Operator billing won’t help Indian game companies
After many negotiations, telecom operators and Google finally reached an agreement that allows us to buy apps and games on Android smartphones using only our phone number.
This movement has been around for a few years. This is something that many Indian gaming company executives believe would allow them to profit. At present, with few exceptions, most game studios in India are funded and have yet to break even. They think carrier billing should change that.
Except that won’t be the case.
(Also see: Google’s Sergio Salvador talks about India, developer policies and carrier billing)
What many Indian game studios don’t realize is that the advent of a frictionless payment option means that consumers can pay for an IPL Cricket Fever just like they would for a Need for Speed. The mere fact that carrier billing is present does not necessarily mean automatic profits. Rather, it means they need to make sure their games are as good as their global counterparts.
In fact, it might not reward the most ambitious, well-funded, business-focused game studios that are the most prominent in the industry. The lack of carrier billing meant that these companies could spend immediately in hopes of gaining on volumes. A painless payment option for consumers could see smaller independent studios with higher quality titles do better.
And therein lies a major problem. Most of the biggest game studios here worry about investor-friendly metrics and buzzwords rather than games. In the past, we’ve seen Reliance and Nazara use third-party app stores and OEM deals to fill monetization and retention gaps. From a business perspective, it’s a smart move to make up for the lack of an easy-to-use payment option.
(Also see: Google could do more for India’s gaming ecosystem: Manish Agarwal, Reliance Games)
However, it is important to note that most of these platforms are not as crowded as the Play Store. The small markets with the lack of competition ensure that the focus is on something other than solid game design. It also begs the question: what’s the point of being eloquent about incentive ads or user acquisition if the core product isn’t worth anyone’s time or energy?
The proof is that these shortcomings are there for all to see. Unless you count card games like Teen Patti or Rummy that are based on pre-existing game mechanics and the design of their offline counterparts, you will rarely see an Indian game dominating the Play Store rankings. This is exactly why some Indian games such as Chhota Bheem end up at the top of the charts for an entire week rather than a longer period, with the lack of depth combined with skimping on production values making it difficult to maintain player interest. No amount of licensing power or payment options will fix that.
(Also see: Game development in India: in a constant state of flux)
Also, carrier billing was a necessity in the era of feature phones. With the lack of access to content, it has been easy for many consumers to instantly get their fix. Is the mentality of users the same right now? At a time when you’d rather watch an advertisement for bonuses in Angry Birds 2 or simply wait to add new structures to your base in Clash of Clans, why should you loosen your digital purse strings anyway?
Don’t get me wrong, an easy-to-use payment mechanism is always welcome. But that won’t make it any easier if the games aren’t as good as they should be.
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