaming, IT and marketing will be a great space to watch,” says Madishetty of Grid Logic Software.
So you thought the age of cardboard, dice and cards was over? Think again. Or rather, click again.
Know your game:
Poker is a family of gambling card games involving betting and individual play, whereby the winner is determined by the ranks and combinations of players’ cards, some of which remain hidden until the end of the game. Poker games vary in the number of cards dealt, the number of shared or ‘community’ cards, and the number of cards that remain hidden. Betting procedures vary widely among dozens of different poker game variants. In India, the closest game resembling poker is teen patti.
Popular sites: 888 Poker, Full Tilt Poker, Titan Poker
Bingo is a game of chance played with randomly drawn numbers, which players match against numbers that have been pre-printed on 5×5 cards. The cards may be printed on paper or electronically represented. Many versions conclude the game when the first person achieves a specified pattern from the drawn numbers. The winner is usually required to call out the word ‘bingo’, which alerts the other players and another caller of a possible win. All wins are checked to make sure the person has not made a mistake before the win is officially confirmed, at which time, the prize is secured and a new game is begun. In India, bingo is also popularly known as tambola or housie.
Popular sites: 888 Ladies Bingo, Foxy Bingo, Giggle Bingo
Rummy is a group of matching card games notable for similar gameplay based on matching cards of the same rank/sequence and same suit. The basic goal in any form of rummy is to build melds—which consist of sets, three or four of a kind of the same rank—or runs, three or more cards in sequence, of the same suit. The original form of rummy is called Sai Rummy or Basic Rummy. The Indian version, also called paplu, comes with a little variation—it is played with 13 cards and at least two decks, and sometimes jokers (wild cards).
Popular sites: Ace 2 Three, Rummy Circle, Classic Rummy