In early 2008, at games2win.com, we had created a huge hit game called ‘Bombay Taxi’. It was a really funny flash game that challenged you to park a Black and Yellow taxi in the crowded streets of Mumbai while overcoming obstacles like beggars, kite fliers, local trains, and elephants. And in a typical Internet-style, we began receiving massive traffic to our portal via viral traffic – especially from USA and EU since Bombay Taxi was a classic parking game blended in a new exotic theme.
Just after the huge spurt of traffic, I was shocked to notice that visitors suddenly disappeared – almost like they had fallen off a cliff. This was not typical – traffic always tapers down and then plateaus out, so I decided to investigate. When I typed ‘Bombay Taxi Online Game’ on Google, I was shocked to find that overnight almost 400 websites had stolen our game and embedded it on their portals. These thieves had sniffed out a good game and now we’re enjoying traffic on their own sites thanks to our hard work!
My partner Mahesh Khambadkone and I huddled in our corner office conference room and brooded. This was a disaster. Each time we would make a hit game, thieves would steal it and we would never reap the benefits of tsunami-like viral traffic. Flash files could not be protected and this was a big blow to our business model since we relied on advertising on our site to make us $$$. Also, DRM (digital rights management) for flash games was really not a successful technology.
This led us to apply a thought process model at the 2win group that we call “mental demolition”. Essentially it converts ‘how things are’ to ‘how things can become’.
Just demolish each fact and event and build it into something that works for you.
So, we realized:
- Why do things get stolen?
- Because they have value… no one steals the dirt of the streets and takes it home. So one big positive was that we had created some great content that the world loved to take home.
- The sheer number of websites that had stolen our game in 3 days overwhelmed us. This proved that there was a massive distribution opportunity for our games amongst sites we had never heard of before.
- What was really hurting us? The fact that we were missing on the ad revenues that these stolen games were generating on the pirate site.
- Was protection ever going to work? Everyone we knew had pirated music and videos and films from all over the Internet. Protecting IP was futile on the Internet.
In a brain wracking session, there was a flash of inspiration and a ‘Eureka’ moment: We plotted to create a technology that would allow us to place INVISIBLE ads in our games (for the pirates not to notice them) that would then travel along with the game to the pirate sites and become automatically VISIBLE when the game played there!
We actually cracked this technology (MK and I are the inventors in our patent filing), and the games2win.com business changed dramatically after that day. To give you a perspective, we now touch 15-20 million users via Inviziads each month (comScore May data – extended web). These ads are fully controlled by us and we change and sell the ads as per our control in each of the 160 countries the games have been stolen in. Over 8900 websites have stolen our games and new websites get added each day. Games2win from zero has become a top 50 global games business (comScore online games ranking May 2010) thanks to the traffic we pull into our sites via inviziads! Internally, we now benchmark a game’s success by how many websites have stolen it!
Look at the love triangle – Pirates love our content and steal our games. We love ads and place ‘invisible to visible’ ads in our games. Consumers love games and they play them on all kinds of websites all over the world!!
Players such as Viacom, Ubisoft, and Warner Brothers now license Inviziads and you can study the business model on www.inviziads.com.
What are the lessons for entrepreneurs and start-ups in this story?
- Try and create gold from dust. If you have a problem that is destroying you, look at it using a prism that could turn it into an advantage. I always feel that if Virgin Music and EMI etc., would have bought Napster (instead of using it and closing it down) and then converted the site into their official mp3 website, iTunes would have been a me-too and not the gorilla it is today
- Understand and accept the ecosystem. If the internet is about piracy and lifting, flow with it – don’t fight it
- Foes can be Friends just by a flick of a switch. Think of everyone as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide. Make your enemies work for you
Remember that winning the nuclear war in planet start-up requires not just creativity and innovation but the ability to mentally demolish and rebuild yourself from scratch.