India’s mobile games industry has exploded over the past few years, driven by low cost smartphones, affordable 4G and free to play titles. The turning point was when a company called Reliance Jio offered to distribute 4G for free to all 52 million customers. Because of the strong uptick in mobile game usage in India, Niko Partners has added India to our coverage, alongside China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei. There are more than 400 million smartphone owners in India today, second only to China. Whilst the addressable market will be as big as China, there are still barriers to overcome before India’s mobile gamers monetise at the same rate as China’s. This mini report is a recent snapshot of India’s mobile games market, presenting the top games and trends.
Battle Royale titles top the chart
PUBG Mobile was the #1 mobile game by revenue and downloads in India for the month of September. The global popularity of the PC game did not materialise in India due to the low installed base of gaming PCs and the requirement to pay upfront to play. PUBG Mobile, which launched in March 2018, was the first battle royale game to launch on mobile, bring the game to millions of smartphone users without the need to pay upfront. The game has become a phenomenon in India where it has been downloaded more than 100 million times. In fact, the game became too popular for Indian authorities who said the game was responsible for violence and poor grades among young people. Authorities in some cities even went as far as to ban the game, although we note that the game was never taken down from app stores and the ban was only enforced if the police saw people playing the game in public.
Garena Free Fire was the #2 game by revenue in September, another popular battle royale game. Garena Free Fire has been successful as a battle royale title due to its ability to run on low-end smartphones whilst providing a high-end experience. This reason, along with a later launch, is why Fortnite has not found the same type of success in India as it requires higher spec smartphones to run smoothly. Tencent, the publisher of PUBG Mobile, has taken note of Garena Free Fire and earlier this year released PUBG Mobile Lite which is a lightweight version of the battle royale game, designed to run on low-end smartphones. Despite only launching in July, PUBG Mobile Lite already accounts for 35% of combined PUBG Mobile / Lite downloads in India, showing the local demand for light and optimised versions of games. We note that PUBG Mobile revenue in the month of September was nearly 4x that of Garena Free Fire in India.
Core genres top the revenue chart, offer esports potential
One common trend across most of the top mobile titles in India is that they have social, online and competitive components that make them perfect for esports. Tencent ran the PUBG Mobile India Tour esports tournament this year where Revenge Esports came out on top with prize money of $70,000. Garena partnered with India Today to launch the Free Fire Gaming League, offering $12,000 to the winning team. Clash of Clans, the popular strategy game from Supercell which ranked #8 on the revenue chart and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, the popular MOBA game from Moonton which ranked at #9 on the revenue chart both have growing esports scenes in the country too.
Lords Mobile, a strategy game from IGG, ranked at #6 on the revenue chart. The game has become popular in the country due to its addictive gameplay, constant flow of content and strong marketing campaign. The game is similar to Clash of Clans in that players can join guilds and work with teammates to win battles. Another strategy game, Last Shelter: Survival, from Long Tech, has risen in popularity and is now ranked #7 on the revenue chart. Along with Clash of Clans, there are three core strategy games in the top 10 revenue chart.
Games with gambling elements prove popular
Coin Master from Tel-Aviv based Moon Active ranked #3 in the revenue chart. The game combines traditional strategy gameplay with gambling mechanics to keep players hooked and spending in game. The game is similar to other strategy games in the top 10 revenue chart, where players build and upgrade their own bases, then attack and defend against other players. Coin Master differs from other strategy games by tying a slot machine mechanic to building upgrades. When players run out of coins to build, they are presented with a slot machine. Successful spins provide players with rewards and the ability to resume building. Players can purchase additional spins when they run out.
Teen Patti from India’s own Octro is a card game with social casino elements that ranked #5 on the revenue chart. The game has been on the market since 2013 but started to grow significantly towards the end of 2016. Today it is India’s most successful domestic mobile game. Whilst gambling is technically illegal in India, card games have long been a part of India’s traditions and Octro has been able to successfully adapt a three-card poker game for smartphones using IAP.
Casual games top the downloads chart
The majority of mobile gamers in India are non-spenders, and this is reflected in the download chart where most titles are casual games that do not require heavy spending. This is primarily due to low credit card penetration in India and a lack of frictionless payment options within mobile games, not to mention low disposable income across a majority of the population. However, we do note that PUBG Mobile and Garena Free Fire, two core titles, make an appearance in both the download and revenue chart, showing that there are exceptions.
The future is bright for India’s mobile games market as the number of smartphone users continues to grow. This paired with increased disposable income, a nationwide 5G rollout, increased esports focus and more localised content will see India become a gaming powerhouse over the next decade. In 2019, growth will continue to be driven by battle royale titles and strategy games and we are optimistic that Call of Duty Mobile will also grow the market as it brings the popular IP to a whole new audience.