What’s the next PUBG Mobile in India, and what makes a gaming phone successful? These were some of the questions that Asus executives discussed with Gadgets 360 soon after launching the ROG Phone 5. The gaming smartphone comes with a number of features you wouldn’t see in most smartphones on the market. With this latest iteration of its gaming phone, the company wants to provide a more hardcore and immersive gaming experience to fans across the globe, especially in India which the company sees as an important market when it comes to gaming on smartphones. Even though PUBG Mobile has been banned in the country, the desire to play games with friends continues to grow.
Gadgets 360 spoke with Shawn Chang – Director, Sales and Marketing, Smartphone Business Unit for Asus Global and Dinesh Sharma – Business Head, Smartphone and Commercial PC, System Business Group for Asus India about the gaming industry in India, the next PUBG Mobile, and some interesting details about the Asus ROG Phone 5. Edited excerpts follow:
Gadgets 360: What’s your take on the gaming industry in India?
Dinesh Sharma: The total install base of smartphones should be around 450 to 500 million and therefore you’ve got about 65 to 70 percent penetration for this particular segment where people are playing any game on the phone. Now when you further move up and you want to look at more serious gamers who are playing AAA+ kind of games, you can look at numbers of PUBG and COD (Call of Duty: Mobile) right.
So PUBG had an install base of more than 70 million regularly before lockdown — they were clocking at least 35 million active users a month and post lockdown they went up to 40 to 45 million active users a month and then later on they got banned. COD and Free Fire also have huge install bases in India so from that install base as well as monthly active users I think Free Fire was also crossing or reaching the kind of numbers that PUBG was right, in a way, and even COD I’m sure they’re about estimated 35 million+ again.
A lot of consumers playing which are not just simple games but actually playing AAA+ kind of games and then there is a whole plethora of games like Brawl Stars, Asphalt, which have again significant amount of install base in the country. Gaming is therefore something which is a very, very big desire among the youth and if you see what is happening in the industry, is that more and more PC and console game makers are also planning to release their titles on smartphones and this will further accelerate high end gaming experience on smartphones and trend of further buying smartphones which are much more capable for giving you a superlative gaming experience.
Gadgets 360: What is the scope of gaming smartphones? Audience of gaming phones vs gaming laptops and desktop
Shawn Chang: Yeah let me describe the data on a global scale. I think the global scale for overall gaming, no matter what platform, is around $180-200 billion (approximately Rs. 13.06 lakh crores) total and then if you look at mobile gaming, its around half, so around $100 billion (approximately Rs. 7.25 lakh crores) is on the mobile gaming platform. So let’s say mobile gaming actually occupies quite a large place in the overall gaming industry and major countries like China and India are very important mobile gaming countries also including the South East Asian countries.
We are targeting the professional or hardcore gaming end-users. Even in India, let’s say the mobile gaming users is around 350 million, so we believe the hardcore gamers are actually [a large part] of this 350 million, even on the global scale it’s similar. From last year we enjoyed around high double digit growth rate and this year we even considered to set a target as almost double.
We don’t have this kind of data from any research agency but from several important data like overall gaming revenue on mobile. I believe hardcore gamers can be 10 to 20 percent of these.
Gadgets 360: Why did the ZenFone 7 not launch in India like the ZenFone 6 did under Asus 6Z name?
Sharma: Branding issue had nothing to do with it, because we could have easily launched it as Asus 7Z, for example.
All that I can say is that wait and watch. We can’t actually confirm our future plans, but we’ll definitely come back to you in due course.
Gadgets 360: What’s next for Asus in terms of gaming in India?
Sharma: So I think first of all, if you look at Asus, there are two hot and growing ecosystems of gaming in India, one is smartphones and second is gaming PCs. In both these spaces we are accelerating great product innovation. And we have the leadership status in both these categories in the gaming segment.
We [give] very strong support for the players in India, because of initiatives like ROG Academy, and also we work with the mobile eSports players as well and understand their needs from the smartphone. In fact, this year with the ROG Phone, we also have a mode called the eSports mode. What it does is as it comes in with three to four functionalities which are designed for eSports.
So for example in eSports for an eSports player, you might not want to use air triggers, you might not want to use motion control triggers which have some advanced capabilities, which are meant to make games fun and easy for a casual gamer on the ROG Phone. So all those kinds of very special deviations, which are there from eSport rules are all kind of disabled.
So we are so conscious of the ecosystem that even we’ve now build the eSports mode, in our ROG phone, we are also opening up multiple ROG stores in the country. So currently, we already have dedicated eight ROG stores in the country which are only gaming focused stores, which are there.
Gadgets 360: What are the key smartphone trends in the country?
Sharma: One of the biggest trends of gaming in India is the fact that first person shooting games dominate everything. And I think whether you talk about PC, where there are games like CS: Go or Valorant now coming into the play right, and gaining a lot of traction. Or if you look at smartphones also, you’ve got games like PUBG, Free Fire, COD, Brawl Stars, which are all in a way the same genre, okay, where first player shooting games are a big production.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this, like for example, Among Us also gained a lot of traction recently. But more or less, it is this even if you look at, so the other key trend that we see is that people because they are adopting smartphone gaming now more and more, this is also leading to a growth on PC gaming. So in a way, the smartphone gaming growth is actually also helping the PC gaming growth in India, in a way in accelerating it further.
Okay, the third thing that we see is that as more and more titles will come in, which are AAA+, people will clearly realise a need for gaming specific smartphones even more. And there will be a bigger shift to phones like ROG, in any case, ROG by itself is evolving year by year and giving much more severe competition to flagships because on overall basis, it’s a way better phone to go for right now.
Another important thing is like, PUBG was accelerating that trend, which was about eSports. Okay, so I think people want to know, the skills that they’ve developed. Today, if you go to see what the youth are doing in India, is that they are heavily into mobile gaming, they have squads, people if they meet up, a gang of guys, when they meet up, you will not be surprised if you will see them all standing together and playing a COD game together as a team.
Gadgets 360: What balance does Asus have to strike when designing a gaming phone? What are the challenges?
Chang: Yeah, all right. First of all, we have five pillars or cornerstone of the gaming phone. First of all is actually the performance. So, how can we guarantee the performance and the thermals are capable to sustain heavy let’s say hardcore gaming or shooting game, this is a crucial, so how can we make sure of this and we actually try to rearrange the whole structure or architecture of the phone. We put a CPU and the PCB in the middle and split the high battery capacity 6,000mAh into two batteries, 3,000mAh on the side. So we can see this will be very capable for us to make sure let’s say when we boost up the CPU power the heat and the thermals first of all can dispatch evenly to the whole phone instead of one hotpoint.
The other topic is in middle the phone when you play the game, your finger wont touch the hot points easily and then if you also use the aero active cooler fan, you will see we put the fan in the middle just on top of the CPU. So we are able to dispatch more heat out from the CPU which guarantee you no matter you play a very heavy game or you play the let’s say the mid-range game you will feel comfortable and then also the performance is sustainable.
Gadgets 360: Is this something you realised after the previous three iterations – that moving the CPU in the middle would be a better experience?
Chang: No actually, we had the idea pretty long ago, but somehow when we design a product you also need to care if the product accessories are can we use a few years. So for example, ROG to ROG 3, we are not able to make a very big change because we need to care for those fans who have our accessories. So basically, we don’t want to change the structure or the shape of the phone like every year because they will be basically disappointing the fans who bought the full package of the phone right so we care for our fans who have lets say, ROG 2 when they have ROG 3 the accessories can be continued or not. So this is actually the main reason that we have this idea. And we do the testing few years ago. So it’s not a new idea, basically.
And the other topic is the display. Because how do we make sure the end user when they play the game, they can have very fast display, fast responsive displays are very important. And that’s the reason why we put 144Hz refresh rate with the 300Hz touch sensor.
And number three is the battery life. And as you may know, I think 6,000mAh battery in this kind of size. And number four is audio. It’s really hard to explain the audio but if you have the phone, you try by yourself you’re recognising the whole difference, compared to other smartphones. We put a lot of efforts we try to squeeze the biggest chamber possible into the phone and then also co-work with professional audio algorithm experts in Sweden. And we also bring back 3.5mm audio jack. And it’s very difficult because we need to squeeze the space in the phone itself the space is very crucial.
Gadgets 360: Yeah when gaming with friends, the consumers would usually prefer having a headset and a mic so they can plug it in with the audio jack.
Chang: Exactly, and to be honest with you, we also do some research. A lot of our fans or gamers, they do have very nice headset already when they play PC games so why we push them to use Bluetooth when they have very nice headset? So internally, we don’t want to give up so this year we bring back the 3.5mm and I think one of the journalists even said we are the only company to remove the audio jack last year and bring it back this year.
And the reason why we removed it was last year we could not find space anymore but this year finally we found the space so we never wanted to remove it to be honest but finally this year we brought it back.
And the last one is the built-for-gamer features for example the air triggers and this year were even doing enhancements and we put physical buttons on the fan. So a lot of new ideas we put on the ROG Phone 5, it’s not very easy, but we always listen for our fans when they give opinion we always listen.
Sharma: What I really appreciate about also the work that HQ has been doing is the kind of customisation they are able to drive with different components. There’s a customised Samsung AMOLED display. All of the [other] brands are simply buying ready-made components and then putting it in their phone. So you see a plethora of lookalikes with difference in combinations. What we’ve been able to do is with our design thinking and being very, very gamer centric, we’ve been able to create a lot of custom accessories, custom components for the phone.
Gadgets 360: How do you connect with the fans with gaming smartphones being a niche in India. Besides ROG Academy, is there anything else Asus is doing?
Sharma: Apart from the ROG Academy, we deeply engage with our fans constantly with a tournament, which is exclusive for the ROG Phone consumers which is called Battle of Gods. [This] has already completed more than 25 weeks and we’ve distributed a prize pool of more than Rs. 15 lakh to our fans. In fact, the last season which happened, every week, when Battle of Gods tournament used to happen, the fans had a chance to win more than Rs. 50,000 in cash awards. And this tournament is also live cast on Asus India channel. So you could go on Asus India YouTube channel and actually watch all the stuff that we’ve done on Battle of Gods. And this is also live cast with professional casters, by the way, who are casting for eSports tournament.
Plus, we do a lot of offline events before pandemic so we had multiple meetups in cool premium places and our fans are invited and I personally attend each one of them. We get a lot more insights from them in terms of their usage experience of the phone and what are their further recommendations that they have for us.
Gadgets 360: After the PUBG ban, which are the games that according to Asus have the same audience potential?
Sharma: I think somebody will. Some game will, it’s just a matter of time. I’ve seen people who don’t use PUBG have shifted to COD, and are playing COD right now.
I would say yes, maybe COD can also make further improvements in certain formats like, Battle Royale mode. Otherwise if you see on a 5v5 basis, COD is brilliant, right? I mean they have so many different formats within five, or 10v10, right? Which is so interesting. I mean, you don’t have to play only TDM (Team Death Match) right? You could play up to 10 different types of modes out there. So it’s actually quite exciting to play that particular game as well. So, I think there are a lot of games which could have that potential and there could be a lot more newer games also coming up which will again have a new shot at the market.
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