Work Is Play

Giants are being challenged by two 30 year olds - Rohit Gupta, Founder and CEO of Punebased Rolocule Games, and Anuj Tandon, Co-founder and COO.
Arpita Mukherjee   Delhi     Print Edition: April 13, 2014
Co-founders Rohit Gupta and Anuj Tandon
Co-founders Rohit Gupta and Anuj Tandon (in the green sweatshirt) playing their new game 'Dance Party' at Gupta's residence in Pune Photo: Rachit Goswami/www.indiatodayimages.com

A visit to the spartan office of Rolocule Games in Pune hardly inspires the thought of an ongoing revolution. Plain walls, dotted with post-its at some places, and a quiet space 'adorn' the office. Look carefully, though, and you will notice the earphones and tablets that the creative bunch is working on behind the huge computer screens. The 'quiet' bunch is whipping up a silent revolution of a different kind - one that seeks to disrupt the market of console games. What was cult for more than half a century is now being challenged by two 30 year olds - Rohit Gupta, Rolocule's Founder and CEO, and Anuj Tandon, Co-founder and COO. With its technology, Rolocule Games is aiming at taking market share away from the likes of Nintendo Wii, Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox , and give gamers that experience through their smartphones, currently through the iPhone.

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"We saw that so much more could be done with motion gaming," says Gupta about the company's technology, Rolomotion for which it had applied for patents in the US and India last year. "If you want to play Motion Tennis or Dance party TV, people don't need to buy a Nintendo Wii, PlayStation, or Kinect," says Gupta. Rolomotion uses the inbuilt power and features of a smartphone and converts it to not just a gaming console, but also a controller.

NAME: Rolocule Games
AREA OF BUSINESS: Mobile gaming
YEAR OF INCORPORATION: 2010
COOL QUOTIENT: Provides games that need play stations, on your iPhone
"Gyrometers and accelerometers were in iPhone from day one. How come no one reengineered them for this kind of use?" wonders Karthik Reddy, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Blume Ventures, a Mumbai-based early-stage seed fund that recently provided the company with a second round of funding. The first time around, Blume had been a part of the group led by Mumbai Angels, another angel investor. "What (Rolocule) caught on was that the mobile will become the centre of everybody's life, but as an interface it is not necessarily perfect to play sophisticated games," he says. "There was a way to bridge that with their understanding of technologies available on a mobile phone and the phone's ability therefore to talk to external devices," he says. Rolocule had earlier secured an investment of Rs 20 lakh from Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), which is the start-up incubation centre at IIM Ahmedabad, set up with Gujarat Government and Department of Science and Technology's (Government of India) support.

Rolocule derives its name from a play on the words 'colour molecules'. Even the logo is a modified image of the chemical formula of chlorophyll and retains the basic colours red, green, blue and yellow.

Gupta's deep-seated desire was to create games with Electronic Arts, a pioneer of computer games and still one of the largest gaming companies in the world. This prepped him to realise the dream that he had set for much later. "When I joined, the reality was very different from what I had thought… I wanted to make big games like the ones we played, but in a big company, you're a very small part. You're contribution is very small," says Gupta. "I wanted to contribute much more… That was the time when I decided that I had to do something on my own."

From working in a room in an apartment, to an animation training centre as a resource in end of 2009, to incorporating the company in November 2010, and finally moving into a 2,000 sq. ft. space in 2013 that they occupy today, Rolocule Games has already touched significant milestones. "There was no doubt, but there was definitely a sense of uncertainty. But the optimism that I had was much more than the uncertainty," says Gupta.

With an initial funding of Rs 1 lakh and lots of faith that Gupta received from his father in April 2009, he worked on the company's first game for the iPhone, Touch Squash, soon after which he got the first acquisition offer for Rs 18 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. "We didn't even understand at the time what an acquisition entailed," Gupta and Tandon recount. The company received another proposal from a bigger company in 2011.

The next game - Super Badminton for the iPhone - was a huge hit. The company then set up a research team in September 2012 to work on its proprietary game engine, Rolomotion, for which Gupta and Tandon were invited to Cupertino by Apple Inc. in February of 2013 to present their plan. And this was when the maker of iPhones and iPads came on board with Rolocule for the development and launch of Motion Tennis, its first game that would compete with gaming consoles.

While the company is already associated with Apple for the technology, it is now working on getting on board with Google's Android platform as well. "The go-to-market strategy is very important because the general public has to have awareness about it… Android is a fragmented market place, so you would want to approach Google directly," says Tandon.

However, despite the sustained growth, the founders say the company could have expanded much faster had they taken more people on board and "delegated work" much earlier. Rolocule currently employees 20 people, and intends to invest in marketing and talent, which according to them is a major deficit and there is a lot of training that goes into it. "Apart from being a brilliant coder, you also need to understand physics, mathematics, and have the entire knowledge of gaming engines," says Tandon.

"We were especially cautious about spending the investor money that had come. In hindsight we should have been much more aggressive... But now we're being aggressive and you will see a lot of products coming from us," says Tandon. The company is now working on its next product launch called Dance Party, which is being tested in Australia and is in the beta stage, and should be launched globally this April.

So cautious were both the founders in the beginning that to secure resources such as designers as interns and the physical infrastructure, Gupta agreed to teach the students at the animation institute in exchange. But while they had promised the interns that the game would be out in three months, it actually took six months. "They stuck with us without salary for another three months, and we still have two of them join us at Rolocule," says Tandon. This game was Super Badminton.

Cautiousness has served them well and the company has managed to remain profitable. Popularity of the products has boosted their revenue as people have been willing to pay for the games. About 90 per cent of the company's games are currently paid. However, Rolocule is gradually working towards moving to the freemium, or the in-app purchase model, where they would be providing the games free of cost, while charging people for elements and add-on features within the game.

"The good news is that these guys knew how to keep themselves self sufficient," says Reddy, adding that the reason Rolocule would even need the next round of fund would be because of the desire to grow faster than the rate of organic growth. "That's a good situation to be in. If the next game hits off, they might not even need the next round of funding," says Reddy.


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