With the progress of science and technology, video games have become an integral part of people’s lives across the globe, including in our own nation, India. The existence of video games in our country is not any recent history. They have been around many Indian shelves and drawers since the days of Atari, Sega and NES, but, on a narrow scale. The scale, which has now turned into a billion-dollar industry, drawing attention from several multi-billion dollar companies from across the world.
Video games were solely considered as hobbies, a medium of escapism and leisure-time entertainment. Today, the same industry is feeding thousands of companies, millions of individuals and their families, turning out to be one of the most profitable and strikingly growing industries of the 21st century.
During our trip to Mumbai, we decided to shake hands with Allwyn D’souza, Deputy Manager of Public Relations and Product at e-xpress Interactive. Founded in 2002, e-xpress stands as India’s current largest and most reputed video games distributor of all time. I’ve known Allwyn for over six months now, most of the time conversing formally regarding new releases, review inquiries and product keys, but also annoying him occasionally with my childish curiosity. Although our session with him was quite lengthy, I’m sure his responses will keep you hooked.
We reached the fourth floor of Western Edge-I where a towering life-size statue of Lara Croft(from Tomb Raider 2013) welcomed us. After waiting for a few minutes, Allwyn came to receive us from the reception, showed us around the place, which was mostly cubicles, and helped us feel at home in a glass cabin, which, I’m assuming is the discussion room. A few chats later, I pulled out my notebook, started my recorder and thus, the interview began.
e-xpress Interactive was started back in 2002. How has the video games distribution in India changed since then?
Honestly, video games distribution has changed in ways, where now, we have to think of ways to reach directly to the consumers. Earlier it was, okay, you’ll are in touch with your sub-distributors, you’re in touch with your retailers, now, a lot has changed where you have to focus more on consumers. It has changed from a B2B, probably, to a B2C. You have to be part of these games, you have to be part of forums, websites, gaming websites, you have to monitor all of that. That is the biggest change. And I think it will continue to be that way or evolve to a more transparent B2C platform.
What do you think about other game distributors in India like RAINBOW Games, GamesTradeDelhi, World Wide CD Roms or any other distributor other than e-xpress?
I can’t talk about them but what I can talk about and say is about our own retail channel. We have our own retail channel called Games The Shop. We’ve stores across India, we have an online portal, and as I said, B2C is now more important. So, Games The Shop is one platform through which we try and reach directly to consumers instead of other businesses.
Do companies, do publishers, that are related to you have a certain sales target? What if the game fails in India?
The good thing is, publishers are always supportive because of the effect, or the result of how the game does internationally, it filters down to India. So if a game is doing well internationally, the ripple effect will always be seen in India. And if a game doesn’t do well internationally, it’s the same scenario in India. So, they’re always supportive. They always look at the opportunities to sell more units, like probably, announce a special promotion, where, for a certain period the game is discounted. So, there are no targets as such, but yeah, we have to do our marketing right, we have to do a lot of things right to make sure consumers know about that this or that game is releasing.
You’ll be surprised. Like, you’re passionate about gaming, I have been passionate about gaming even before I started working here. So I knew release dates, I knew what the games were about. But a lot of consumers in India don’t know that. So it’s important to educate them, you know, that this is a game, this is coming out, this is why the game should be bought, this is why you should buy the game for this certain price. So, education is very important in India. And that is what publishers expect. Educate the consumers, make sure that they know the game is releasing, these are assets that go along with the game that has to be put out, have to be marketed, so they know, they’re interested, you know, and generate interest. But I don’t see any sales target as such.
What if the game fails?
As I said, we look at the opportunities or unique ways, like, to make sure the game sells well. As I said, there will be a special discount or something like that.
So the thing that you said, you know, about educating the gamers, so why push that education only through GTS? Why not from e-xpress directly?
As a distributor, we send out information to every retailer. If you go to Kolkata, or if you go to any other city, we have many sub-distributors. Information is always sent out to them. So whatever goes out on GTS, it’s not exclusive to GTS. We have WhatsApp groups, we have emailers, we have a lot of things where the information is given to sub-distributors and retailers directly. So, it’s not exclusive to GTS. Every information, every trailer, every artwork goes to every retailer. You can say GTS is the most pro-active in pushing these out but there are a lot of retailers like Game Loot and Game Shoppee. They always push out information on their socials as well.
What are your opinions on the regional orthodoxy in terms of video games in India? You know, parents, gaming, children and stuff.
Luckily, my dad bought me my first console: Sega Saturn. Since then, I’ve wound up PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Good thing is, my parents never objected me from playing video games, although they do now. My mom does now. [We shared a laugh] Because she thinks I spent too much time playing games. But I think, it’s a two-way street. It’s all about how parents bring their kids up. If a kid is very obedient in every other way and concentrates on his studies as well, you know, and uses maybe five to six hours a day in gaming, I don’t think any parent will have a problem. But yeah, with PUBG Mobile now, people are bunking school, people are on their phones all the time, which, I think even if you and I become parents, I think even we’d have problems with it.
How far do you think has the gaming industry come to India?
I mean you tell me, man. I mean, you’ve travelled from the Eastern part of India to the Western part of India for a gaming event. [Allwyn’s talking about CobX Masters, which was our main priority for travelling to Mumbai] So, I think, that is the biggest example of how far gaming has come in India. I don’t think anyone would be willing to do that five to ten years ago. The fact that you’re here, shows how far gaming has come in this country.
“Very smart way of answering questions,” I commented. [Allwyn smiled]
What do you think about the future of physical game releases in India?
I know digital is on the rise, but physical, I mean I absolutely love owning physical games. I don’t know about you. But a lot of my friends love showing off their collections, in fact, on Games The Shop, there’s a special album called Gamer Collections and all where we ask our fans to share their collection and everyone does it. I mean, you can do that digitally as well where you show your Steam collection and all but I think owning a physical copy is that, in India at least, will always be there. The physical business.
Do you think it has something to do with internet connectivity? People tend to buy physical games because of games and their large sizes…
But even if you buy physical games, you’ll have to download the Day One patches, which are like, 10 GB, sometimes 20 GB, so, that issue is there. I don’t think connectivity is an issue because most PS4 gamers have a decent internet connection, is what I think. I have a 50 MBPS connection at home.
We spent a couple of minutes discussing our internet speeds, packages and plans and how the internet in my town barely works. Allwyn said he pays around Rs. 9,000 a year for his internet and suggests us to move to Mumbai or Bangalore. “Internet is crazy here,” he concluded.
Ishan – Is it unlimited?
Yeah, I have no FUP. No fair usage policy, nothing. Which is a big deal for me. Because I recently… so I have the PS4, I have the Switch and I also bought the Xbox One X from the US and updates on that are crazy. Especially if you’re paying a 4K enhanced game.
Why did you buy it from the US though?
Because I bought it during the Black Friday sale. I got a good deal. I have family members there so I picked it up and sent it to my family members. So, when I went there, I just got it back.
“Nice way of saving money,” I noted.
Can you talk about the platform dominance in India?
Honestly, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think PS4 users are more. But I’m sure PC users are on par as well, way more than PS4.
So basically from GTS, it’s more PS users?
Most of our sales are PS4 games, yeah.
What are your opinions on Epic Games and its rise in digital game distribution?
There’s an opportunity for us there as well. Because if you see on GTS, we sell Apex coins. So the more popular the game gets, the more coins we sell. So it’s a good opportunity for us. Even PUBG or Fortnite for that matter. Because now we’re into digital distribution and sales as well. So, if Fortnite goes up, it’s popular. And if it’s popularity rises, more people buy vBucks from us to buy the season pass and all. So, any kind of popularity, digital, physical, is good for the gaming business.
What do you think of Epic Games exclusivity?
Can’t comment. [We laughed]
Do you think online multiplayer games are more likely to thrive in a big country like India as opposed to singleplayer campaign-based games?
Honestly, from what we’ve seen, the most popular games in India have been [from the] GTA and FIFA and Call of Duty [series]. They have both elements. They have single-player, as well as multiplayer. Like, you can play FIFA online with your friends, you can play GTA Online, you can play Call of Duty multiplayer. But then, these three game [series] are the most successful ones in India.
So, I don’t see that being a challenge, I think it depends on how good the game is. Like, Fortnite, PUBG, now you see everyone… even a grandmother’s playing PUBG. So, it all depends on the content and the price-point of the game. PUBG’s a free-to-play game on your phone and all. I think the Indian market is very adaptable. We have the internet, bandwidth needed to play games like these, so I don’t see that being a challenge. Like RDR2 did exceptionally well and GTA has done well. Assassin’s Creed games do very well. Watch Dogs did very well. So, these are all singleplayer games. I think India is a very adaptable market.
Further, we discussed stock-clearing and if that’s a priority for Games The Shop. Responding to our question Allwyn mentioned how Indian consumers rely more on the wait and watch formula. He said how in countries like the US, people go to malls only when they have something to buy. When they’ve already made a decision. They’ll go, pick up what they need and leave. In India, people’s decision is going to the mall. What to buy? That’s only answered and fulfilled once we’ve explored the products, scanned through the shelves and analysed the products well.
Allwyn gave us a great example of how many Indian consumers buy video games. Most of the GTS stores are located in malls. One kid is in the mall, searching for video games. Suddenly he spots the new Spider-Man game on one of the store shelves. Upon seeing that a new game has arrived, he’ll pick it up. And that’s one of the reasons why maintaining stock is very crucial for the gaming business.
Is price-drop the only solution to clear stock?
The good thing is, India has so many festivals. We can just roll out a festival offer. Something on Diwali, something on Christmas, some Holi offer or something like that. It’s that, retailers have to be smart, they have to be innovative. I mean, price-drop is not the only solution. We always have like bundle offers and all. So as I said, it’s retailers who need to be very smart, very innovative, they’ve to see how they can increase their own sales.
We winded up our interview session with those questions when Allwyn brought us some cool merch – A Mafia III tee, a WWE 2K19 tee, a Shadow of the Tomb Raider grapple-hook-inspired keychain and a Kingdom Hearts III sticker, for both of us.
Not just these, but we had many fun conversations on a wide array of topics, which, we felt are better off the record. Some things are better left unsaid.
Thanks to all our readers who’ve made it till here. And to Allwyn, thank you for considering our interview request. We hope we’re contributing something worthy to the Indian gaming community and that, we’ll continue to thrive for the betterment of the industry for the years to come.
Before leaving the office, I, very informally, asked Allwyn if he knows anything about the recent Assassin’s Creed rumours and its setting. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Allwyn commented. Gave us an interesting smile. And we left.