Baazi Games, the company responsible for gaming platforms like PokerBaazi, RummyBaazi and BalleBaazihas been witnessing 70% growth over the last few years. This year, it aims to grow its current user base of 10 million by 100%.
- We speak to
Varun Ganjoo, Co-Founder & Marketing Director at Baazi Games who takes us behind the scenes and tells us all that has been happening at Baazi Games and how the platform is working towards achieving the growth it is aiming for.
For Baazi Games, that came into existence around 7 years back, it has been an interesting journey. The platform, started by poker lovers, was aimed at giving players a great experience, since poker hadn’t yet become very popular in India yet. From there, the platform has now diversified to other sports and come up with two more segments, RummyBaazi and BalleBaazi.
That people are open to not just playing online games but also spending on gaming platforms is clear from the fact that Baazi Games has been witnessing a 70% growth in the last three years. The platform charges entry fees for leagues that it organizes on its platform and takes out around 3-4% of the entry fee pool as its commission.
We recently spoke to Varun Ganjoo, Co-Founder & Marketing Director at Baazi Games who took us behind the scenes and told us all that has been happening and how the platform is growing itself.
Q) It’s been 7 years since the launch of Baazi Games. Can you walk us through your journey so far?
The idea came to us back in 2013. The founding team comprised of people who loved poker and were really passionate about the game. Back then, there weren't any good platforms for online poker. It took us a year to finalize the structure, figure out the legalities and develop the software. We launched in October 2014 with PokerBaazi. As our experience grew, we thought of diversifying, and that's how we launched our fantasy vertical BalleBaazi in January 2018. In 2019, we launched our Rummy vertical, RummyBaazi. Over the years, apart from diversifying into these multiple, skill-based gaming platforms, we have also tried to change the perception of the audience around games like poker. People used to think poker or anything related to cards is gambling. However, the continuous efforts of the industry and a lot of initiatives we took over the years has helped in changing the perception at quite a fast pace. Also, we realized that since this is gaming where there is money involved, there could be an addiction factor. While there is no central regulation yet, we decided to self-regulate. Responsible gaming is very critical if we have to grow sustainably. So we were the first platform to have a proper, automated responsible gaming system in place which keeps a check on users and alarms them if they are showing signs of addiction. They can then restrict their gameplay or take a break from the platform entirely. But if we were to talk about important milestones, it would be the recently concluded National Poker Series, which is by far India's biggest poker online poker tournament in terms of volume. We saw participation of over 83,000 people across 15 days. Secondly, we are very proud of our new mobile application that we launched in May. We are a part of a product-heavy industry and since we work on own tech in-house entirely, we understand the importance tech plays and this new latest technology has really put us on a global map.
Q) What impact has the pandemic had on the business?
The last 1.5 years has been a roller coaster ride, there have been a lot of ups and downs. While there was a spike in terms of casual or card-based gaming segments, the fantasy industry which is closely related to live sporting events, was hit due to the shutting down of all sporting events across the world. For poker and rummy, we saw a 30% spike in user base in the initial periods of the lockdown. That was the time when people really got to experience the online version of gaming. We saw a huge jump in games like Ludo. It also came as a welcome distraction for people during these terrible times. And then, it was easier for them to just get onto their mobile phones and spend some time and have fun. Some research shows that the average playing time of users in India grew from about 2.5 hours to 4 hours post-Covid. So these are some of the changes that had a positive impact. But for fantasy sports, during the initial four months of the lockdown when no sport was happening, it was a zero revenue phase for BalleBaazi. But since we are a product-centric company, we utilized that time to make a lot of changes, implement product improvisations and introduce new formats in the game. We came up with a lot of interesting virtual gaming formats where there was no real money involved but it kept the users engaged. Overall, the industry has been growing. For us, the growth has been continuous over the past few years. We have grown at a CAGR of around 70% at a group level in the past three years and the lockdown was just an additional spike.
Q) Out of the three verticals at Baazi Games, which has been growing the fastest? Are you also exploring other sports and verticals?
BalleBaazi has games like football and kabaddi but cricket is still the biggest crowd pleaser and it makes for around 85-90% of the revenues. Out of our 10 million user base for our entire group, 7 million would be for BalleBaazi. But poker is the highest ticket ticket game. So, contribution wise, around 50% would be coming from PokerBaazi. However, poker is still at a very nascent stage in India. And we being at the top, it's our responsibility to grow the industry. So these numbers will also grow but right now we stand at around 2 million for PokerBaazi.
Q) The last few years have seen a lot of fantasy gaming platforms come up, especially in the cricket segment. How are you driving differentiation?
When we set up the platforms, our aim was to give our users a superior experience. But in the fantasy segment, there are some big brands that have been in the space for about 10-12 years now. So our focus was also on innovation. When we launched, we came up with some interesting formats that are still unique to us, like our batting and bowling fantasy format. That has helped us draw attention and attract users. Also, we were able to acquire some hardcore fantasy users pretty early on. We feel that our existing set of players will be able to fetch us more. So referral programs are at the centre of our expansion campaigns. We have one of the best referral programs in the market and we will keep improvising on that too.
Q) Have you considered advertising on the platform to add to your revenue stream?
That is always an opportunity but we have specifically chosen not to go on that route. And the reason for that is, the games we have on our platforms, while they are fun games, they aren’t exactly casual. So we want to give that wholesome experience to them and not disrupt that experience by adding ad streams, for now at least.
Q) Since games like poker come with some stigma, how are you educating people?
When we started, we were the first brand in the online, real money-gaming segment to get a celebrity on board. At that time, we had associated with Sunny Leone for a digital partnership because her digital presence was huge at that time. That helped us raise awareness about the game. And the content also focused on the skill aspect. Eventually, we hired a set of professionals who we called the PokerBaazi Team Pro, who did a lot of webinars that would talk about things like how probability is involved in the game or how it's a skill-based game. Apart from that, we also associated with a lot of top educational institutions. But this is a continuous effort. So in the next phase, you will see a lot of content creation happening around these games because this is also how we will raise awareness and get more people engaged. For poker, we have a live room in Goa where we have a tie up with a casino there to organize our big live tournaments. We have a proper streaming setup there where we generate a lot of live poker content which we advertise digitally. That also helps spread a lot of awareness.
Q) Apart from these webinars and live events, how are you reaching out to your audience? What does your broader marketing plan looks like?
While TV is an important medium, our strategy is not to jump onto it right now because for us, it makes sense to advertise where our audience is. Our audiences are digitally-savvy and there are a lot of channels like OTT, social media and influencer market that can help us engage with them. These channels will continue to play an important role in the future. Also, you get a lot of specific and in-depth targeting options on digital which helps us to specifically pick and choose campaigns that we wish to do and target the intended demographics. So going ahead, we would continue to focus on digital.
Q) What targets have you set for yourself for this year? What kind of growth do you anticipate?
Q) What is your larger vision for Baazi Games?
We want to be known as the biggest homegrown tech brand that specializes in gaming and also the one brand which is just a whistle away from its consumers. That is something that we have enjoyed so far in the industry, especially for poker, where people regard us as the best customer support and the customer experience organization. We understand the intricacies of minute things too. For a game like poker or rummy, where you would have to spend hours, even the color of the felt or the size of the number on the card matters. That is the kind of details we get into. It’s only possible to further improve that experience if we are closer to our audiences and that’s where we would want to be.