Hitwicket Superstars wasn't grabbing big headlines until it won the Prime Minister's AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge in the games category. It emerged as the most favourite mobile gaming app, beating Scarfall: The Royale Combat and World Cricket Championship – WCC2. The game is an interactive mobile cricket strategy game that is available both on Google Play and the App Store. It has gathered over one million downloads on Google Play Store and has a decent 4.1 star rating. Lauded for its graphics and addictive gameplay, the commentary inside the app is available in multiple languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Marathi, and even Hyderabadi.
While Hitwicket has all the ingredients of becoming a promising startup, it still is a long way from standing alongside gaming megastars like PUBG. The total funds raised by the company stand at $600,000 (roughly Rs 44,147,200) and key angel investors include The Chennai Angels. Its total employee strength currently stands at 42, with the headquarters in Hyderabad.
Experts opinion: Counterpoint analyst, Ankit Malhotra says, “Indian smartphone gaming is still in a nascent stage but holds an enormous potential thanks to a present 500 million+ installed base and the opportunity of converting feature phones users in future. In last 1.5-2 years, better performance on phones and availability of low cost Internet has increased the interest in smartphone gaming. Some games have found major success - prime examples being PUBG, Pokemon Go and both of them have some common elements apart from addictive gameplay which is the social component attached to it. When users are playing with their friends, the stickiness of user increases and word of mouth travels faster - Any game which can do that will be successful, a very recent example is ‘Among Us' - solid gameplay with successful social component made it successful.”
TechArc analyst Faisal Kawoosa says, “Gaming is going to be the next digital entertainment use case which will attract millions of users. So, this is the time to be in gaming. Within gaming, mobile gaming is going to see the growth as other are either declining or stagnating with users preferring to extract more out of smartphones. At the same time, smartphones have also evolved exponentially to support use cases like gaming.
The only suggestion to gaming companies from India would be to go-to-market with all perfection and best immersive experience. This is not an area where users have patience to wait for the platform to evolve over a period of time. They want the best flawless experience with most creative elements right from the beginning. So if, the gaming doesn't start with all the big bang, it has lesser chances of survival and sustainability.
Hitwicket Superstars' VP of growth and co-founder, Keerti Singh gives us an insight on what went into building the game. She shares some unique insights on all the hustle, and even speaks of plans of hosting a Hitwicket World Cup in 2023. They even intend to get sponsors on board for the global tournament.
1. What were you doing before Hitwicket was brought to life?
Post my engineering at VIT Vellore, I worked at Indian Oil for a couple of years. Wanted to do more and hence pursued MBA at ISB, Hyderabad. I then started working at Amazon in a leadership role where I managed teams across India and Costa Rica.
2. What was the conceptualization process behind Hitwicket? When was it you finally decided you want to start Hitwicket?
I grew up watching cricket and falling in love with the sport. The beauty of cricket lies in the strategy aspect of the game and conversation that keep following long after the match is over. Cricket is also one of the most inclusive sports that resonates with people regardless of their age, gender, and their socio-economic backgrounds.
During my MBA, I was casually hooked onto mobile gaming and started playing mobile games for 5-10 minutes daily as a stress buster. While I moved on to working at Amazon, the daily habit of playing for 15-20 min continued, a short gaming session to completely zone out after intense meetings. In fact, a lot of my colleagues and managers were playing mobile games too. Clash of clans was a big rage among all around me.
Mobile gaming industry was taking the world by storm, becoming a multibillion industry in a span of a decade. While people were playing mobile games, no one was talking about the gaming industry and its potential. Career options still centered around consultancy, fin-tech and so on.
While cricket is the second most followed sport in the world, with over two billion fans, there were no ‘Clash of Clans' sort of strategy game for cricket. There was an evident gap in the market, and an opportunity of the decade to combine the mass appeal of cricket with the accessibility of mobile gaming to create a highly immersive cricket game that can engage the billion cricket fans world over.
I soon teamed up with my co-founder Kashyap Reddy, who had come back from Sweden and had always been a passionate gamer and a cricket fan. We wanted to build a world class cricket game from India, for India and the world. The most successful games in the world have highly immersive experiences. We started building Hitwicket for the cricket fans - to partake in a magical experience that'd take them to a fictional cricketing world with infinite possibilities.
3. Elaborate a little bit about the game.
Hitwicket Superstars is a mobile cricket strategy game available on Google Play and the App Store. It's currently enjoyed by more than a million gamers globally. Gamers in Hitwicket Superstars are transported to a magical cricketing realm where they own a cricket team of superpowers. Gamers must train their players - from rookies to superstars who command a diverse range of superpowers - enabling them to hit 12 runs in one ball and conceding negative runs to the opposition. Gamers must strategize, team up with others, and engage in a battle of wits to compete in a massive multiplayer involving millions of cricket fans globally.
4. Were there any operational challenges that you faced when starting Hitwicket?
In India, mobile gaming was still at a nascent stage in 2015 when we decided to build Hitwicket. Mobile gaming is a culmination of technology and creativity, and to create a highly immersive experience would require the best of minds to make our undertaking a success. Finding the right talent, people who are smart, quirky, passionate and creative was a challenge, compounded by the reality that a lot of ambitious folks wanted to work in e-commerce, fin-tech and consulting. There is still a dearth of gaming institutes in India.
For our recruitment drives, we began looking for not only technical aptitude, but the right attitude. We conducted an e-sports tournament via our own game, Hitwicket Superstars, to filter out students with a passion for mobile gaming in particular. This ensured that candidates would have a clear idea of the kind of product they'd be working on from the get-go. Through this process, we could filter out people who were very smart and creative.
5. Did you have to put in any money to start the business? When did you decide that funding was required? Could you offer broad details on how a startup gets funding in India and how Hitwicket managed its first round?
We had bootstrapped Hitwicket with our savings. After we launched, we received good traction in terms of engagement, our users were talking about the game on social media. In Pakistan, a group of Hitwicket users initiated an offline meet up on their own to meet other Hitwicket users and the meet up was later covered by the local press in Pakistan. We saw users loving the game and engaging with it at a deeper level, that's when we realized we needed to scale, for which funding was necessary. We sought out investors, and found success with The Chennai Angels (TCA). R. Narayanan, who was our lead Investor and President of TCA, particularly resonated with our product and has been a constant pillar of support and guidance ever since.
6. You won PM Modi's AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. Tell us more about that experience.
We first heard about the AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge through a team in a WhatsApp group chat. Our honorable Prime Minister made a clarion call to reach out to the homegrown startups in the field of gaming, media and entertainment with the AatmaNirbhar Challenge. We knew we had to compete in it. It was the first time that mobile gaming was getting recognized for its mammoth potential by the Prime Minister of the country.
Despite work from home, everyone was an integral part of the win. The product was reflective of the entire team's effort. When we won, everybody was elated - it wasn't just a win for the team, but a personal milestone for every team member.
My father is a war veteran who fought the 1971 India-Bangladesh War. Upon winning the first prize in gaming and being recognized as the “digital warriors” at the forefront of homegrown startups by PM Modi himself, my father was so proud. He felt the way he served his country, I am serving India by creating experiences that can delight people and make them happy.
Contributing to the gaming ecosystem, and bringing glory to our country as a hotbed of world-class content has been an aspirational goal for us. This win was a step in that direction.
7. Could you share some interesting stories about your initial days? What learnings have you picked up from those hustle days?
The initial days were challenging and memorable at the same time. When I started out with Hitwicket, everyone thought leaving Amazon and getting into the then-nascent mobile gaming industry was a risky choice. Now that I look back, I am glad I stayed true to my conviction.
Indian gamers are interesting and there's a lot to learn about them. It's often presumed that Indians don't spend a lot, but we've had many gamers even from tier-2 cities spending on the product. When a kirana store owner spends even a nominal amount to derive premium experience from the game, you realize the beauty and mass-appeal that lies in mobile gaming, particularly one pertaining to cricket.
As mobile gaming hadn't really taken off in India, we knew we had a lot to learn. We faced a diverse audience of different age, geographical and income groups. We were very bullish on experimenting and would release an app update every week to better understand the pulse of our user and what would keep them engaged for months and years.
8. Is there any particular incident that is monumental in Hitwicket's journey? Please share that incident with our readers. Also, outline all of the big milestones that Hitwicket has crossed since its inception.
Within a year of our launch in 2015, Hitwicket won the Best App Award by HYSEA. In 2017, we were selected among the top 10 global startups by HYPE UK. 2018 was a great year for us, as we were selected among the top 30 gaming startups by Google. 2020 was the most special of all - being awarded as the #1 Game in India with the AatmaNirbhar App Innovation Challenge.
Sometime back, we started an initiative called Humans of Hitwicket where we wanted to hear stories of our users - why they enjoyed playing Hitwicket and the meaning it added to their lives. I remember one such user who played cricket at the college level and unfortunately met with an accident because of which he was confined to a wheelchair. He reached out to us via this initiative and told us about how Hitwicket gave him an opportunity to reconnect with cricket at a deeper level - a gateway for him to strategize and lead his own cricket team in a battle of wits against equally passionate team owners worldwide.
It was a very humbling moment that Hitwicket was beginning to move beyond its perceived role as a mode of entertainment, and has established a deeper, emotional relationship with gamers.
9. Could you help give a sense of how far Hitwicket has come? From when it began to where it is now
From a few hundred to three Million users, Hitwicket has come a long way. We launched a new game early this year, Hitwicket Superstars. Our first game was engaging but appealed to more hardcore users. Hitwicket Superstars comes loaded a long way with great art, graphics and a simple yet effective gameplay that appeals to the casual gamer as well. Hitwicket Superstars has acquired more than a million users well within a year of release and continues to engage users from diverse walks of life. 15 percent of our users are from outside India and contribute to 20 percent of our revenue.
10. What was it like sailing through the COVID-19 crisis? Did you see a fall in business or unexpected spurge? How did you deal with it?
For mobile gaming, COVID-19 had a good impact that led to a lot of engagement, paralleling the internet usage boom made possible by Jio. While we were working remotely, it was challenging in its own way - however, every problem is an opportunity to learn and reinvent. COVID-19 did that, and today, we are more thankful for the things we have.
11. Any advice for young Indian entrepreneurs out there?
You need to pick your battles. What matters is that you must have a strong conviction in what you do. Many walk when they can run. But a handful learns to fly. You can choose the easier path. But you are capable of doing more.
12. What are the big plans in the future?
We plan to organize Hitwicket World Cup in 2023, the grandest e-sport competition for cricket. There would be playoffs beginning at grassroots level; district level playoffs will lead to zonal playoffs and eventually on to the national tier.
48 national teams will compete for the selection of 24 who will go on to play the Hitwicket World Cup for a million dollar cash prize, which will be held at an International level. It's our intention to select a sponsor of the national team in each country. National team jerseys will be personalized, and will be available for sale both locally as well as globally.
Our end goal is to turn virtual cricketing into a format easily adopted by the masses, reaching out to villages, towns and cities across every cricket-loving nation; very much akin to the way cricket operates today.
13. What is the employee strength? Is Hitwicket hiring currently?
Our team is presently 42-strong. We are always on the lookout for people who are smart, creative and aspire to do something that hasn't been done before in India, creating the first world class cricket game from India that can delight the billion cricket fans globally.
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