Krafton India launches gaming incubator to expand local ecosystem

Krafton India has launched a gaming incubator in the South Asian nation as it seeks to expand the local ecosystem and support the domestic talent looking to enter the fast-growing gaming market.

Called Krafton India Gaming Incubator (KIGI), the program aims to support six to 10 teams annually, with the total duration ranging from six months to a year. Selected participants will get guidance, mentorship, access to Krafton’s resources and financial support, typically between $50,000 and $150,000, depending on their needs, the company said on Wednesday.

Krafton India, which recently relaunched the popular mobile title BGMI, said it would look for early-stage Indian startups and those at the conception stage, as well as student teams and independent developers for the KIGI program. The selected participants will be mentored by various gaming industry executives, game developers and industry experts from South Korea and India. Krafton will also offer the participants access to its internal resources, including data and market research, to help them build their respective products for the Indian markets worldwide.

“Given the huge demand for gaming content [in India], the supply side has yet to mature. There are many great startups and small- to medium-sized and large-size game developers, but I think in the ecosystem, there is a lack of diversity,” said Sean Hyunil Sohn, CEO of Krafton India, in an interview.

The South Korean company has appointed former Gameloft and Electronic Arts producer Anuj Sahani as the head of its incubator program. Sahani told TechCrunch that he, along with other executives at Krafton, will look for relevant participants by going through their applications and will pick the ones that fit the company’s global standards.

To be sure, Sony and Epic Games also have incubation programs in various markets to support indie developers and early-stage startups. But those are limited to a specific gaming engine or platform, Sohn said, adding that Krafton’s program is game engine and platform agnostic, meaning the incubating teams can develop games using technologies based on their requirements and for platforms — not restricted to mobile that is dominating the gaming market in India — including PC and consoles.

However, it will not consider developers or startups building real money gaming (RMG) or gambling content. India used to attract decent investments in RMG, but recent government guidelines have changed the landscape. Similarly, many Indian states have restricted online gambling altogether.

After graduating from the incubator, the participants can raise capital from institutional investors. Krafton can also fund them through its committed allocation of investments for the Indian market, which includes the company’s recent commitment of $150 million after investing about $140 million in 11 Indian startups and the local ecosystem in the last three years.

The company has also invested around $50 million, particularly in the gaming sector in India, with investments in companies such as Nodwin Gaming, Loco Interactive, Nautilus Mobile (developer of Real Cricket game franchise) and Lila Games, as well as gaming-focused VC fund Lumikai Fund. Nevertheless, the funding for the incubator will be separate from its previously investment commitments in the country, the company said.

Sohn indicated that the incubation program may help find some potential startups and teams that Krafton can acquire later to expand its presence in the country.

“We can call it [the program] a beacon for the identification of game development teams in India,” the executive said. “It has a much better, much larger bandwidth than a typical investment.”

The move comes at a time when Krafton India is expanding its own portfolio of mobile titles — New State Mobile and Road to Valor: Empires — in India. Though admittedly, BGMI remains Krafton India’s most popular title by miles.

Sohn acknowledged that it is hard to replicate the success of BGMI in the country and said the incubator program would allow developers to experiment with different genres and build a variety of games, including distinct casual games — not just the commonly played cardboard or hyper-casual ones.

Market intelligence firm Niko Partners estimates that India’s video game revenue will grow 21.2% year-on-year across all platforms to $868 million in 2023. India is a mobile-first market, with about 97% of its total gamers playing on a smartphone or tablet. Further, the country is seeing significant growth in its number of gamers, with a 12.1% YoY increase to 444 million gamers in 2023. This is projected to grow further to 641.2 million in 2027.

Dave Curd, the creative director of PUBG Corporation and former art director of Raven Software, and Harns Kim, the game producer at Krafton and former live service producer of TERA at Bluehole Studio, are among the key experts that will mentor and guide the teams and individuals participating in Krafton’s incubator. The program will run virtually and include seminars and community events to help participants build networks while developing games in their comfort zone, Sahani said.

According to the data shared by startup market tracker Tracxn, equity funding in Indian gaming startups grew nearly 70% to $647.9 million in 2022 from $381.8 million in 2020. In 2023, despite the overall market slowdown, Indian gaming startups raised $94.3 million to date.

Krafton will start accepting entries for the incubator from today through its dedicated website.