Feature: WinZO CEO Paavan Nanda discusses his vision of building a vernacular gaming platform

In this exclusive interview, serial entrepreneur and IIM Calcutta graduate Paavan Nanda, who founded gaming platform WinZo Games discusses his vision of creating a vernacular esports and digital gaming platform that would cater to the needs of tier 2, 3, 4 and 5 cities in India.

Full interview:

Q. You launched the app, earlier branded as TicTok Games in 2017. Can you tell us the idea behind your venture, the rebranding of the product and the response in the past two years?

Paavan Nanda (PN): In 2017, Jio created a great infra in India that got 300 million people from Tier 2/3/4/5 audience for the first time on smart phone and internet. This new audience that was very diverse, was spending ample time consuming content in form of games and videos on their mobile phones. In 2018, there were 6 billion mobile games installed by 300 million people who were clocking on an average 45 mins playing games! This massive engagement was not the best monetized in India, in-app purchases and ad revenues didn’t make a stable business case to this audience.

The Team at WinZO, was most excited about building an online vernacular social arcade gaming platform that was backed by micro-transactions. With an 8-member team, we started our journey in early 2018 and developed a Tier2/Tier3 audience focused product. Focus was  to introduce them to the digital grid where they make their first entertainment transaction.  

Today 30% of WinZO consumers from the Tier 2/3 cities are making their first media and entertainment transaction online. The product is not just for Bharat but is actually build by Bharat. All the translation done on the platform for the vernacular languages and trivia are being done real time by housewife’s, teachers and university students from different part of the country.

WinZO is the first vernacular gaming company to partner with more than 600 housewives, schoolteachers and university students in rural Bharat to empower them by providing a parallel stream of income.

WinZO is one of the fastest growing players in the industry! And we aim to become the world’s largest online arcade gaming platform.

Q. We know that WinZO has seen 10 million installs till date and has set an ambitious target of reaching the 100 million registered users mark. How does the company plan to achieve this? Also, can you throw some light about the numbers generated by WinZO such as active users, monthly revenue run rate and paying user base?

PN: Today, WinZO has 10 million registered users on the platform playing in 10+ languages. These players are playing from 10,000+ cities, towns and  villages across India. Less than 10% of the audience is from Metro/ Top Cities of the country. The average time spent on the app is 45 mins/day. This is more than the time spent watching TV during primetime, you can clearly see a shift in the consumption pattern with great infra kicking in the country.  We see these numbers grow 10X in coming 12 months.

Interesting, UPI and Digital payments have solved for different monetization models for products. We decided to use this to drive micro-payments driven economy. We are already witnessing 130 million micro-transactions/ month. These are very exciting numbers for us. It’s a beautiful evolution of new consumption and paying pattern of the Indian Consumer.

Q. An important feature distinguishing WinZO from other apps has been the availability of games in more than 10 Indian languages, with plans to launch the app in more regional languages. Can you tell us how the response has been to the app in various regional languages and which languages have seen the most activity?

PN: You mentioned it right our entire focus is to build an online place to hang out for the audience coming on smartphone for the first time. We always say it this way, we are building Netflix of Gaming for Bharat, and solving for Bharat is not going to be easy.

One of the most amazing feature of WinZO Games is that, the app being provided in vernacular languages. Adding to that, 80% of our users are playing games in non- English i.e. in their native languages, which makes WinZO a complete social gaming platform where you hang out with friends playing super casual games, use voice chatting, and meet many new people who can speak the same language and have the same gaming interests. Currently the app is functional in  10  languages on  i.e. English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Bhojpuri. We plan to add another 6 languages on the app by March 2020.

The team has spent a lot of time working closely with this target group building a product for them, we are always trying to understand our users better, everyday is a new learning.

Do you know people in T2 cities put money in their PayTM by giving cash to kirana store, and these store owners do this transaction on their behalf for small commission? We also learnt this in our journey. Average time spent by paid players on the platform is 55 mins, with an average overall time spent close to 45 mins. This is a testament of our continuous effort to build a great product.

Q. You had recently announced a $1.5 million fund to support Indian game developers. Can you share some details about the initiatives taken by the fund?

PN: Building the supply side is an ongoing process. We are committed to helping the game developers and studios to believe in building for India, because it makes a business case. This would require an initial support. Any sector requires influx of economy to boom, we had set aside a fund of $1.5 million to support Indian game developers keeping in mind the needs of developers as well as the users.

With this fund we are already supporting and aim to support further by giving content developers a platform to make and showcase their games and at the same time monetize it.

So far, we have received phenomenal responses from the  developers community, and we are already working with few students and gaming studios supporting them to develop games for Bharat. This response was surprisingly not restricted to just India. We will be adding more than 100 games by 2020 on the platform, to make WinZO an entertainment powerhouse.

Q. After the Series A round raised by the company from Kalaari Capital and Hike Messenger, are any more funding rounds in the pipeline? –  Will need your help in answering if we are raising/expectations, etc.

PN: We are creating a product that will tap into a multi-billion-dollar market.  In coming months, we would be responsible for creating a lot of awareness, for educating users, and catering their need to consume personalized content through a single app, becoming the go to place for all entertainment needs.

We are talking about doing this at a very massive scale to the tune of 500 Million people just in India. Reaching in every household, inside every Indian’s smartphone is definitely going to be a very challenging, exciting journey and would need not only capital but also  best talent and an ongoing learning of the consumer needs and behavior.

Q. Speaking of Hike as one of your investors, can you elaborate if there are any other synergies you are looking at any with Hike messenger given that they are also a mobile platform?

PN: Hike being a very personalized app, we are considering many synergies. However, these discussions are still at exploration stage. You can expect some developments soon.

Q. What do you see are the challenges and risks on the legal and regulatory for the online gaming industry?

PN: So far online gaming with money was also seen in context of card games. This inertia was broken to some extent by Dream11, with Fantasy coming out clear in most states. Talking of esports or casual games, this has entered as a legit new category in Asian Games.

Most Indian states, at present, permit engagement in paid games of skills. The Supreme Court has examined the legislative history and intent of Price Competition Act, 1955, and excluded games which are predominantly based on skill from the regulatory purview.

The Nagaland Online Games of Skill Act, 2016, that prohibits gambling but promotes and regularizes games of skill, lists games that qualify as virtual game of skill. The list is exhaustive and includes virtual cricket, virtual pool, virtual carom etc. This indeed would be a persuasive document for all the courts and states.

What is most important is to demonstrate and ensure that dominant factor in the game is skill and not chance. 

Q. Finally, your parting thoughts on WinZO’s expansion plans and vision for the near future and how you see the gaming?

PN: 10 million + user base in a year, this speaks a lot about our aggressive plans, and to capture the next 500 million users who are going to join the smartphone bandwagon by 2023.

At WinZO we are focusing on a very unorthodox way to capture the interest of the users.

With data rates in India cheapest across the globe and affordable Smartphone market growing, India is poised to witness a large chunk of its population shift towards smart phones. All these people are expected to consume the content. video and gaming are the two biggest entertainment channels for the Smartphone users.

We are currently committed to expand our user base in India and create a much-localized experience for the audience that is coming on the digital grid for the first time. We are also looking at a possible expansion in countries with similar economies such Indian sub-continent and South-East Asia.


India Game Developers Conference to be held in Hyderabad on 22-23 November

The 11th edition of the India Game Developers Conference (IGDC), supported by the Government of Telangana and tech industry body NASSCOM is scheduled to be held at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre in Telangana on 22nd and 23rd November, 2019.

The flagship event is expected to showcase the latest developments in the game industry of the Indian subcontinent and debate new trends.

The two-day event, beginning on November 22, will also discuss the inventiveness in the functions and contents in the digital entertainment industry in India.

The organisers stated the IGDC continued to attract big attention from global gaming studios, developers and gaming enterprises.

IGDC will host more than 3,000 industry professionals and 200 industry expert speakers, major tracks and will feature 10 major events, 200 expo stalls, 25 publishers and 25 investors. It will also host an exhibit for games companies across India, including their popular IGDC Awards ceremony in seven categories.

“The industry is maturing and we believe IGDC continues to be the must-attend conference to catch the latest trends, market intelligence, success stories, upskill with great talks and workshops, meet investors and of course everyone in the Indian gaming ecosystem will be there, presenting excellent networking opportunities,” said Rajesh Rao, Chairperson, India Game Developer Conference and Founder and former CEO of Dhruva Interactive.

The congregation will build, consolidate and further game advancements, smart entertainment software and hardware animation, comic, internet e-Sports, new-age entertainment and other digital entertainment in India, and establish itself as a trend indicator for the gaming ecosystem and digital entertainment industry in India.

Among the big takeaways for the participants this year will be Android, Augmented Reality, iOS, PC, Steam, Virtual Reality, and Windows gaming and development and new trends.

According to a KPMG report, esports and gaming are expected to add revenues of over $1 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22 per cent.

Locally developed games picked up big numbers of daily active users. Designing and exporting games too hold a great promise with an estimated annual global market of $1.7 billion within a few years, the organisers said in a press release.


Former cricket journalist starts new digital gaming portal Altletics

Nikhil Kalro, a former cricket journalist with ESPNcricinfo has started a new digital gaming and sports content company called Altletics Esports Private Limited.

The Bengaluru-based company has announced the launch of its web-based daily fantasy sports portal ‘Altletics’ (the name being derived from the word ‘Alternative Athletics’) ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

According to Kalro, Altletics is seeking to encourage more participation from users who prefer to play the free version of the game. The company is also trying to focus on having leagues with smaller number of contest entries (contests with entry sizes of 2, 3 and 5) with much smaller entry fees compared to other fantasy sports portal.

Kalro claims that the company is keen to focus on making the customer experience better and smoother with small and simple initiatives like greater cash bonuses and smaller number of entries, which increases the winning probability for users.

The bootstrapped company currently offers only cricket fantasy games on its web-based portal, but it plans to come out with the iOS and Android versions of its mobile app soon, with contests of other sports also likely to be added.

Altletics has also announced that it will be also foraying in the esports space soon. Besides fantasy sports, the company also operates a sports content and news website called Broken Cricket.

Read more about online betting and gaming in India.


IAMAI hosts GATO 2.0 conference and awards; MPL bags Emerging Indian Gaming Company award

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) hosted a day long Gaming for Tomorrow (GATO 2.0) conference and awards ceremony at the Leela Ambience hotel in Gurugram on 24th April, 2019.

The daylong conference had discussions around various facets of digital gaming in India. Industry experts brainstormed on the potential of various online games and will chart a roadmap for its future growth. The conference also hosted special workshops for developers by AISPL (Amazon Internet Services Private Limited) and Amazon Alexa.

Digbijoy Shukla, Head-Startup Ecosystem, AISPL in his keynote address stated that the gaming industry in India can become a billion dollar market by 2020 as the number of mobile users are expected to reach 700 million.

The summit speaker’s line-up includes several industry experts like Haja Sheriff Lead – Business Development for Alexa Skills, Amazon India; Abhishek Shah, CEO, Conversion X , Pariekshit Maadishetti, Managing Director, Grid Logic Group;  Akshat  Rathee, MD, Nodwin Gaming; Rajan Navani, Vice Chairman & MD, JetSynthesys; Sundar Raman, CEO – Sports, Reliance Industries among others and had discussions around topics like Design in gaming: Need and importance?; The rise of AI and AR/VR induced gaming; Mainstreaming Esports in India; The aesthetics of marketing a game in India; Responsible Gaming: Player Protection and Safety etc.

The conference also hosted workshops focused on the central idea of building relevant skills for the gaming fraternity of India. The workshops will be conducted by developers from AISPL and Amazon Alexa. Some of the topics that were be dissected in the workshops included ‘Build the Cake Walk Skill’, ‘The future of voice-based experiences in gaming’, and ‘Add Memory to the skill to improve your Voice User Interface’.

At the event of the conference, IAMAI unveiled the inaugural GATO awards where Indian gaming developers and companies were honoured for their excellence under eight categories. Popular mobile gaming company Mobile Premier League (MPL) bagged the award for Emerging Indian Gaming Company while Grid Logic Games (Taj Rummy) got the runner up award in the same category.

The awards were selected based on nominations received by an IAMAI appointed jury comprising of  Manish Agarwal, CEO,  Nazara Technologies; Prithvi Raj, Associate Director – Smartphone Solutions, Nielsen India; Shrikant Rajemahadik, Global Head Publisher Business – POKKT; Laxmi Desai Khanolkar, Co-Founder and CEO, Apar Games; Akash Gupta, Director, ConversionX and Shilpa Bhatt, VP – Games, 99games

The complete list winners of the GATO 2.0 Awards 2019 is as below:




Smile Group invests $1 million in real money quiz startup Zupee

Indipepper Media Private Limited, which operates real money quiz and trivia platform Zupee has received US$1 million (approximately Rs. 6.9 crores) in funding from internet investment and advisory company Smile Group.

As per a report in VCCircle, Zupee, which was founded in May 2018 has been incubated by Smile Group since November 2018. The company stated that the new funds will be used for business growth and to expand its current team of 15 members. The valuation of the startup or the stake that Smile Group will hold post this transaction have not been revealed.

Prior to this investment, Smile Group has partnered and invested in other successful internet startups such as AirBnb, Truly Madly, Scoop Whoop and Fashion & You.

Founded by IIT Kanpur alumni Dilsher Malhi and Siddhant Saurabh, Zupee has seen more than one million downloads till date and has over 1.5 million gameplays in a month on an average.

The game allows users to compete with one another on quiz or trivia questions on any topic ranging from movies to sports to academics. The company currently has questions only in English language but plans to start a Hindi version soon and eventually start the game in 10-12 other regional languages.

The founders of the quiz app state that the reason they decided to start the app was because it has a broad appeal and also offers returns to users on the time spent.

Business Gaming

Ace2Three parent company launches new sports content venture

Head Digital Works Private Limited (formerly Head Infotech Private Limited), the parent company of leading online rummy website Ace2Three, has announced the launch of its latest venture a sports content platform providing live updates, predictions, data analysis and syndicated content about cricket matches at a private function in Mumbai today.

The star studded opening ceremony was attended by retired and current international cricketers such as Rohit Sharma, Brian Lara, Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardhene and Smriti Mandhana, where the website and mobile application were officially unveiled.

According to the company, the launch of the new portal is in line with its diversification plans which began after its entry into fantasy sports through an investment in Fanfight and launch of its social gaming platform WittyGames.

The new cricket portal is expected to offer an exciting experience to cricket fans with a greater focus on the use of data in live match scenarios. The editorial and content of the new platform will be led by veteran sports journalist Prem Panicker.

Speaking on the occasion, Deepak Gullapalli, CEO of Head Digital Works noted, “The launch of is part of a larger blueprint for the company. India’s biggest religion is cricket and we want to play a bigger role in this space. We already have a sports game platform via Fanfight and we plan to reach out to a larger base of fans via The plan for the organisation includes diversification of the businesses and expansion of our footprint beytnd Indian markets.”

The company also stated in a press release that with the launch of this new initiative, it plans to consolidate its position as a market leader in the gaming space and transition into a gaming and digital entertainment conglomerate.

Business Gaming

MPL likely to get $30 million funding from Go-Jek, Sequoia and Times Group

Real money skill gaming startup Mobile Premier League (MPL) is likely to close a $30 million funding round that will be led by Indonesian transportation and logistics company Go-Jek.

According to a report in The Times of India, the discussions between Go-Jek and MPL are at an advanced stage and the transaction is likely to be completed soon.

The Times of India report further states that apart from Go-Jek, Times Internet (a Times of India group company) and existing investor Sequoia Capital are also likely to participate in the funding round, that is likely to peg the valuation of the gaming startup at $150 million.

Last year, MPL had raised $5 million in a Series A funding round led by Sequoia Capital, in which some existing angel investors also participated.

Founded by technology entrepreneurs Sai Srinivas Kiran Garimella and Shubham Malhotra, MPL allows users to participate in real money contests and tournaments of various skill games such as fruit chop, monster truck, space breaker, sudoku, virtual cricket etc.

In the past few months, the company has evolved an aggressive marketing campaign through various channels, focusing on new user acquisition. The gaming startup claims to have acquired over 20 million registered users on its platform in a short span of less than one year.

Earlier this month, MPL had announced that Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli has become the company’s brand ambassador. Kohli now features prominently on MPL’s online, social media and television marketing campaigns.


SiGMA successfully hosts gaming roadshow in Manila

SiGMA, a Malta-based affiliate and gaming events company hosted its first ever event in Manila, Philippines from 21st-22nd March, 2019. The event was the first leg of its global networking tour with subsequent events being planned in New Jersey, Nairobi and Lima later this year.

Hosted at the Shangri-La at the Fort hotel in Manila, the two-day event hosted conferences and presented a plethora of new opportunities for handshake deals in the fast-growing Asian market. The company in a press released noted that the event had opened doors to favourable business circumstances for European operators and suppliers looking to tap into the Asian market.

The event saw participation by over 400 premium Asian affiliates and operators that included FavBet, Hero Gaming, Glitnor Affiliates, Posh Friends, Royal Panda and Scout Gaming.

Eman Pulis, SiGMA’s founder and CEO, commented, “We came to Manila first of all to learn more about this vibrant city and the government’s initiatives through PAGCOR for the Asian region.  New friendships were born and strategic partnerships cemented in this vibrant region!”

Commenting on the success of the event, James Camilleri, Head of Sales and General Manager at Scout Gaming noted, “It was an excellent event, with insightful discussions on the Asian market and lots of networking opportunities. Definitely worth attending!”


GamingMonk raises strategic investment from listed Japanese gaming company

Esports startup GamingMonk has raised a US$ 100,000 (around Rs. 70 lakhs) strategic investment from listed Japanese gaming media GameWith. As per a statement issued by the company, the strategic partnership is expected to build on synergies, support and collaboration for the Indian gaming industry.

The funds given by GameWith will be used for product development, team building and brand marketing, the company stated. GamingMonk however did not reveal the valuation at which the round was closed or the stake that will be held by GameWith.

Commenting on the partnership, Takuya Imaizumi, CEO of GameWith, Inc., said, “The gaming industry in India has strong growth potential and GamingMonk, led by a strong management team, is well-positioned to further benefit from industry trends. We are excited about the company’s growth prospects and proud to have this opportunity to support the journey.”

“There are exciting times ahead for the gamers in India. GameWith brings a lot on board with their experience and leading position in the Japanese market. Their insights will help us in building a better product for the Indian gaming market” added Abhay Sharma, co-founder of GamingMonk.

In October last year, GamingMonk had raised Rs. 4 crores in a seed funding round that saw participation from Japan-based Incubate Fund; Rajan Anandan (Vice President of Google India and South East Asia);  Stellaris Ventures; Smile Group; AdvantEdge fund; Samir Khurana and others.

Founded in 2014 by Abhay Sharma and Ashwin Haryani, GamingMonk provides a platform for esports players to competitively engage in esports tournaments, both through their website and through offline events. The platform currently allows players to compete with one another in games like PUBG, Fortnite, Fifa 2019 and Counter Strike.

The website also provides news and content relating to the esports industry and markets various gaming related products.

Legal & Regulatory

Has the Kerala High Court made a factual error in ignoring 1976 govt notification while passing rummy for stakes order?

Exclusive A division bench of the Kerala High Court in an order passed last month, surprisingly ruled that playing rummy for stakes would amount to the offence of gaming/gambling under the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960.

The court based its decision on the precedents set by the Supreme Court, Madras High Court and Kerala High Court, while also noting that the wording of the definitions of gaming and common gaming house in the Kerala legislation are slightly different from the Public Gambling Act, 1867 or other similar gambling legislations.

The court in its order, also noted that in the Kerala Gaming Act, there is a provision in the form of Section 14A which states that the state government may, if they are satisfied that in any game the element of skill is more predominant than the element of chance, by notification in the official gazette, exempt such game from all or any provisions of the Act subject to restrictions or conditions as may be prescribed.

The court in paragraph 19 of its order goes on to state, ‘Admittedly, no notification was issued by the Government, exempting the game of rummy for stakes.’

This portion of the court’s judgment however seems to be factually inaccurate, leading to an entirely incorrect conclusion being drawn by the court.

The Kerala state government has in 1976 issued a notification, SRO No. 1045/76  under Section 14A of the Kerala Gaming Act, 1960 that states that the government being satisfied that skill being more predominant than chance exempts six games: rummy; card games- 28, 56 and 112; dart throw; ball throw; cup and coin; and shooting contests from all the provisions of the Kerala Gaming Act. The only condition imposed in the notification is that side-betting cannot be allowed in the aforementioned six games.

Since the game of rummy has been clearly exempted from all provisions of the Kerala Gaming Act; staking money or making profit from the game of rummy cannot amount to an offence under the said Act. The only condition imposed under the that ‘side-betting’ is not permitted. While no definition of the word ‘side-betting’ has been given in the notification, a reasonable interpretation of the word side-betting would mean that betting or wagering by third parties not participating in the game would be impermissible.

It would be interesting to see if a review petition is filed in the Kerala High Court to get the judgment corrected in light of the notification of the state government clearly exempting the game of rummy from the ambit of the gaming legislation, which it seems, was not brought to the attention of the court.