Our affinity with cell phones is one thing that the wealthiest socialites of LA to the poorest people in the slums of Mumbai all share in common. According to some recent statistics from technology research firms, we are now moving into a point in history when roughly five billion people are using mobile phones. This number is staggering but is only projected to keep growing in 2014.
While smartphones are a readily available technology to many people living in the developed world, there are still billions of people who instead rely on feature phones as an affordable means of communication and entertainment. These emerging markets of cell phone users in Asia, Africa and South America are what caught the attention of Cory Cleveland, President and Co-founder of Calgary-based start-up Play It Interactive. We met up with Cory to hear more about the future of gaming in emerging markets and why everyone should visit India at least once.
The Big Idea
The concept of Play It Interactive is simple but quite ingenious. Play It is a mobile gaming company for emerging markets, home to the next billion consumers. Just in India, 30 million people enter the middle class every year. That said, the vast majority still use feature phones (non-smartphones) and have an insatiable appetite for mobile gaming and entertainment.
For all the thousands of online games that we can play on our smartphones, there is really nothing equivalent for feature phones. Play It is delivering a rich, socially connected gaming experience while applying the same engaging gamification strategies that have made games like Zygna Poker and Candy Crush so wildly successful. Gamification is the crossroads where psychology meets technology, and with a terribly underserved addressable market of hundreds and hundreds of millions, there is a very real opportunity to be the gaming company of emerging markets.
In February, Cory and two of his partners headed to Mumbai, India to do a little field research and the trip made a huge impact on him. Cory described his time in Mumbai as a mind-blowing experience where he would constantly have to pinch himself to be sure that what he was seeing, hearing and experiencing were actually happening. The whole trip served to be eye-opening; there is wealth beyond belief but it’s also incredibly humbling as you are meeting people that have very little and yet they are so welcoming, open and friendly. To him, the juxtaposition of extreme poverty and extreme wealth was fascinating.
Despite the economic contrast, there remains a classless, almost boundary-free desire to be entertained on mobile devices. Further, the energy of the country and desire to build one’s self up is inspiring.
Lost in Translation
Cory and his team have of course run into some interesting challenges with developing products that will be used halfway around the world. For instance, black jack is immensely popular but poker isn’t really a big thing for people in India, who much prefer playing Teen Patti or Indian Rummy. Beyond staying on top of games that are more popular in different countries and cultures, you also have to take into account that your pre-disposed notion of gaming and using technology is going to be very different from other countries. You constantly have to think about how people search online, how you account for the fact that network congestion is a huge issue, and so on. In India, the majority of the country still relies on previous generation slow cellular networks.
For Cory, success for Play It is imagining the day when he’ll be able to walk through the streets of a city in an emerging market like India, Nigeria or South Africa and see people using the Play It gaming app on their phones. That for him will be the real moment of fruition.
Play It Gaming is currently deploying cricket and football fantasy games; following these games will be more card-based casino games like Teen Patti and Indian Rummy. The apps are already seeing thousands of users generating hundreds of thousands of page views, which is great validation for thier mission
When we asked Cory where he hopes to see the company in two years, he told us that while it might be bold, he thinks it is realistic to hope for the number of users to be north of 10 million. He’s confident that the unique service being provided by Play It and the viral nature of games that we love to play on our phones are indicative of what’s to come.
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)