India is a developing country, and gaming is still a luxury cherished by many in the country. The exorbitant pricing of hardware often means that people want to experience gaming, but cannot afford it. Naturally, this means that institutions that actually make gaming more accessible also helps many people actively get into it without breaking their pockets. Gaming cafes are these institutions. A majority of gamers in the country are kids who lack the scope of earning their own pocket money, being dependent on their parents entirely for their needs. Making gaming affordable for them would mean they would switch to gaming as a hobby and even get themselves a PC or a console for playing at home, making it a win-win situation for all. This is exactly the role gaming cafes have – being a gateway to gaming as a whole.
When we talk about gaming cafes, we often mean a place filled with gaming PCs, full of neon lights coming out of the cabinets, with lots of people deeply engaged in a match of Counter-Strike, DOTA, Rainbow Six, PUBG or other games. Zone Cafe is indeed a gaming cafe, but much more than a “mere gaming cafe”. It has a retail area where you can buy peripherals and hardware, and even customized XRIG builds if you’re feeling too lazy to build your own rig. A gaming area, where you play games on PCs and consoles with your friends (Zone is one of the first cafes in Eastern India to feature consoles prominently as a component of a gaming cafe), overlooks the restaurant and the lounge where you can calmly sit and enjoy a bite after long hours of gaming. And finally, we got the icing on the cake. Zone Cafe recently got the Nvidia Gold Certification. Zone Cafe is so much more than a cafe, and we were lucky to have received an opportunity to talk to Vamsi Krishna, Head of Consumer Marketing for NVIDIA India, Rohit Lundia, owner of Zone Cafe, and Aditya Prasad, owner of XRIG, about the cafe, about the latest Nvidia Gold Certification and get an insight about their vision regarding the gaming industry in India.
IN: Throughout your career, were you ever pressured to switch careers since its still a niche and kind of a stigmatic market in India?
Vamsi Krishna: ” My journey with gaming started ever since I was 14 years old. Now I am 40 years old. As a consumer, there never has been a switch. In the last 5 years, I have been with Nvidia, so my career is directly related to gaming ever since. Before that, I have been with Microsoft and AMD, which was not related to gaming.”
Rohit Lundia: ” We are into computer retail and distribution, and we have a very diversified business. So, opening Zone cafe was a part of our diversification program. And, I am an avid gamer myself since about 10-12 years. So gaming has always been a part of our investment.”
Aditya Prasad: “I have been playing games since I remember and I was professionally into Dota for about 6 years. About two and a half years back I decided to make it my source of income.”
IN: What are your opinions on the console market, do you think they are valid, or will forever remain a lost cause next to the PC gaming market?
Vamsi Krishna: ” I won’t specifically answer to the console gaming market, but PC gaming, in my opinion, is the gold standard for gaming. You don’t get it on any other platform hands down. Whether it’s performance, whether it is the interactions which you can’t do in any other platform, PC gaming will always be in the pinnacle of gaming. Another thing is that you have to understand the Indian consumer. We are not a multi-device user, we are a single device user. We buy stuff which has multiple functionalities, as we are a value, conscious consumer. So PC will always be the number one choice if you have to make a choice.”
Aditya Prasad: “Console gaming is strictly restricted to gameplay. It is debatable, but a high-end PC definitely beats a console. What is very about unique about PC gaming is the involvement with the community, the involvement with content creation and stuff. A PC is a multi-purpose platform and a multi-functional device. When you are using a PC, you have multiple windows open, be it Discord, Game Capture, Browser tabs, or even Premiere Pro. You are way more involved as a PC gamer doing a lot more things as compared to PC gaming. The user is way more versatile in PC gaming. As a PC gamer, you can get into PC development as well. PC gaming gives access to a load of opportunities instead of just mindlessly playing games.”
Rohit Lundia: “I’ll tell you about our experience in the past two months. People want to play on consoles mainly because of the exclusive titles. If a game is available on PC and console both, they always prefer playing on PC. This I can tell you form a cafe owner’s perspective based on my last two months of experience.”
IN: Tell us more about the Nvidia Gold Certification. What is the certification all about and what does it mean to the user?
Vamsi Krishna: “So there are two customers for us in this journey. One is the investor, like Zone who has invested in this particular business model, and, second is the customer. And both are equally important to us. This certification program binds both of them strongly.
Like for a gamer, if he knows that this is an Nvidia certified Cafe, he can expect a level of experience there that he may or may not get from a non-certified Cafe. When I say experience, we collectively bring few things together. Hardware, to start with. We have a set of hardware standards which is gold class. That is the first thing a gamer looks at when he comes to a cafe.
Secondly, it’s the facilities that are associated with that. We also believe you need to give an eSports chair to the gamers. When you play three hours to five hours, the experience is different on a normal chair, and the experience is different on an eSports chair. So our focus is on the gamer as well, it’s not just the hardware.
F&D for example, when you play for six hours at a stretch you will obviously get hungry. You would rather eat here at the cafeteria, instead of going out. So we consider a full spectrum for a gamer to experience as gold-class. That’s from the gamer’s perspective.
From the investor’s perspective, like Zone, we will try and work with them to make sure we do as many events as possible. More events you do, more engagements happen between the investors and the gamers. If we do a lot of eSports events, for example, it’s a lot more interaction for the gamers. If we do social advertisements for them, it brings more and more gamers to the Cafe. So, it’s a two-way thing.”
IN: What do you think about the current state of gaming cafes in India and what do you think about the future of gaming cafes in India? Like, where do you see them a few years down the line.
Vamsi Krishna: “Currently we are at a very nascent stage when we look at cafes as a business. We have way less than a thousand gaming cafes in India. But, we have a lot more PC gamers in India. Our estimate is roughly around 16 million PC gamers in India. And obviously, not all of them have good gaming PCs. So, the cafe becomes very important for them to go and supplement that experience. But now we have way fewer cafes so it’s a very good opportunity for investors to look at this category.
For example, China and Vietnam, they are very similar Asian countries, but they are way ahead in terms of the gaming journey. China has 1.6 lakh cafes, and all the cafes are massive. Vietnam, on the other hand, has 42000 cafes.
So, what we are trying to do is we are trying to spread the awareness. In fact, six months back Rohit was not even thinking about opening a gaming cafe. We did an investor meeting in Kolkata, that’s when we met Rohit. We presented that Kolkata and India have this kind of potential, and Rohit took six months and we got Zone cafe.”
IN: What do you think about the future of the game and eSports industry in India?
Vamsi Krishna: “As I said, we are a developing market. Sixty percent of our population is below the age of thirty years. We are the second largest mobile gaming market in the world with Two hundred and fifty million mobile gamers. We have the largest number of active social media users in the world. When you consider all these stats, the only entertainment source that engages with this age group is gaming. Whether you play on mobile, or console or PC. Gaming is gaming at the end of the day. The future is awesome.”
IN: Give us a brief intro about Zone cafe and give us a brief insight into how Zone cafe is different.
Rohit Lundia: ” So basically Zone Cafe has three parts, one is the retail part, then we have the gaming cafe part, and finally we have the cafeteria part. We are partnered with Xrig with handles the retail part, where Xrig makes the customized rigs. For F&D we are partnered with Minella, which is one of the best cafes in Kolkata. The food quality of this cafe is great, and a customer usually wouldn’t expect such good food in a gaming cafe. So we brought all these three things under one roof. And, it comes as a pleasant surprise for the gamers. It’s a premium experience.”
IN: As the owner of Zone cafe tell us how you were able to carve out a successful career in the games industry and where you hope to eventually end up.
Rohit Lundia: “Our journey into gaming is two to three months old and so we haven’t carved out anything yet. Where do we hope to end up? Six months down the line, we want to have our own IP for tournaments, our own eSports Team, and we want to do as many events as we can to create new gamers. That’s our main goal.”
Vamsi Krishna: “My objective with Zone is that if we can have 100 Zones across the country as a franchise, or own operated cafes. It’s a brilliant concept that can be replicated across the country.”
IN: What future plans do you have in mind for Zone cafe?
Rohit Lundia: “Currently we are working on our gaming IP, then an eSports team, and finally we are also planning to open one more Zone cafe in Kolkata. Let’s see how things pan out.”
IN: Can we have insights on the IP and the teams you are speaking about?
Rohit Lundia: “So starting from next month, we will have tournaments for CS and DOTA every month. We’ll carry it for six months then the IP of the tournament will come up. And about the team, we are still in the initial stages. It will take around some boot camps, and two-three months of time and slowly we will make our own team. It’s a long process but it has already been started.
IN: Xrig has been in the frontier for custom rigs in India. What was the inspiration behind Xrig?
Aditya Prasad: “I am a hardware enthusiast. I used to build my own PCs. The standard at which educated hardware enthusiasts will build their rigs versus what is available in the market is a huge gap. I wanted to build a high-end enthusiast rig and offer it to people. And that was the inspiration behind Xrig. I knew what a gaming rig can be and what is being sold as a gaming rig.”
IN: Finally, what are your future plans for Xrig.
Aditya Prasad: ” Expansion. Sell a lot more PCs and make it accessible to more people across the country. Also, I want to make world-class rigs. We make rigs which are world class, not only the best in India. Reaching out to more people is our main motive.
IN: International expansion might be on the cards as well?
Aditya Prasad :”Honestly, no. I don’t want to expand internationally. India has such a huge potential, just sustaining that is a challenge. So we are not trying to expand internationally. Not right now, not in a few years.”
If you already live in Kolkata or do plan to visit Kolkata in the future, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t check out Zone Cafe. From state of the art hardware to excellent food, Zone Cafe is undoubtedly the Cafe of one’s dreams.