Developing a successful business model for such companies can be a challenge, especially if you’re a rookie entrepreneur. Vishal Gondal, who founded Indiagames and still runs it after selling a majority stake to UTV, tells Mahul Brahma how his business model fashioned itself when he still didn’t know the meaning of the term with :
I was totally into games since my childhood, be it volleyball or online. I still play games all night long. I created my first game at 14, it was a Pacman clone. In 1993, I started FACT (Futura Academy of Computer Technology) at a garage in Chembur, Mumbai. I was just 16 then. There were only three computers and I taught students software programming, multimedia, etc. In 1997, I started ADVER Gaming i.e. games built around advertisements. My first project was for Pepsi. The game was programmed to shoot Coke cans with Pepsi. I used to go to companies and ask for themes for creating games. For Pepsodent, the game was designed to kill germs. I have also designed the scoring system for Femina Miss India, in which his algorithm helped calculate the scores of the contestants. Then came the Kargil war and I thought a game where you can shoot the terrorists who are trying to cross the LoC would be very appropriate. ‘I Love India’ was an instant hit. Then I realised that there’s a lot of demand for India-based games. And so in 1997 Indiagames.com, a website focused on games for India, was launched. It had games like Ravan Vadh and Dusserah. It was still a small venture with only five people until PricewaterhouseCoopers stepped in. One day in 1999 two investment bankers, I had no clue what it meant then, walked in and told me that they can provide me with venture capitalists. I had no clue what they meant, first investment bankers then venture capitalists. They explained that VCs will give me big money to expand my company and they will take stake in it. The best part was I would not have to return the money they’ll put in. Great. Now, when I look back I think had I been aware of all that I would have been able to take the plunge and reach were I stand today. Ignorance can sometimes be a bliss, you see. They asked me my business model and when they realised that was reacting to it as if they were speaking in Greek, they made one for me. PwC said they will only charge me success fees, that is, if they succeed in getting the funds, then only I will pay them. I agreed. They arranged Rs 3.5 crore from VCs and got their due. With the new money, my office expanded and I hired around 40 people. But, I was quite conservative in spending, don’t know why. After the dotcom bust, I wanted to shut online gaming and move over to mobile gaming. But, the other board members were not sure about it and wanted to go with providing services to foreign software companies. So, I had to also act as IT service provider for some time.
But, I had faith in my gaming abilities and as there were not many players in this segment then I managed to get assignments for mobile gaming from Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures and Nokia. And so came games for Lion King, Finding Nemo, Hulk and Wheels of Fortune. I always had the feeling that something more was needed to besides these, I needed a few products. I need to license a character, make a game and distribute it. But, it was very difficult to choose such a character because if it fails we will lose big time. In end 2003, Spiderman 2 was to be released and I decided to go for him. Got in touch with Marvel Comics and managed to get a worldwide licence for Spidey. The game was released in 60 countries and in 6 languages. Later I acquired licences for Bruce Lee, Jurassic Park, Buffy the Vampire slayer and Mask. Mobile game publishing increased our revenues 10-fold. I am happy that I have proved that you can do a product story in India. Now, I have a team of 300 people which include gaming programmers, graphic designers and gaming testers. Everyone in my team love gaming and that’s the common thread that binds us. When we are not creating games, we are playing one. My offices are in Mumbai, Beijing, London and Los Angeles. I also outsource some work to Eastern Europe, US and China. My dream is to give games or e-sports, as I call it, the recognition of a sport. It is never business for me, it’s just gaming. The other global players in mobile gaming are EA, GLU and GAMELOT. Besides, companies like Yahoo and Indiatimes also have mobile gaming facilities. My recent favourites are Resident Evil 4, Gears of War and WiiSports. It keeps on changing. With the growing market of pirated games it is becoming very difficult for gaming companies to maintain margins. So, I have made a pact with major gaming providers including Microsoft where I deliver a gaming package to people via broadband and charge them monthly. The companies are paid according to the usage of their games. So, when there’ll be easy and cheap availability of legal games, people won’t go for pirated products. Recently, UTV has taken over a major stake in Indiagames.com. (the stake held by Tom Online). To budding entrepreneurs, my advice is that you should have a good original idea and the capability to execute it. Have faith in your product. And always give preference to business sense than legal sense.