Big stars are invading your mobile screen. As a plethora of celebrity-led games is launched in the Rs 70-crore Indian mobile gaming business, character licensing is the new buzzword in the industry.
If Jackie Chan can transcend into animation and comics globally, Indians would surely lap up games featuring Sachin Tendulkar, Baichung Bhutia, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni, goes the wisdom with mobile game makers like Nazara Technologies, Mauj Telecom, Paradox Studios and Indiagames.
And if cricketers can do it, surely the country's other big draw, Bollywood, can't be far behind, with John Abraham leading the pack here. “Celebrities make a big difference to a game's visual appeal,” says Nitish Mittersain, CEO, Nazara Technologies, which has exclusive rights for Sachin Tendulkar.
According to sources, Nazara paid Tendulkar Rs 4 crore as signing amount for three-year mobile rights for half-a-dozen games, such as Smash 'em, Sachin Tap-a-thon and Sachin Duck The Bouncer.
The company's business has quadrupled ever since Tendulkar signed on, egging it to add on Virendra Sehwag to its existing list of cricketers like MS Dhoni, Brett Lee and 'Master Blaster'. Another gaming company betting big on sports celebrities is Reliance Infocomm's gaming subsidiary, Mumbai-based Paradox Studios.
“Celebrities help us deliver the game to more audiences. Mobile operators also tend to push celebrity-led games with their subscribers,” says Salil Bhargava, CEO, Paradox Studios, which has global rights to the only Indian footballer of note, Baichung Bhutia.
Paradox is in talks with a few leading Bollywood and Hollywood stars, and is expected to announce the tie-ups very soon. “Although, we had games featuring Jassi, Mandira Bedi and Zaheer Khan in the past, a herd mentality seems to have set in, in the industry,” says Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames, adding a voice of caution against being carried away by the celebrity craze.
Venture capital has fuelled many of these gaming start-ups (Nazara has $1.5m funding from WestBridge Capital Partners, Mauj has $10m again from WestBridge, Intel Capital and Sequoia Capital).
The general feeling is that valuations of celebrity rights have already reached unrealistic levels. Little wonder, few people have started talking down on the celebrity gaming hype.
“We want to concentrate on properties like movies, both Hollywood and Bollywood, and not as much on individual celebrities, although we don't rule that out,” says Arun Gupta, CEO, Mauj Telecom. Some have started looking at more de-risked business models.
“We produce games in collaboration with service providers like Airtel, which acquire exclusive rights over personalities. “This puts us in a more comfortable position, as we don't have to pay for licensing the character,” says Rajiv Hiranandani, country head, mobile2win.
Following on its Indian model, the company is creating a game around Brazilian footballer, Cafu, through a tie up with Spain's Arena Mobile for global audiences.