“India has shown us that console games are not a new world, you have to be on the mobile side of the equation,” Omar Tellez, VP for Emerging Markets, Niantic, emphasised how India sits at the epicenter of mobile gaming and the success of any game depends on how Indian users respond to it.
Tellez was in India to launch Pokémon Go in Hindi, Niantic’s biggest game to date that has amassed over a billion downloads since its launch in 2016. “India has shown us away in terms of what mobile gaming is, and how mobile gaming is done,” he tells indianexpress.com during an event in Delhi.
For years, Pokémon Go has had a cult-like following in Western markets but the San Francisco-based mobile game developer is now looking at India in the hope of adding new players to an already popular title. Tellez says the way the game has been localised for Indian players and its availability in Hindi will bring in more users into the Pokémon Go universe.
India has predominantly been a mobile-first gaming market with a huge base of gamers, owing to high penetration of smartphones and cheaper data tariffs. In fact, 98.8 per cent of users play games on their mobile phones, according to Niko Partners, a market research and consulting firm that covers video games, esports, and streaming in Asia and the Middle East. That gives mobile game developers like Niantic a scope to tap into a large user base and build a fan base for their games in the second-largest games market in the world behind China. This is why Niantic chose to localise the game for India by renaming all 800+ Pokemon in Hindi and making changes to in-game pricing. The developer also plans to kick off a variety of live events to engage with the Pokemon Go community in India moving forward.
But a game like Pokemon Go doesn’t come with an upfront cost, meaning users don’t have to pay to download the game. Instead, Niantic makes money through community days, raid passes, incubators, and in-game purchases. That’s a tough market to be in, especially in India where monetization is very low despite a large user base of gamers. Another challenge for Niantic is to get the attention of mobile gamers who are not familiar with Pokémon or the Pokémon brand.
In Pokémon Go, players search for animated characters superimposed on real-life images on their phone screens. The hugely popular mobile game is based on Nintendo’s intellectual property Pokémon but the Japanese gaming giant didn’t make Pokémon Go. Niantic is the game’s developer and publisher, while the Pokémon Company markets and licenses the franchise. Nintendo is an investor in Niantic Labs (which split from Google years ago, and Google also remains an investor), and is also a one-third stakeholder in Pokémon Company.
The Pokémon franchise was launched in 1996 on Nintendo’s Gameboy, which helped establish the famed Japanese company as an entertainment powerhouse. The star of the Japanese franchise Pokémon, Pikachu is regarded as a pop cultural icon, and arguably the most popular animated character ever created. By some estimates, Pokémon is the most valuable media franchise in the world, with an estimated $100 billion in lifetime revenue from video and card games, TV shows and movies, comic books, and licensed merchandise. That puts Nintendo’s Pokémon franchise ahead of Mickey Mouse, Marvel and Star Wars and Hello Kitty in terms of value.
Despite a massive market with an expanding middle class to power sales growth, and potentially a huge base for Nintendo’s cult characters, games and consoles in the future, the Japan-based gaming giant has not shown interest in being present in India. Although Nintendo has not indicated any plans to enter India, the Pokémon Company’s involvement alongside Niantic in Thursday’s event in Delhi may indicate that the Big N is serious about this Southeast Asian market after all. The Pokémon Company has established an India team, though it remains to be seen how long it will take to make inroads by increasing marketing efforts and expanding its presence in the country.
Tellez hopes India will be among the top five markets for Pokémon Go in the future. With 70 million monthly active users, Pokémon Go still has a large user base and India will fuel the next wave of growth. The core base of the game continues to be between 18 and 34 but Tellez also wants to serve parents and the entire family with Pokémon Go.
When Pokemon Go was launched years back, its Augmented Reality game mechanics were fresh, offering a new way to play AR games on smartphones. To date, Pokemon Go remains the best example of AR – a technology that allows users to overlay digital content onto the real world, creating a truly immersive AR experience. That being said, despite the success of Pokemon Go, the market for AR games remains small. Developers haven’t been able to come up with compelling AR games that would be a draw for a wider audience.
But the augmented reality landscape already seems to be changing as more companies integrate AR into headsets or goggles that use powerful cameras and hardware. With the launch of Meta’s Quest 3 later this year and Apple’s Vision Pro headset hitting retail shelves next year, experts hope the AR technology will see a boom.
“It will definitely happen. It’s gonna take some time, but we see it happening over the next five to 10 years,” Tellez responded when asked about how long it will take the AR technology to shift from mobile to headset.
Two years back, Niantic announced its software development platform designed to help app makers create augmented reality products using a set of tools and technologies. The company also plans to build its “AR metaverse” relying on its trove of AR location data, which Pokemon Go has helped build.
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“We believe that the way for head-mounted display AR to be successful is not only to have the right technology but also to have the right use case…and we have the right use case,” he said.
Niantic has also previously demoed AR glasses, so its ambitions are to control the entire ecosystem- from software to hardware. It remains to be seen if the company succeeds with its experiment with “real-world metaverse” or it will meet the same fate as Meta.
“Our platform combined with our map of the world and our content, provide a great trifecta for this [AR] to take off,” he said.
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First published on: 15-09-2023 at 20:25 IST