India is currently the second largest internet user base in the world, with 355 million (Mary Meeker’s 2017 report), just behind China. This is also the market where most of the traffic is driven by mobile web, with the majority of users relying on their phones to access internet. But the proliferation of smartphones hasn’t always translated into easy monetization for app developers.
The idea of paying for apps, including mobile games, is something that is yet to catch up. For game developers like June Software, which has seen its fair share of success in the US market, the Indian market is just starting to change. June Software is a Silicon Valley-based company, which actually started in India. They have been developing games, including education-based games, for Apple’s iOS since 2007. Games like Ninjump Dash, MaskGun, Maths vs Zombies, have bought the company success.
“We started in 2007, when the first iPhone came out. December is when we made our first app, December 2008. We had 900 downloads on the first day. That’s when we realised the power of the iOS platform, and decided to shift,” explains Roby John, one of the three founders of June software. He explains the company’s big break was when the iPad launched in 2010. “We thought it was something that was very interesting. When the iPad came out, I realised it can be used to grab the student’s attention, also measure the retention,” says Roby, who has a background in the education, teaching world.
June’s TaptoLearn platform launched in May 2010, and June 2010 they shipped the first game from this platform. It went on to become one of the top 25 grossing games in the world, and would eventually lead to the next big break for the company. As Roby explains, the success with the iPad and TapToLearn showed them the real pace of monetization possible on iOS.
“We got great feedback when we went to schools in the US,” he adds. June Software would eventually shift base to Silicon Valley. In 2012, they managed to get into Y Combinator, and in 2012 raised money to from Silicon Valley investors.
“When we went into Y Combinator, we had half a million installs. After that we had 3 million, which shows what it did for us,” explains June’s founder. For this gaming company, the link with Apple and its iOS platform also helped boost success. Roby cites a 2012 meeting with Lauren Powell Jobs, the wife of late Steve Jobs. “To actually meet the first family of Apple was a two-year journey for us. It told us anything and everything is possible. They have great confidence in our abilities, and the quality of our games kept improving,” he adds.
June’s founder also says the key to survival in the gaming app industry is centred around adapting. “Most companies in this space have kind of died. We focus on free to play category, and one kind of genre: real-time gaming. Why real-time gaming? We think this is the hardest category. In 2013, we saw it as the future,” he explains.
Roby credits the close working relationship with Apple in helping them understand how to plan for the future. The company has also won a prize as one of the oldest developer in the App Store, and has seen over 70 million installs worldwide. He explains that Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) is one important stage for developers to get a headstart on how to plan for future products.
“One of the ideas with WWDC is to show our team members that the top game are being made by people just like you. You can get insider tips on what to do, and what not to do. That is really what you get from Apple WWDC: learning from your peers,” he says. The other value for developers is understanding things from Apple’s side. “See Apple has a lot of its own developers, and APIs, but there is a core thinking behind all of this. If you understand this core thinking, you can plan your products better,”says Roby.
According to him, the advantage of WWDC is that developers get to know what’s coming next from Apple, how it will affect their game, upcoming payment methods, the kind of marketing they can do. “From a developer perspective you want all the possible access to WWDC,” he says, given it means three to five months advance notice for future products.
June software brought their games to India in 2015-16, but here they have gone for a different strategy by relying on some popular cartoon figures like Chhota Bheem and Motu Patlu. “So India is home ground advantage for us. From a distribution perspective, we’ve tied up with Nazara, which owns the rights for Chota Bheem and Motu Patlu IP (Intellectual Property) and built games on those. We take our existing games and built on around those properties. Chhota Bheem Race and Chhota Bheem Talking Toy which went to be number one on the AppStores briefly, and we’ve seen over 12 million installs in India,” says Roby.
For the developers, the Indian market is still a work in progress. For example, their game MaskGun has not yet launched in India, because it requires high-speed internet, and a high-end device for optimal experience. However, Roby admits, the devices have gotten better, and so has internet connectivity and data usage, which will work well for their real-time multiplayer games in the future. June Software has also partnered with telecom carriers in India, helping curate stores, which has helped them gain more perspective around this market, and write games around the market.
“We’ve started using Chota Bheem to repackage some of our TapToLearn stuff in India. We think from a schools perspective, in the US it is very easy to sell it to schools, they are outlined to a district. But in India, it is largely private, so you’ll need a large sales force on the ground,” he explains. Roby thinks India needs a good model for payment, and Apple’s subscription model is one such way of changing this.
“If you see the app store, the top grossing games are free to play games thanks to in-apps payments,” he explains. He think there is huge potential in India, even for paid apps, and this will start to grow in the coming year. In India, the company has repackaged its Maths vs Zombies around Chota Bheem, and is also looking at the ads model for monetization.
“People would not pay $5 upfront here like they do in the US. Paid advertising can also work. In India, all kids TV is sponsored content. We’re exploring something similar for our games,” he says.