🕹The game company with no game developers
Story of Mobile Premier League
Govt threatened to ban them.
Banks threatened to ban them.
Google Play Store kicked them out.
Yet, Mobile Premier League(MPL) continues its rocket growth.
That's what we'll find out in today's newsletter.
The founding story
If they don't have game developers, how did they get so many games in the app?
How did they survive without the Play Store?
As promised, here’s the quick summary of today’s newsletter👇
🕹 The founding story:
One day in 2018, 2 friends, Sai Srinivas Kiran and Shubham Malhotra, had a strange startup idea.
Sai Srinivas was a B.Tech from IIT Kanpur in aeronautical engineering and Shubham Malhotra did his BE in electronics and instrumentation from BITS Pilani. Sai founded a startup called Base9 during the final term of his graduation in 2009. It was a company that held live events across the country and promoted them. Later, Sai joined Zynga. After leaving Zynga, he joined with Shubham and both of them co-founded CREO, which was later acquired by Hike messenger.
This brings us back to that day in 2018, when these 2 guys, after selling their company, were struck by a strange idea.
To test this idea, they invited a few cooks of the apartment to the rooftop, gave them a device loaded with games, and organized 30-minute contests. After every contest, they updated the rankings on a blackboard.
Soon, more people came to play in the contests. So these guys made 2 changes to the game. First, they made it a winner-take-all prize. And they introduced Rs.5 entry fees.
These changes made the contest so popular that there was a rush and soon, the rooftop couldn't accommodate the people.
Thus, MPL was born: a gaming app where people could earn prizes by playing games.
But not a regular gaming app. There are 2 differences:
Types of games: Gaming websites like RummyCircle had been doing the "play-game-earn-money" thing since 2008. But they only had gambling games like rummy. On the other hand, MPL filled their app with lots of casual games like chess, ludo, sudoku, carrom, and even quiz games(how did they get these games? I'll explain later). So, MPL appealed to a much broader audience.
Monetization strategy: Before MPL, companies monetized casual games through ads or in-app purchases. MPL brought a new strategy for casual games: real money gaming.
In most games, you earn "points", which have no real value. In MPL, you can earn prizes starting from Rs. 3 to Rs. 9000! This is called Real money gaming.
2 months after launch, they got $5 million funding from Sequoia. And 3 months after launch, they got to 600k users.
But I still haven't told you one important point about MPL's beginning:
🕹 If they don't have game developers, how did they get so many games in the app?
MPL does not develop games. In fact, it does not even have a single game developer on its rolls. -The Ken
Instead of making all the games by themselves, MPL acts as a connector: it connects game-makers with players on the MPL app. This is beneficial for everyone:
Game-makers get access to MPL's huge customer base
People get a wide variety of games to play
More people and more games mean more money for MPL.
MPL also buys games:
Instead, it looks for clones of popular games, buying them from game developers for as little as Rs 10-30 lakh (US$13,430-40,295), said two gaming company founders. For instance, Fruit Chop, a popular game on the platform, is a poor man’s version of Fruit Ninja, which has 100 million downloads globally. -The Ken
This creates a positive cycle: more games on MPL attract more people to play games on MPL which attracts more companies to publish games on MPL and the cycle goes on.
And remember this: unlike competitors like Dream11 which restricts itself to cricket, MPL allows a wide variety of games like chess, sudoku, quizzes, etc. So their potential audience and number of games are much bigger, thus they have a huge market in front of them.
Plus, they expanded into fantasy games and esports, therefore MPL users have even more games available to play.
🕹 How did they survive without the Play Store?
Google's Play Store policies don't allow real money gaming apps in India.
Therefore, MPL was kicked out of the Play Store.
Google Play Store is like the oxygen for apps. 91% of smartphones in India have Play Store. It's the main way apps get discovered and downloaded by people.
How could MPL survive without the Play Store?
The only thing the Play Store provides now is trust. But as a company, if you are able to build that trust, eventually customers will come to you, whether you're on the Play Store, or off the Play Store and it's just a matter of time before people realize this
- CEO Sai Srinivas
Not only did MPL manage to survive outside the Play Store, but they also thrived.
First of all, they 10x'd the referral amount. Earlier, you got Rs.5 for referring a friend, now you get Rs. 50. Using referrals to grow is a smart strategy: lots of companies like Dropbox, Notion, and even tesla have used it.
Then, they spent a lot of money on marketing:
📌 In March 2019, they signed an Rs.12 crore endorsement deal with Virat Kohli.
📌 On 2 November. MPL replaced Nike as the kit sponsor for the Indian cricket team. This was a 3-year deal worth Rs.120 crore ($16.1 million).
📌 K. L. Rahul became the face of MPL with the launch of the Super Team fantasy cricket league.
📌 It is the title sponsor of Big Boss, one of India’s most-watched reality TV shows.
📌 It sponsors two IPL teams.
Apart from marketing, MPL also expanded by launching new games and new markets:
📌 In February, MPL made a huge announcement: World Cricket Championship Rivals game would now be available on the MPL app. This was a huge boost for MPL because this game had 11 million downloads.
📌 They also added new categories of games like fantasy sports and esports.
📌 MPL launched in Indonesia, and got to 5 million users in 2 years!
📌 They also launched in America, and are targeting 300k users by the end of this year.
The result of all this expansion and marketing and referrals?
MPL had 600k users at 3 months after launch.
They entered 2020 with 32 million users.
Within 3 months of the pandemic, they got to 60 million.
Now, they have 80 million users.
It's like MPL didn't even feel the absence of the Play Store.
India has 250 million casual gamers! This means MPL has a lot of room to grow. Plus, with more smartphones and better internet in India, we'll see more and more gamers onto the scene, so this 250 million number will only increase in the future, which means an even bigger market for MPL.
New MPL products like MPL esports also have a huge potential: India has 150 million esports viewers, and it will keep increasing. But here, the competition is also tough. Lots of other companies are already strong in this area, so MPL will have to fight to get market share.
There is also the question of legality. Right now, MPL is safe because its games are "skill-based", rather than "luck-based". But not for long. The govt and courts are looking to regulate this fast-growing industry, which means MPL will have to face strict rules in the future.
This wraps up today's article on MPL. It's a gaming app, but with a slight difference: People can win prizes by playing games. MPL doesn't make any games, instead, it acts as a connector. It connects game-makers with its huge userbase. After MPL got kicked out of Play Store, it used lots of strategies like referrals and sponsorships and expansions into new products and markets so that it could sustain growth without Play Store.
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