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Coronavirus: Gaming Platforms Rejoice, Witness Massive Surge Even as businesses across sectors face the heat of an extended countrywide lockdown owing to the Coronavirus outbreak, there are some who have managed to find a silver lining. One such area is online gaming, which has seen a welcome spike.

By Debroop Roy

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Even as businesses across sectors face the heat of an extended countrywide lockdown owing to the Coronavirus outbreak, there are some who have managed to find a silver lining. From over-the-top entertainment providers to online education apps, the list of online services which have benefitted from people having to stay home has only grown.

Another particular area that has seen a welcome surge in numbers is online gaming. "Since the pandemic started, there has been an increase of over 20 per cent in the number of daily players and we expect that this is going to increase further in the coming days," said Nitesh Salvi, founder and chief executive officer at online poker firm Pocket52.

Adda52Rummy, an online rummy platform, has seen a 50 per cent surge in new users, and even existing users have begun to engage a lot more, according to Ashish Bhakuni, head of marketing at the Kolkata-headquartered company. Similarly, another online poker platform 9stacks said it had seen a 30 per cent uptick in the number of users who are logged in and playing at the same time.

Surge For All

This surge, however, is not limited to games such as rummy and poker. Mobile Premier League (MPL) and WinZO Games, both real money gaming platforms offering a plethora of games, have seen their numbers spike as well.

While MPL saw the number of daily gameplays increase by 55 per cent in March, for WinZO, the last week of March yielded a 30 per cent spike from tier-I cities alone.

"We are seeing a 10-15 per cent weekly increase in the number of users on the platform," an MPL spokesperson said, adding that World Cricket Championship, a popular mobile cricket game that they have recently onboarded, saw a staggering 400 per cent increase in gameplays in March.

WinZO said it has rushed to launch popular titles such as PUBG, Ludo and Free Fire to cater to the new audience that is coming to its platform.

"We are also allowing our users to participate on the platform for free for the first time to make social connections through social gaming affordable for those observing social isolation," said WinZO co-founder Saumya Singh Rathore. She claims activity on the social features of the app such as video and audio usage during game play has also doubled.

This increase in people willing to interact more during playing has also resulted in the sudden resurgence of the Houseparty app. As per a recent report by Bobble AI, in India alone, the group video chatting app that allows users to also play games, had seen an increase of over 215 per cent in time spent by users.

Even relatively newer platforms have been able to cash in on this surge.

"All our metrics are trending up over the last two or three weeks. In engagement time and gameplays we are seeing almost 100 per cent growth," said Dilsher Singh Malhi, co-founder at skill-based gaming platform Zupee. The company announced an $8 million Series A round led by Matrix Partners India last week.

Challenges and Strategies

With the surge being so sudden, several companies have also had to quickly ensure that their cloud infrastructure is strong enough to handle the growing user base.

"We had to rush back to our office on March 15 and we have been working with the Amazon Web Services team everyday to scale our servers to handle the high concurrencies we are experiencing," said Rathore.

On the other hand, MPL said it was already equipped to handle the surge. But being a platform that also offers fantasy sports, and with all major sports tournaments across the world cancelled or postponed, has that meant any massive changes for the Bengaluru-based company?

"That's the advantage of being a platform. Fantasy took a hit obviously, because of the sporting events getting cancelled but we have seen that our fantasy users have migrated to other games," said Naman Jhawar, MPL's vice president of business and strategy.

MPL, which boasts of Indian men's cricket team captain Virat Kohli as its brand ambassador, has managed to ensure that its advertisements shot don't go waste despite an uncertain future for the cash-cow that is the Indian Premier League.

"Unlike other fantasy cricket apps, our platform isn't seasonal and hence isn't dependent only on the IPL for advertising - which is why we have just launched a major television campaign pan-India even though the IPL has been pushed," said Abhishek Madhavan, vice president of growth and marketing at MPL.

Adda52's Bhakuni said the company would be increasing its marketing spend to create brand awareness as more people are online these days. The platform has been offering bonus codes for first-time players, and referral codes for existing top players.

9stacks has also ramped up their user acquisition efforts, said co-founder Sudhir Kamath. "We've had a surge of demand for our 'private table' feature, where we can make password protected tables for users to play exclusively with their friends. This has been a good way for people to bond while they're unable to meet each other physically."

WinZO's Rathore said that with all that is going around and despite the surge, the company doesn't see it as a business opportunity.

"Currently people are isolated, they need to connect - what better than a social gaming platform. We have opened our platform for free now- we don't care about not making money, we want to make a positive impact in this crisis; we understand the impact this pandemic would leave on mental health, we want to reduce the damage it can have," she said.

Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.
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