f o r    m a n a g i n g    t o m o r r o w
FEB. 25, 2007
 Cover Story
 BT Special
 Back of the Book

Trading with ASEAN
In the recent Indo-ASEAN summit, ASEAN was, for the first time, on the defensive. India has agreed to bring down its negative list of imports to 490 items in the free trade agreement with the 10 ASEAN nations. But India’s step towards free trade was not matched by the ASEAN nations, as more than 1,000 items still figure in the negative list of the ASEAN. In 2005-06, India’s total trade with ASEAN was at $22 billion (Rs 99,000 crore), against just $7 billion (Rs 31,500 crore) in 2000-01.

Exchange Deal
Indian markets are on a roll. Global stock exchanges and financial institutions’ interest in the Indian stock exchanges goes to show the long-term growth potential of India Inc. The year has started on a positive note. The NYSE and three global financial institutions have each picked up a 5 per cent stake in the NSE. The deal will open exciting vistas in global co-operation for the NSE, and at the same time could improve the fortune of smaller exchanges in the country.
More Net Specials
Business Today,  February 11, 2007
Of Dungeons & Dragons
India's travelling gaming expo comes to Delhi and does better than expected. But that's not saying a lot.
A virtual world: Visitors playing games at the expo (top); and winners of the Gamebox National Championship 2007
JANUARY 26-28, 2007
SKOAR 2007 (Gaming Expo), Hall No. 12,
Pragati Maidaan, New Delhi

Troggy-eyed and under-slept, I make my way towards a nondescript hall at New Delhi's Pragati Maidaan. I am here, (a can of cola and my cynical mate, Alter Ego, in tow), for SKOAR! 2007, the third in a series of annual gaming expos (the first in the capital). "Oh, it's just another jamboree, one where they hard sell myths," offers Alter Ego, implicitly urging me to let him do my job for me. I usually am wont to giving in to his protestations, for reasons that go beyond mere constitutional propriety. Truth be told, I am quite in awe of Alter Ego's sense of disdain for expos, where every person behind every counter is out to convince you how your august presence there will make the world a better place.

Not today. "Gaming is serious business," I tell him firmly, "so keep your idiosyncratic self occupied elsewhere." And prima facie, I sure seem to have scored one over him, for I see before me a sea of humanity-more than 3,000 people packed in a hall smaller than a football field; all ostensibly gathered to abet the cause of virtual worlds. Worlds, not always named innocuously, having their own set of rules, defined by a set of code writers; call them mortals or 'God 2.0', it makes little difference. Age too does not matter here; you can be king at eight, it's all just about working your joysticks well.

"The response in Delhi has been better than expected," L. 'Subu' Subramanyan, CEO, Jasubhai Digital Media, (the publishers of SKOAR!), told me on Day One. "We expect at least 40,000 footfalls by the end of the event." And he wasn't way off the mark. During the three days I was around there, the hall was packed to capacity, people jostling for space at each of the 20-odd stalls. So, was this a sign that India has taken to gaming big time? "We sure think so because in the last one year alone people have gamed for more than one million hours at our outlets," informs Sunil Buch, Head (Marketing & Product Management), Reliance World, the retail arm of Anil Ambani's Reliance Communications. To be fair, Buch's stall, which was hosting the finale of Gamebox National Championship 2007, by far the largest gaming contest in the country (they played hosts to Fanatic, one of the top gaming teams in the world), was thronging with participants and onlookers. And so was that of Microsoft, which was showcasing its Xbox 360.

All the rage: Spectators checking out Xbox 360

But does that really mean that gaming in India has arrived? "Gaming in the us, Europe and even Korea has matured to a degree where people are making a living off it. India is as yet a nascent market and players are sceptical, everyone is just testing the waters," admits Shinoj K. Nambiar, Country Manager, k2 Network, a us-based online gaming portal, which is slated to launch services in India in the next couple of months. That said, players are betting big money on all formats of gaming. What they are gunning for is as yet only a $10-15 million (Rs 45 to 67.5 crore) market and there are few guesstimates on how big it would be, say, by 2010. Buch and Nambiar reckon that mmorpg, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game format they operate in, will drive growth. Others like Rahul Datta of Microsoft are of the view that console gaming has a future in India. "PC-based games can never offer the kind of experience consoles offer," he says. "But at Rs 20,000 for an Xbox, with each game coming for an additional Rs 2,000, would people really buy?" Alter Ego pitches in, unable to take it anymore. Datta, though, wouldn't say much, choosing to profess optimism.

Hooked: Reliance World hosted the Gamebox National Championship (top left); Gaming team Fanatic (R); and participants at the expo (bottom left)
Alter Ego is already pontificating. "India is an extremely price-conscious market and it wouldn't take to any product unless it offers value for money," he says. Adithyaa Srikanth, ceo, KrishCricket.Com, who has been watching Alter Ego's theatrics, comes around in a bid to put things into perspective. "It can take anywhere between $10 million (Rs 45 crore) and $50 million (Rs 225 crore) just to develop a game, forcing vendors to price them the way they do. What they need is scale, and the only format that can presently offer it is the mobile phone," says Srikanth, who is the son of former India captain Krishnamachari Shrikanth. Subu, however, has a different take: "The mobile phone does offer scale, but it is a very non-serious format," he says and adds, "the future of serious gaming in India really depends on the spread of broadband in the country, much like it did in the us, Europe and Korea." Another problem that vendors must grapple with is piracy. Although they cry hoarse over a parallel grey market eating into their share of the pie, some admit that its existence is actually helping their cause, at least, for now. "In a perverse way, piracy has ensured that many high-end games penetrate the mass market," admits the CEO of a gaming portal.

And then there are social issues to contend with. Privately many vendors admit that they have to work very hard to beat the taboo factor, often associated with gaming in societies such as India. "Unless we manage convincing mothers, especially in small-town India, that gaming wouldn't affect their kids' grades at school, we will not go very far," admits a vendor. Moreover, these games are designed for and set in a western milieu-for societies that tend to be individualistic unlike India, where people like enjoying themselves in groups. Alter Ego-speak: "Gaming is much more than just racing or shooting your way through to the next level. It's a culture that takes much more than just a three-day extravaganza to cultivate." Alter Ego is right. If it were any easier, SKOAR! wouldn't be troubling itself with a nationwide road show.