Zapak Launches Multiplayer Cricket Game; Not Enough Quality Local Content Says COO Rohit Sharma

Reliance ADA Group’s Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd. launched their online multiplayer cricket game, developed by Reliance’s Jump Games, in New Delhi today. Strangely enough, the game was launched to the background tune of Marilyn Manson’s ‘Rock is Dead‘…no lyrics, though…would have been grossly inappropriate, but apt since the game doesn’t seem to be working. Sudipto Majumdar, CTO of Zapak had earlier told me that they’ve had to increase bandwidth to 46mbps and will be scaling up progressively.

Update: It works fine now. My opponent backed out midway…guess I’m too good at the game, heh. Should be something there to reduce the incidence players quitting midway.

At the launch were former cricketers Navjot Sidhu and Kapil Dev, and a majority of the Q&A focused on the India’s recent win against South Africa instead of online gaming and the cricket multiplayer game. However, I got the opportunity to speak to Rohit Sharma, COO of Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd:

What are the challenges that you’re facing with a gaming portal like Zapak?
Challenges in this space include Broadband connectivity and PC specs, but we expect that improvement in broadband and PC specs will become triggers for growth. Then there are content issues – there just really isn’t enough quality local content so we’re planning to set up a large development center (Ed: CNBC-TV18 reports that the development center will be in Mumbai or Pune, and that Reliance is on the lookout for strategic partners). As far as casual gaming is concerned, we’ve got some of the best international gaming content. We’ve got strategic tie-ups for India with three large international developers.

What are your plans for MMOG’s? Are you looking at games the size of World of Warcraft?
We’re not looking at games the size of World of Warcraft. They’ve got heavy requirements in terms of broadband connectivity and PC specs. We will launch MMOG’s by March, and are already talking to some large players. We have around 20 people testing titles over the last eight months, on 30 different parameters including gameplay, PC specs, ease of learning, levels, level of customization and much much more. We’ve identified 6-7 titles, but I can’t talk about those yet.

What plans do you have for the Zapak Gaming Zones?
In Phase I, we’re targeting 15 cities over the next three months. Then we’ll move to the franchise model. We’re looking at 50,000 to 60,000 gaming seats once this is complete.

You’ve signed up Bollywood stars like Salman Khan. Any plans to tie up with Bollywood Studios for movie-based games?
No, we’re not looking to tie up with Bollywood studios for making games on movies. We’re focusing of stars and intend to bring out a game a month based on each star. Movie based games have a limited life, while games based on stars will last longer.

Any acquisitions in the offing?
No, we’re not planning to acquire any companies.

How do you intend to monetize the content?
In the first phase, revenue will come from advertisements and advergaming. In phase II, in around six months, we’ll introduce subscription based content. Some of the games will be downloadable. If subscription charges for certain games are $15 globally, we’re looking at charging less than $1. After that, in Phase III, we’ll consider charging according to each level for some games, and offer micropayment options and prepaid cards.

What kind of targets have you set? Are you also planning to target international subscriptions?
We can’t talk about revenue targets as yet, but in terms of users, we want to have 10 million subscribers by 2007 end. We’re not looking to go abroad, and are targeting 50 million subscribers in 18-19 months.

How are you planning to promote the games? How much are you spending on online advertising?
We’ll conduct an online gaming cricket competition, around the World Cup. The winners will get the two bats that have been signed by Navjot Sidhu and Kapil Dev today. With time, our focus on TV advertising and hoardings will reduce and we will look to focus our spends on online. We’ve got a target of online advertising spends upwards of $2 million for 2007.