It was the early months of 2017, and internet penetration was already on the rise. But there did exist a tiny gap between having to choose between movies, television, and the internet.
Ninad Bhagwat, CEO and Co-founder of Deftouch, says that there was no localised content that is truly relevant to Indians that they can wholeheartedly own.
“The Indian mobile user ecosystem did not have the kind of mobile games that they deserved, and something they should pay for,” he adds.
With a vision to dominate the market of real money gaming, Bengaluru-based Deftouch claims to have built the world’s first real-time multiplayer cricket game, All Star Cricket. Having started in February 2018 with only two people—founders Ninad Bhagwat and Keshav Sunder—the startup is now a 20-people-strong team.
In a subcontinent that considers cricket to be a religion, what was already an advantage for Deftouch is the sport’s ability to cut through a highly diverse set of users in the subcontinent, across cultures, languages, and locations. At present, cricket gaming is only confined to playing against the computer, which tends to get boring after one learns how to beat the bot.
In multiplayer cricket, every game is unique with no scope for repetition. The game is also location-based.
Ninad says, “When an Indian team is playing against a Pakistani team online, one can only imagine the adrenaline-charge experience for the users.”
Deftouch certainly seems to be enjoying that advantage, for it says it had clocked five million users since inception.
The story behind the 5 million
Ninad, 30, also founded The Pizza Guy, a food delivery startup before Deftouch. He has a BE in Chemical Engineering from Thadomal Shahani Engineering College. Keshav, 29, worked as a market research manager at IMRB. He has a BE degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering.
The duo saw an opportunity to build a mobile game that is highly social and engaging for the burgeoning internet scenario in India. They taught themselves how to code, design a mobile game, and get a prototype together. In partnership with Mumbai-based Nazara Technologies, an interactive gaming and sports media company, they brought out the MVP.
They went on to become the official gaming partner with Royal Challengers Bangalore for the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the prototype stage itself.
The team put together a custom-built backend to focus on micro packet sizes, which occupy lesser space and afford a smooth multiplayer experience even in the absence of high-speed internet. The multiplayer interface is said to be seamlessly synchronous and promises to distill the essence of everything that makes cricket such a popular game.
Ninad says, “The app has a slick gameplay coupled with stylised art. This was intended for grabbing the attention of the mass market in its entirety, not just hardcore fans and gamers.”
Revenue model and market potential
Deftouch is funded with $450,000 by Kalaari Capital and angel investor Arun Venkatachalam. After Dream11, Deftouch is Kalaari Capital’s second gaming investment.
The key market forces at play here are the penetration of 4G internet and Unified Payments Interface (UPI), which helped the startup garner five million users in its first game. Deftouch’s playground includes a market of 320 million mobile viewers of IPL, as recorded during this year’s season.
The startup’s revenue is streamed from real-money micro-transactions on various platforms, in-app purchases on Google Play Store, and video advertisements as rewards. The app, which is now in its live-beta stage, has over 4,50,000 online users.
“The general perception is that Indians do not spend any money on virtual currency. But we also have high expectations from the real gaming market, which is highly unregulated but is deeply rooted in the culture of the country.”
Through the in-app purchases, users get to buy players, develop their teams accordingly, and set out to win games and tournaments. The founders believe that this subject of real money is something that the country understands well.
The Indian mobile games market is projected to touch $1.1 billion by the end of 2020, with the number of gaming users expected to reach 628 million. With Dream11 already in place for cricket fans, PUBG has taken the young by storm in the recent past.
Speaking of competition, the founders are now only looking at ways to collaborate with existing players like Mobile Premier League (MPL) and Dream11, but not essentially compete with them. They believe in growing the ecosystem and the size of the market by collaboration.