PC Hardware makes or breaks a gaming experience. Without a good enough rig, even the most masterfully crafted virtual worlds become patchy and slow. However, hardware gets outdated every two to three years, which means that even the most avid players struggle to keep up, especially those running on a tight budget.
Gamers are often left with two choices – either burn cash to upgrade the system or tone down the game’s settings, as well as expectations, just to get it to run. Manan Mittal and Sarang Atri, two techies from Delhi found themselves in a similar dilemma while playing God of War. But instead of getting dejected, they chose to create their own path and launched The Gaming Project, a startup to make PC gaming more accessible in India.
Their cloud-based solution lets gamers play graphics-intensive titles in high quality without spending on fancy hardware and GPUs, Atri told TechCircle. All one needs is a device with a screen – be it a smartphone, Chromebook, or even MacBook – and a strong internet connection (10Mbps or more) to play.
The cloud gaming space includes big names such as Google, Microsoft and Sony, which have recently upped their efforts to gain global momentum. However, none of the mainstream players is currently active in India. “This wiggle room led us to delve into cloud gaming and explore every nook and cranny of the subject. We started our research in June 2018 and by November of the same year, we began working on the project,” Atri said.
But, how does it work? Typically, a PC game runs locally on the hardware set up by an individual. However, in the case of cloud gaming, instead of using the local hardware, the game runs on powerful cloud servers through a virtual machine. A video stream of that gameplay is compressed and delivered to the user via the internet. So, the inputs from the users are sent to servers that process them and relay the content in real-time. Think of it like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, but for gaming.
Mittal and Atri took over a year to set up the tech and software infrastructure for their offering and went live in March 2020. Initially, they considered going for leading cloud players like AWS, GCP (Google Cloud Platform), or Azure but due to the high costs involved, they chose local cloud providers located in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. These data centres, Mittal said, help keep final prices down and ensure customers’ games run on GPUs that are focused on gaming rather than those that are more focused on machine learning and AI applications.
The co-founders declined to disclose the name of the provider, saying they want to keep that information proprietary. Currently, they added, any person in India can sign up for The Gaming Project and start streaming high-end games. The platform supports as many as 60 titles, 20 of which have been licensed directly from publishers and the rest are offered through a “bring your own license” model. Under BYOL, if a user owns a certain title on a third-party gaming platform (like Epic Store, Steam, or Ubisoft), they could sign into their account and start playing the gaming right away. “It directly verifies whether you own the game or not, and then, you're given access to it,” Atri explained while noting that the platform allows users to live-stream famous titles such as GTA V, Call of Duty: Warzone, Hitman 3, and Far Cry 5 and they do not store user credentials when they log into third party services.
The session is entirely purged once a user closes the window and opens it again. As for quality, by default, the stream on the platform is set to 1080p at 60 frames per second (FPS) but users do get the option to shift to lower resolution if their internet connection isn’t that good or is being utilized for some other tasks at the same time.
Like many streaming platforms, The Gaming Project also takes a freemium approach towards its service. Users can try some games on the platform for free and then upgrade to a weekly, monthly, or hourly plan depending on their preference. The hourly plans start at Rs 30 while the monthly one, with 20 hours of gameplay time, costs Rs 199. For unlimited gaming throughout the month across owned and licensed libraries, a user would have to churn out Rs 499, according to the company’s website. Since last year, the platform has seen more than 150,000 signups with 20-30% month-on-month growth. Meanwhile, the revenue from the service has also been growing at about 10-20%.
Atri emphasised that the effort has been driven by a team of four with no external funding. “Right now, we are at that scale where we have so many users coming to our platform currently that we have a queue of users waiting, which is an amazing problem to have. So, now, we're at that stage that we can actually go to investors,” he said, adding that the company is in talks with investors for its first round. If all goes according to the plan, Manan and Sarang will scale up The Gaming Project with new features and capabilities.
First, the duo plans to launch an upgraded version of their streaming platform, which they say will be 40% more efficient in terms of data streaming and consumption. It is already in the works and would cut down latency, which is a common problem in cloud gaming. Secondly, the team also aims to expand into live streaming, where it would let creators stream their cloud gameplay without using any amount of extra hardware or data.
“They could record it or stream it directly to our platform, which would bring a community of game enthusiasts together,” Atri said. The platform would be a one-stop shop for game streamers and would also get add-ons like chat and review options, he added. For the next year, The Gaming Project is looking at revenues of Rs 3 crore per month and a million subscribers.
Globally, the cloud gaming market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 48.2% and hit $7.24 billion by 2027, according to a June 2021 report from market research firm Million Insights.