Last autumn, serial entrepreneur Roby John observed a trend among online gamers that he thought could be developed into the next big thing.
The Pune-based techie had been running his second video game company, June Gaming, since 2015. He noticed that his flagship game, MaskGun—a cross between first-person shooter Counter-Strike and online multiplayer battle royale PlayerUnknown’s Battleground with built-in chat functionality—was becoming more like a social media platform where gamers would hang out with each other.
“We realized 10–15% of the users were coming to our gaming platform every day not to play, but to discuss the game, chat with their friends, and hang around,” John told KrASIA in an interview. “And it was not just our game. The phenomenon was happening across many other games as well.”
“The shared experience with friends is the best gaming experience,” he said. “So we thought we could automatically create game highlights around special moments shared by players, similar to how Facebook shares stories on your timeline when you celebrate friendship anniversaries with your pals.”
John noticed how hardcore players of multiplayer games like Fortnite used their virtual environments like social networks, and he envisaged bringing that experience to casual games as well. Building upon that idea, John’s new venture, SuperGaming, came to be in July 2019.
Dubbed as the “party hub around casual games,” SuperGaming is a mobile gaming platform that doubles as a community for players to share, chat, and explore. SuperGaming, John believes, would take social interactions within casual games to a new level, making the company stand out among its peers. “In SuperGaming, people will be able to do voice chat, invite friends to a game, and watch and share highlights of games,” he said.
According to Yuki Kawamura, partner at the Akatsuki Entertainment Technology (AET) Fund, SuperGaming is shaping the future of mobile gaming in India, bringing social and live-interactive experiences to players and audiences.
To test the waters, the four-month-old company rolled out four games in the second week of December, though these lack social network elements. In just two weeks, the games were downloaded more than 30,000 times.
SuperGaming is now gearing up for full-fledged launch of its gaming platform with social networking features across 25 games that will fit different play styles—casual, social, party games, and those that fall under the e-sports mode of competitive gaming. The full roll-out is expected to happen in late January or early February.
For now, the video game startup is wooing users in 14 tier-one cities in India, such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi.
“We are starting with college students and young working professionals since our initial games resonate well with this segment,” John said. “There is also a large teen demographic—over 200 million Indians in the 13–19 age group—who don’t like cheap clones (copy-cat games) and demand high-quality games, which we are building.”
Once the platform is unveiled, SuperGaming plans to raise its Series A investment and go international, starting with Southeast Asia.
The billion-dollar opportunity
Betting on SuperGaming was not the first time John decided to make something entirely new.
His career as a game developer began in 2007, when the first iPhone was released. Over the next 12 years, he co-founded three video game companies and built over 100 games that altogether garnered more than 200 million downloads.
“Every five years, we think about what’s going to come next in gaming. Once we find it, we go ahead and pursue it,” he said. “With a co-founding team that has gaming experience of over a decade, we are not tourists in this space.”
While at June, John trawled user data and realized that users were increasingly using games as a means to make friends, chat, and generally hang out. “We knew things would change anyway. SuperGaming was a much bigger opportunity, so we decided to go for it,” he said.
Earlier this year, John teamed up with his co-founder and June CTO Navneet Waraich as well as the product head at tech company Wingify, Sanket Nadhani, to set up SuperGaming.
Once SuperGaming was founded, John got two companies in Japan, who he knew from his days at June, to back his nascent video game platform. The first was Akatsuki Inc., a Tokyo-headquartered company that developed one of the most popular games of all time, Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle, which has grossed over USD 2 billion in revenue. The second was Dream Incubator, a Japanese strategic consulting and business development firm that also makes investments.
In November, SuperGaming raised USD 1.3 million in seed funding from the AET Fund—the venture arm of Akatsuki—as well as Dream Incubator and India’s Better Capital, an early-stage investor. SuperGaming is one among many gaming startups from India that have got global investors to back them up in the last couple of years.
“Of late, the Indian online gaming segment has seen tremendous growth, driven by the surge in digital usage” on the back of “affordable smartphones, high-speed internet, and falling data prices in the country,” said a March 2019 report by advisory firm KPMG.
According to the report, India has about 250 million online gamers, and close to 250 video game companies. The gaming industry’s revenue in India, KPMG projected, will reach USD 1.6 billion by 2023, more than doubling 2018’s USD 615 million.
Many popular online video game companies in India offer fantasy sports and games that involve cash prizes, and draw revenue from the fees that players pay to enter tournaments where they have a chance to win money. But John and his team at SuperGaming chose to go with for the free-to-play model, where they would generate profits from in-app purchases for things like weapons, vehicles, costumes, avatars, various customizations, as well as subscriptions that unlock premium features.
“In our last company, our users spent a lot of money on our free-to-play games. We know how to get users to spend their money,” he said.
According to John, MaskGun’s 30 million global users, including five million from India, made the company more than USD 10 million in three years.
John believes “the willingness to pay has always been there,” but it’s the new modes of payments such as government-back payment tool Unified Payment Interface, Google Pay, and digital wallets that have given a boost to the number of users who are actually paying for the games.
“Eventually, we will make SuperGaming as an e-sports company, where people would come, play, spectate, and spend,” he said. “We will start online with active live streaming and then move into offline events.”
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.