Instant messaging apps are going through some major changes today. The basics - logging in quickly and chatting with your contacts - are now pretty much standardised. Messaging is perhaps the most ubiquitous tool we use on our smartphones; whether it’s for work or for fun. And since we are so active on these platforms, there are attempts to make you do more things than just chatting while you’re there.
Hike, an India-based instant messaging app born in 2012, thinks gaming is one of those things, and today has launched Teen Patti Nights, an Indian card game that's played directly within the Hike app. Gadgets 360 spoke to Kavin Bharti Mittal, Founder and CEO Hike, about the company's strategy, and what's next in messaging.
“I believe bots is too early. The technology isn’t there yet. We’ve talked about it internally, but we believe that it’s going take some time to get a really good bot experience going," says Mittal. "The simple question I ask when I get asked about bots is, can you name me one bot experience that you love using everyday, and the answer is we don’t know. Over time that will change, because technology moves pretty fast, so sooner or later we’ll get to it, but not just yet.”
That's why the company is currently looking at games and content as a way to better engage its users. Hike launched its games platform in March and Mittal says that Teen Patti was the most-requested game by Hike users, ever since then. “It ranks among the most played, most engaging games in India” added Mittal.
Late last year, actress Sunny Leone had also made a rendition of Teen Patti that was available on the Android Play Store. And with Diwali around the corner now, Hike's trying to cash in on the cultural habit of playing Teen Patti during the festive season.
Of course, the popularity of Teen Patti means that this game has to compete with the dozens of versions of it available on the Google Play Store. Mittal suggests that it will be easier for the tens of millions of people already using Hike to download this verson without having to install another app. With a footprint of just 1MB, the game is small enough to be downloaded quickly even on slow connections, and you can get it free on Hike now.
Other than Teen Patti, the games platform on Hike contains 10 more simple games like Connect, India Puzzle, Number Rush, Word Search, Word Rush, Word Rush 2.0, Solitaire, Snake, Chess and Sudoku. Launched in March 2016, Hike users spend an average of 25 minutes of gameplay per day, and the games have been played over 1.3 billion times.
“We don’t put micro games in a chat window, they open full screen and are immersive, because we care about the experience,” he adds. “As the market evolves to 4G and better data pipes, you’ll see us do more real, live multiplayer games on the platform.”
Beyond games, there are also other elements in Hike that motivate people to use the app. News, for instance, collates stories across popular publications and presents the synopsis in a card layout that you can flick through, similar to the popular InShorts app. There’s also a cricket score tracker service built-in. For now, Hike is betting that in India at least, content will drive engagement in chat apps more than Facebook's Messenger bots or Google's AI assistant in Allo.
When we asked about plans for launching a client for the web or computers, Kavin firmly places Hike as a mobile-first, and mobile-only platform at least until the near future. The mobile apps, available on Android, iPhone and Windows Phone do boast of some unique features. You can passcode-protect select conversations, granularly choose who gets to see your ‘Last Seen’ status, talk to fellow Hike users in close proximity without using the internet and perform peer-to-peer transfer of large files using the app. These, along with thousands of localised stickers that can replace text typed in the chat box, are what bring the stickiness to Hike, according to Mittal.
Although Hike boasts of over 100 million users on their app, though the company hasn’t yet opened up about monthly active users. In August, Hike secured funding of $175 million that placed the valuation of the company at over a billion dollars. The funds are currently being used to scale the team and to build the product. “Tech and design, and that’ll be where most of the funds go”, says Mittal.