Digital agency WebChutney is entering the game development business, and Mobile VAS company One97 Communications* is turning Game Producer. In what appears to be an extension of an earlier partnership, wherein One97 tied up with WebChutney incubated venture NetworkPlay for mobile advertising, the two are joining forces to now create gaming franchises. WebChutney CEO Sidharth Rao told MediaNama that the company is working on developing iPhone and Android applications, and plans to release its first franchise for the Apple App Store in June, which will shortly be followed by a launch for Android devices. These will be paid games, though the pricing has not been decided, and, in his words, “these will be physics based games, not the ‘burst the baloon’, ‘pop the bubble’ nonsense”.

Now the gaming business is risky, like movies. It’s a hit-or-miss business; if it works, it tends to work very well, and if it doesn’t work, it disappears without a trance. You never know how it’s going to turn out, and there can be major marketing spends, and the entire investment can go for a toss. Webchutney has significant creative resources, having developed flash based “viral marketing” campaigns for multiple clients (samples: Vikram-Betal, Makkadman, Gajodhar, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla). But what does One97 bring to the table, and when the iPhone and Android stores are small developer friendly, why does WebChutney need to tie up with One97? Rao said that One97 is Producing (i.e. bankrolling) the gaming initiative, and has an engineering team that is helping theirs. WebChutney has 7 member team mostly in engineering and graphics, their own creative and animation resources, and a few consultants on the tech side. One97 will also help with their engineering team, and lead the India distribution. “And these are early days, and we need strategic and like minded people around us,” he added.

There is no joint venture, and One97 owns the IP, but while they’ll focus on distributing the games on the mobile by virtue of their telecom operator relationships, WebChutney has the option of leveraging the IP on other platforms as a licensee. The game studio will operate as a separate business unit within Webchutney. Rao said that WebChutney has been eying the game creation space for almost 8-9 months. They’ve created properties in the past, but always for clients – they created a franchise called the Indian Hatke League, which was backed by Virgin Mobile. There’s an opportunity for more sustainable revenue here, in case a game works out, because there’s a revenue share built into the game sales arrangement with One97.

The alliance will eventually develop gaming content and solutions for Windows Mobile, Symbian (is there a point, anymore?), N-Gage and Flash. The press release also mentions development for the PlayStation Pro, (Nintendo) DS, and even console games as well, but these are early days.

Our take

The gaming business isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. While there’s a revenue share arrangment for WebChutney, it’s worth noting that One97 will own the IP for the games, and they’re still essentially a client for WebChutney. Once the competency is built and they’ve begun understanding the gaming market, WebChutney has the opportunity for creating its own IP. There’s no doubting their creative competency when it comes to virals, but developing game play (beyond popping baloons) is an art form that not many can master. From One97’s perspective, it’s interesting to see them looking to own gaming IP, taking on a role larger than that of a distribution or marketing service.

It’s nice to talk about console game development in a press release, but that’s a completely different business: both console and MMOG games require significant investment, which is unlikely to be possible for the partnership without additional financial support.

Disclosure: One97 Communications is an advertiser with MediaNama