What stands out about the Ra.One | Genesis social game tie-up between Indiagames and Red Chillies Entertainment, is the symbiotic relationship that has been inked between the two companies: its success or failure will have lessons for gaming companies, film producers and brands on the partnerships between films and the gaming industry in India. A few things to note:

– No MG: There is no up front minimum guarantee, and it’s a revenue share deal between Red Chillies and Indiagames. If it works, both make money, if it doesn’t neither does.

– No Cost To Studio: It’s at zero cost to the films producers Red Chillies, which means that Indiagames is taking a huge up-front cost for development and marketing of the game.

– Early Planning: The game took 8 months to develop: speaking at the press conference filmstar Shah Rukh Khan said that they began discussing the game with Indiagames around a year and a half back. “That is how International studios work,” Indiagames CEO Vishal Gondal told MediaNama. The film based game development in India, he explained, is impacted by the short timeframe given for it, and often studios start looking at games as a means of promotion and IP licensing only a few months before release.

– Evolving, Episodic In Nature: The game is episodic in nature, so there is room for Indiagames to keep updating it with more levels, adding new features and tools and enhancing the story line of the game. Gondal said that multiplayer gaming is going to be added later, and new characters will be introduced. For example, a character based on filmstar Rajinikanth – in the movie but not yet in the game – could easily be introduced later.

– Marketing Push: It is, if marketed well, going to be among the most visible indegenous social games, given the marketing and PR push that Ra.One is receiving via its tie-ups with Google and others, which will bring visibility to the game as well. You have India’s biggest Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan promoting it, and he plans to take the movie (and hence the game) down to small towns as the date for the release of the film nears.

– Freemium: It’s a freemium game, which means that it is free to play, but for bigger and better weapons, it relies on users paying Rs 5-500. Payments are through Facebook credits, which can be purchased through MOL Cards and other Facebook partners, but Indiagames has also integrated it’s own SMS gateway for payments, with partnerships with telecom operators like Airtel and Reliance. “When we did that for our T20 game, we saw that a lot of people made initial purchases on mobile, then switched online. We give you lesser value on mobile, and more on other payment mechanisms. Once people try it on mobile, they move to alternative payments,” Gondal said. The average ticket size for the Cricket games was around Rs 200.

– Cross Platform: It’s banking on a cross platform approach, across mobile and online and DTH, for bringing in users from Facebook to play the game. In terms of gaming platforms, it is being made available on Nokia, Android and Apple OS.

– Advergaming: There’s a marketing tie-up in place with Parle: all power ups are sponsored by the biscuit brand Parle G, and it is a fairly visible presence from the beginning of the game. Gondal did not comment on the metrics involved, but said that advertising revenues are “related to the performance of the game – about how many people are playing the game. We have done deep brand integration. Our IPL games had boards all over, but in this case it is a lot more creative.” Indiagames has a multi-year deal in place with Parle for the game. Brand integration that we noticed: when the game loads, a container has the Parle G brand on it. On logging into the game online, there’s a daily bonus offered as ‘free power from Parle G’. An achievement is called ‘G Mane Genius’ (i.e. G means Genius).

Note to Indiagames: as you can tell, the flash based game doesn’t display properly when accessing using a netbook. Parts of the screen get cut.

The Gaming Franchise As A Partnership

Speaking with MediaNama, Shailja Gupta, Digital and New Media Head, Red Chillies said that the idea was to create a gaming franchise: “A social game is a process, and is based on peoples feedback, it is not that it’s been made and that’s about it. Based on peoples reaction and if they like certain powers and certain aspects, it will have a shelf life of its own, and we’re hoping that once the movie releases, we’re hoping that there is a Ra.One 2 and Ra.One 3, and there is a movie support there for the game. The philosophy is that this a partnership, and the idea is that you (the gaming company) make the money, and when you make it, you share it with us. The model that I’ve created a movie and you give me half a million dollars, is very short term thinking. Here the idea is to take it to the next level, and to give the gaming partner an incentive to invest the revenue it makes in growing the franchise.” Confirming that, Gondal said that this is the biggest investment the company has made in any game till date.

From the perspective of bringing visibility to the gaming business, this reminds me of Reliance Entertainment’s launch of Zapak. In case of Zapak, lots of money was poured into marketing, experimentation and creating awareness about casual gaming by Reliance Entertainment. The rub-off it had was that it brought more and more users into the gaming industry, and other gaming companies fed off it. Most movie based games in India have so far been insipid, and merely tools for marketing film, making money just from licensing the IP.

The Indiagames-Ra.One deal is based on revenue share, and is still highly dependent on the success of both the movie and most importantly the gameplay, for monetization, since it is a freemium game. While we expect a significant push in terms of marketing the IP to bring users on board, from whatever we saw of the game, the gameplay is pretty standard – point in multiple directions and shoot as wave after wave of enemies come at you. That will probably have a greater bearing on the success of the game than the promotion and Ra.One association. Gondal said that the gameplay for the action game has been kept ‘casual’.

Nevertheless, a couple of months from now, we’ll look for the following information from Indiagames:

– Users & Usage Trends: The number of active users of the social game, and how that changed as the 26th October launch of the movie neared, and after. Gaming companies would like to see if this continues beyond the half-life of the movie, which is typically the first week. Since this is a franchise, the idea is also to keep the characters alive and relevant during the gap between the first film, and a possible second film. Gupta said the the character G.One is a character which will probably go beyond the first film of Ra.One.
– Transaction Trends: The propensity to buy microtransactions, and the age group of those purchasing microtransactions. Gaming companies know that users on Facebook are playing games like Farmville and Cityville, but whether there is a tendency to purchase weapons within the game, and particularly an Indian game, as opposed to a global game. The average purchase price of microtransactions of the game.
– Advertising Trends: The number of ParleG powerups used. We’re not sure if that is the metric for ParleG to pay for advertising within the game, but for a brand manager, it’s a unique way for the brand to be present in the game without being too overtly intrusive.
– Usage Pattern: The Indian versus International user base for the game – this will give an indication to marketers about whether the target audience for the game is Indian or international.
– Social Usage: The average number of times information about the game has been published to a users wall about this games, as an indicator of how social media helped spread information about the game and kept it alive, as opposed to non-social games that largely rely on marketing.

All in all, this long-term partnership approach could be a template for the film industry to work with when it comes to gaming, instead of the risk-averse-lets-make-what-ever-we-can-from-licensing approach that has been the norm, made possible largely due to the promise of social gaming and microtransactions. Now it is up to the gamer to buy into it.