gaming

Can Ludo King thrive in a post-Covid world?

First launched in February 2016, its popularity has boomed during lockdown, with a 142% jump in downloads between February and April.

Ludo King’s May revenue was about $922,000 worldwide, Sensor Tower data show, thanks to in-game purchases.
Ludo King’s May revenue was about $922,000 worldwide, Sensor Tower data show, thanks to in-game purchases. (Ludo King)

While much of the world has spent lockdown playing Nintendo Co.’s Animal Crossing, millions of Indians have been glued to a centuries-old board game called ludo — or at least, a digital version of it. But as the country opens up again, the question is whether ludo apps can retain their popularity.

Ludo King, developed by Mumbai-based Gametion Technologies Pvt., is the first Indian gaming application to pass 100 million downloads and was the sixth most downloaded game worldwide in May, according to Sensor Tower. First launched in February 2016, its popularity has boomed during lockdown, with a 142% jump in downloads between February and April. While it’s free to download, Ludo King’s May revenue was about $922,000 worldwide, Sensor Tower data show, thanks to in-game purchases.

One key to the app’s success is that many Indians have grown up playing ludo, a simple game with its roots in a medieval pastime called Pachisi. Up to four players take turns throwing dice in a race to get their tokens “home” to the center of the board, and to knock other competitors’ tokens off.

The app builds on the appeal of the physical version. “The game has individual dice pads, catchy animation and the dice isn’t rigged — every move is random,” said Vikas Jaiswal, creator of Ludo King and Gametion’s founder.

For Indian players, ludo is familiar, nostalgic and can quickly become highly competitive. “I like the app more than the board game, the moves are more calculated and the sound effects make it more lively,” said Mrinal Kanti Sarkar, an ex-SBI branch manager from Kolkata who regularly plays for as much as six hours a day. “It’s a good pastime for my wife and I, and helps me bond with my sons.” Even though the family all live under one roof, they prefer the app to the traditional board game.

But what happens to gaming apps like Ludo King when lockdown lifts and people’s ready supply of spare time dries up?

“While there are many tactics developers can use to help increase engagement and retention, having a good quality, fun game is ultimately what keeps players coming back,” said Craig Chapple, Mobile Insights Strategist, EMEA at Sensor Tower. “Keeping consumers engaged with your game is a challenging prospect when there are so many entertainment options easily available at the touch of a button.” He points out that games don’t just compete with other titles for attention, but also other platforms such as streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, as well as social apps like TikTok.

Ludo King has some new features in the pipeline already: It plans to introduce five- and six-player options to keep its users engaged, as well as audio chat functionality, said Jaiswal. Gametion, which employs more than 70 staff, is currently relying on its revenue to run the game.

“In Ludo King’s case, it seems likely the recent large spike in downloads will result in an increase in active users,” Chapple added. He expects habits developed during the lockdown like increased use of smart devices for entertainment and necessities to continue after the lockdowns are lifted.

Not everyone agrees. “Once lockdowns are lifted and social distancing measure ease, many of the new players will go back to other forms of entertainment or activities that they are replacing with video games at the moment,” said Matthew Kanterman, technology equity research analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “You're fighting for a share of the time in the day, gaming is just one activity that's fighting for a piece of 24 hours.”

Even if ludo apps remain popular, Ludo King is far from players’ only option: More than 100 alternatives are available in Alphabet Inc.’s Google Play Store.

“Once people start to see the utility of the game, they’ll switch from Ludo King to Ludo Star,” said Afsar Ahmad. He’s the co-founder of Gameberry Labs Pvt., owner of Ludo King competitor Ludo Star. While its following is much smaller than the top app — roughly 1.5 million daily users, according to Ahmad, compared to Jaiswal’s estimate of 51 million daily Ludo King users  — data from Sensor Tower show it has experienced 111 percent growth in revenue from in-app purchases during the lockdown.