A recent report from Bank of America Securities (BoAS) details how India's biggest telecoms companies, notably Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, are positioning themselves as far more than just the firms that are responsible for getting India connected online.
This comes at a time when the online gaming industry is experiencing an unprecedented boom, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 6 July BoAS paper said global weekly mobile game downloads were as high as 1.2 billion in April 2020, as worldwide coronavirus lockdowns led more people to seek entertainment online.
In India, the popular Ludo King game boomed with a 142% jump in downloads between February and April, Nazara saw an increase of 20% in time spent on its network and a five-time increase of in-app purchases, and PayTM First Games witnessed a 200% increase in the user base.
"Recent lockdown led to a strong uptake in online gaming. Monetization though may take time given nascent stage of the market. Rather than being just the pipe, telcos like Jio (Reliance Industries-owned) and Bharti Airtel are focusing on gaming as an incremental source of ad/subscription revenue. In fact, RIL believes that gaming in India will be bigger than music, movies and television shows put together", states the BoAS report.
Like their content strategy, both firms are tying with gaming companies instead of developing in-house games. BoAS expects cloud gaming picking up post 5G/fixed broadband rollout.
"Rather than casual gaming, telcos are focusing more on high bandwidth requirement games. But they are looking to eliminate the need of hardware (as it limits addressable market) and instead offer games on Pay TV Set-top box. We find current strategies of Jio and Bharti towards gaming different. While Jio is offering more casual games, Bharti appears more focused on e-sports", BoAS commented.
The report also notes that India's conversion to mobile gaming has been slower than other Asian economies like China and South Korea.
But with improving telecom infrastructure, a buoyant gaming eco-system, and a huge millennial/gen z user base, it's expected to continue growing rapidly.
BoAS forecasts India's gaming user base to hit 486 million by 2022 from 365 million in 2019 and 409 million (estimated) in 2020.
According to Redseer, a Bengaluru-based consulting firm, online gaming in India could be worth US$8.4 billion by 2024.
That's more than double the estimate of another report this year from Maple Capital Advisors, who predicted the gaming industry to be worth US$3.75 billion by the same year.