Gunnidhi Singh Sareen, Head Digital Works


The growth of the online gaming industry over the past 18 months has in many ways reflected human behavior. During pandemic, we saw an increase in online gaming and as a result, there were a lot of users socializing on gaming platforms alongside OTT. But now with people leaving their homes, returning to the office, and traveling more often the gaming industry has witnessed a change in their consumer behavior as there is a shift towards responsible gaming. Despite this the online gaming industry continues to see rapid growth with new trends coming in. We speak to Gunnidhi Singh Sareen, VP Marketing, Head Digital Works about the changing trends in the gaming industry post-covid.

Excerpts

Siddharth: What is the current scenario of Esports and the online gaming industry in India?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: Around the world, the growth of esports was turbocharged during the Covid-19 pandemic. As people stayed indoors with more disposable time in hand, they enjoyed online gaming more. Online gaming began to be perceived as a means of stress relief, entertainment and as a platform through which they can socialize. This along with India’s massive youth population, growing internet penetration and the affordability of smartphones has led to the rapid growth of Esports in India.

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Currently, the Indian gaming industry is harnessing the latest technologies, software, better connectivity, gadgets, and the likes, making it even more widespread. Vernacular content and localized gaming interfaces have made online gaming popular even in tier two and tier three cities. In fact, some small towns have witnessed more than 100% to up to 200% growth in online gamers. The future of online gaming in India is very promising, projected to reach a stupefying $3.9 billion dollars by year-end. (As reported by IMGR). Smaller towns will serve as massive potential pools in this growth and last but not least, we all look forward to the debut of esports at the Asian Games 2022.

Siddharth: Can you comment on the versatility of esports and factors enabling its rapid growth in the country?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: Esports is an extremely versatile sport as it allows people across geographies to connect and play from the comfort of their homes. The industry is still in its nascent stage & is very dynamic in nature. This ensures there is a lot to learn & unlearn about changing consumer behaviour and helps keep the freshness alive in marketing campaigns & customer experience. Tournaments for the same vary in scale, operations, and frequency. One of the main reasons why there has been growth in eSports viewership is that more people are learning about it; be it as a result of interesting formats, gamers live streaming, influencers or the rise of platforms offering live eSports coverage.

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Overall, the shift from offline to online during the pandemic really accelerated the growth of the industry. All of it in the end has been made possible with the penetration of high-speed internet, paving the way for online games to reach across borders. Even in the remotest village, those equipped with a smartphone have access to online games. It has become a means for people to connect and its competitive nature instils in people the need to play again and again.

There are many other factors in the pipeline which will affect the future of the sector. For instance, the accessibility of virtual reality features on mobile phone games is still limited but this is poised to grow steadily and create a new gaming universe altogether. The landscape of digital platforms is all set to go beyond imagination, and it will be interesting to see how it takes esports to new heights in the coming years.

Siddharth: What is fostering the transition of people viewing esports and online gaming as a hobby to a profession?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: Professionals today seek more than just good work culture and attractive pay packages. After gaining a lot of experience in online gaming or esports, gamers have started to understand and leverage the popularity of these games. They are looking at creating meaningful impact and diversifying their skill sets across sectors. What makes the gaming industry thrive and spellbinding is that it offers an environment for creative juices to flow and gives one an opportunity to construct something meaningful while experiencing significant growth trajectories. This along with the rapid growth of the sector has contributed to many techies joining the gaming space.

The industry offers endless opportunities for one to hone their skills. One has the liberty and flexibility to switch roles so as to have a deeper understanding of the industry unlike in other roles where there are more restrictions.

Another aspect that is leading this transition is that online gaming is now being viewed as a salaried profession and one that offers profitable prize money. This isn’t all, talented esports players are being signed on by powerful organizations, who then help them become global stars. Advertisements and brand sponsorship agreements are also significantly contributing to generating high revenue numbers for the industry. So, all in all it’s a lucrative career choice on both sides – as a gamer and as a techie.

Siddharth: What career options can people explore with esports and online skill-based gaming? Are the options lucrative?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: I truly believe that the timing could not be better for professionals and recent graduates to join the gaming industry. It not only provides creative roles for techies, but also for people who are exploring opportunities around other co-existing sectors such as those of marketing, strategy, analysis etc. Game Designer, Narrative Designer, Visual Artist, Sound Designer, Game developer, Testers are just a few names when it comes to possible career options in online gaming.

Digital metamorphosis during and post-pandemic has led to the exponential surge for skilled tech professionals across sectors, with gaming being no different. Take the example of our company’s efforts. We aim to double our current workforce of 400 by the year-end. We have already onboarded 100 employees since the beginning of the year and are actively hiring across domains including technology, marketing, strategy, growth and product. This is a testament to the industry being recognized as highly profitable.

Siddharth: Can you share your views on the changing trends in the gaming industry and consumer behaviour post pandemic? What is the difference in user engagement being witnessed at Head Digital Works?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: Today’s informed customers are looking at multiple platforms for entertainment be it OTT, social media or online gaming. And while there are an end number of players across each of these formats, there is a need for differentiation and the creation of unique campaigns to strike the right chord. For instance, a campaign that connects with gamers from metro cities will not resonate well with gamers from Tier 3 towns. To bridge such gaps, it is essential to connect market driven insights with campaign ideas. I believe that focused storytelling and adapting the right media mix is the key to successful marketing campaigns that truly understand target groups.

People are now going back to work from offices or are adopting hybrid work styles. Earlier during the lockdown, our growth in terms of daily users increased two-fold as compared to the pre-covid era. During the first lockdown, not only did we witness more users on the platform but also saw that the daily average session time was more than three hours. Now while there is sustained user engagement, we are witnessing that the average session time has reduced by 30 minutes per day as leisure time reduces.

Siddharth: Responsible gaming has come into place because of set number of office hours with WFH coming to an end and people having to juggle their time. Any thoughts here? What is Head Digital Works doing to ensure creation of a responsible gaming ecosystem?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: As the industry draws the spotlight on itself due to its massive growth, court judgements and misconceptions have upheld online gaming to be recognized as a legitimate business. There is a lack of both regulations governing the industry and of understanding the difference between skill based online gaming and gambling. Globally, online gaming is fairly well-regulated in countries such as the UK, USA, and the EU that ensure that users enjoy this form of entertainment responsibly. Whereas in India there is a dire need to address the perception and uncertainty surrounding online gaming to avoid extremities. And, so it becomes even more integral as a gaming company to advocate responsible gaming for all players.

As a company, right from day one we have taken pride in advocating responsible gaming. Most recently to drive this narrative even more deeply, we got onboard mega star Shahrukh Khan as our ambassador for the first of its kind ‘Chalo Saath Khele’ campaign for A23. We have a clear vision of adopting a Gamer First approach wherein gaming is uncompromising and uncomplicated. We go all out to ensure players on our platform are indulging in responsible gaming, we provide self care options like time and deposit limits to ensure we regulate gaming patterns, assessments with suggestions based on results and last but not the least, our proactive approach to reach out to users and help them make informed choices. While we are here to facilitate and reward social connections through gaming, our focus is to do it responsibly. It is our endeavour to provide premium but inclusive platforms for skill gaming enthusiasts and self-made champions who display a high degree of professionalism.

Siddharth: What is your vision for the future of gaming and how is Head Digital Works going to augment this growth?

Gunnidhi Singh Sareen: The industry is slated to grow steadily in the coming years providing ample career opportunities for the generations to come. Entertainment entered the esports space in 2020, a trend set that has been intensifying as the industry grows in size and legitimacy. Newer trends in monetisation are also projected to proliferate and digital goods are expected to play larger roles as revenue streams in the industry. With various new technologies coming into the picture such as 5G that will offer significantly higher speeds and gaming on cloud that will provide enhanced experiences for gamers in VR, the future is indeed bright.

Being the oldest skill-based gaming company in India, our vision is to innovate and build our product portfolio based on changing consumer trends, messaging and user demand, lead the industry in developing new markets and customer segments with the help of our tech, product and marketing strategies. All of this while focusing on expanding our team with the right talent and upskilling initiatives. We strive to build an international tech team that will aid us to get insights across countries and accordingly enable us to create the most unique gaming experiences and localized campaigns. Last but not the least, we will be streamlining our energies to give due importance to diversity in all efforts.

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