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Journey of mobile gaming studio BlackLight Games

When BlackLight Studio Games was formed, both the business and entertainment of gaming weren’t very popular in India

After starting coding at age eight and creating HTML5 games for Symbian browsers, Shruti bootstrapped her company until 2014.

Leah realised that hiring quality talent was difficult for BlackLight, so they moved to an office space in Noida the same year.

Shruti tells YourStory that the difficulty of setting up things like monetization, analytics, and hiring talent back in 2008 was more complicated.

BlackLight set out to create classic games for mobile, which had become an increasingly popular device among users.

BlackLight Games began with classic word games

Word games are popular games for English speakers, like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

The company releases word games like Word Search, Word Shift, and Wordathon. The founder says “I enjoy playing word games myself and knew we could deliver amazing titles in it.”.

BlackLight Studios gained widespread recognition for its original title, Solitaire. It was released in 2015 and became a global phenomenon, notable not just in India but also in the US and Europe. They went on to produce multiple versions of the game including Solitaire Zen and Spider Solitaire

Despite being a leader in the gaming space, BlackLight had to change lanes with the speed of changes.

The move to multiplayer games

Post-2016, Mobile gaming is taking off in a big way with the surge of low-cost phones and affordable connectivity.

In 2017, In 2020, India was the second-largest casual gaming market, trailing only China.

BlackLight started to change its approach in 2017, after roping in Anupam Srivastav as a co-founder. Its goal was to create social multiplayer games that are culturally relevant to India and offer interactive and community-driven experiences for users.

Anupam was with Spice Labs for more than 15 years and has a number of game and app titles in his resume.

Under Anupam’s supervision, the company’s ideas have been turned into reality. His product expertise has helped the games created to compete with international gaming giants.

As priorities changed, so did gaming technology.

The studio’s first major success was a classic card game Solitaire in 2015

BlackLight developed an in-house authoritative multiplayer engine that could scale seamlessly as the user load increased. The startup claims its servers are strong enough to support over 50,000 concurrent players.

Shruti elaborates,

To meet the growing appetite for mobile games, we have built a strong infrastructure to host real-time multiplayer games. We are able to track meaningful game analytics and handle players across our games. One of the challenges in ad-monetised games is the price of servers and ours are authoritative, cost-optimised and scalable.

BlackLight is building games that are in a culture-specific context, which is attractive to players who don’t want a learning curve.

With the launch of Ludo SuperStar in 2017, BlackLight hit gold. It has clocked more than 100 million downloads and is the most successful in its title portfolio. It is also the second most downloaded Ludo game in the world (after Ludo King), with over two million DAUs.

BlackLight’s other popular titles include Carrom Superstar and Callbreak. Both launched in 2018 and have gained over 10 million downloads each.

BlackLight’s biggest success is Ludo SuperStar with over 100 million downloads

Growth and pandemic impact

Since 2018, BlackLight claims to have grown 10X in revenues. A majority of this has been driven by Ludo SuperStar, which continues to top app charts.

Overall, BlackLight’s games are played by three million users daily, with average sessions lasting 30 minutes. About 70 % of its audience comes from India.

And 25 % of the gamers are women. Shruti believes that the combination of “right content, right market, right time” has contributed to BlackLight’s growth.

“We aim to grow 5X by the end of 2022-23. We also plan to balance our revenue split between ad monetisation and in-app purchases, which would help increase lifetime value (LTV) of our players and ensure a steady revenue stream,” she says.

Like most gaming startups, BlackLight witnessed positive growth in the pandemic.

Its daily installs increased by 350 %; and usage of “Play with Friends” and “Play with Random Player” modes shot up by 450 % and 1,100 % respectively, mirroring the rise of social gaming in the lockdown.

“Socialising via gaming is an emerging trend in India. Social features connect gamers all over the world and make the game more interactive and engaging,” Shruti states.

In 2019, BlackLight was also selected in Indie Game Accelerator, and in 2020, it became a part of Google for Startups Accelerator (GFSA).

Shruti shares,

“GFSA has been a catalyst in our growth. During the programme, we were connected with some globally leading gaming companies, which once faced challenges similar to ours. We not only gained deep product and market insights but also got valuable advice from them.”

The startup has also grown its team size from 8 to 30, with new hires across roles such as product managers, tech leads, game design heads, and customer experience.

“We’ve been actively hiring for independent roles from different countries. Different cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation,” Shruti says.

Global expansion and future roadmap

BlackLight is embarking on its expansion to the Middle East and North America (MENA) region, which houses some of the world’s most active gaming communities.

These markets have high smartphone penetration and above-average disposable incomes, but limited entertainment avenues. That is what makes it an attractive destination for new-age gaming companies from India.

Shruti explains,

“To maintain a healthy revenue per user, we plan to expand to the MENA market, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Turkey while maintaining a sizeable player base in India. This expansion will ensure a consistent flow of revenue, allowing us to invest more in creating new game titles and user acquisition.”

The startup continues to be bootstrapped even as online gaming gains VC interest.

“Investors are convinced about the potential of gaming in the Indian market. However, getting the right value from the right investor without losing flexibility is very important for us. We are more interested in a partnership where we can together make BlackLight grow multi-folds,” states the founder.

Even though casual gaming saw tremendous growth in the pandemic, with India accounting for 17 % of total game downloads in 2020, BlackLight believes that the industry’s dependence on advertising as a means of monetisation remains an issue “and is not likely to go away in the near future”.

India’s Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU) for casual gaming was less than $2 in FY21, which is amongst the lowest in the world.

“The segment is significantly under indexed on monetisation with lower ARPUs as compared to the gaming markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa, which are comparable [to India] in terms of the per capita GDPs,” KPMG said in a report.

However, with the maturity of the ecosystem and the emergence of local gaming studios that develop culturally relevant games, monetisation is likely to look up too.

BlackLight competes with the likes of Gametion Technologies, Octro, Gameberry Labs, MindYourLogic Studios, Nazara Technologies, and several others in a casual gaming market estimated to be worth Rs 169 billion by FY25.

Shruti sums up by saying, “Gaming has always been a hyper-competitive market. However, there lies a huge opportunity as there are billions of smartphone owners and all of them are potential gamers. This makes the market very exciting as well.”

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

#Journey #mobile #gaming #studio #BlackLight #Games

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