As a child, Manu Malagatti often accompanied his father, who was in the Bengaluru Police, to train in shooting. He aspired to become a policeman himself, but was also a passionate gamer. In 2017, he decided to club his fondness of guns and games to startwith his cousin, Arjun Bandi.
Bengaluru-based CRAIC Entertainment develops military simulation sports, which includes Tactical Arenas, an offline platform for people to experience military simulation sports. This activity strives to realistically simulate the experience of armed combat “anytime, anywhere, and anyhow”.
“Military simulation is re-enacting war scenarios. In simple words, Tactical Arenas is the only place where people can relive movies like Uri, Shershaah, Zero Dark Thirty, and digital games like Call of Duty, PUBG, or Rainbow Six Siege,” Manu says.
Arjun Bandi (L) and Manu Malagatti, Co-Founders of CRAIC Entertainment
Elite members of Tactical Arenas get access to features like Electric Shock Mode (under legal limits) and use items like sticky cameras, mock bombs and grenades, Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV), and more.
The military simulation gaming startup also offers Individual Target System and Individual Sniper System, other offline platforms that test a person’s competitive shooting skills by allowing them to challenge themselves or their friends.
The company has six such arenas in the franchise model. However, they have been not fully operational due to the pandemic, and will be re-opened soon.
While these games are arena-based, CRAIC is now developing War Call, a game as a service where gamers can turn their homes into an arena with the help of IoT hardware, AR, and VR. Guns are being sourced from Russia for this, which are of high-quality and makes experience more real.
The idea was conceived in 2016 when Arjun and Manu were playing Call of Duty. They thought a real-life game would be more stimulating and could even be used as training for armed forces across the world. As gamers, they were confident that such an idea would attract other passionate gamers.
The cousins decided to proceed and went all guns blazing with CRAIC Entertainment. The company was launched in 2017, but the first arena was opened in Bengaluru in September 2019.
“It took us months of research and travel to understand the market, and design India’s first ambient indoor arena similar to the US Army Shoot House with visual and audio control. We opened after Manasa Malagatti, my sister, joined us for business development along with Nandish Roy, a friend and an investor,” Manu says.
Manu recalls that the response from the public was better than expected. “We had exhilarated customers comparing their experience to Call of Duty or PUBG in real life, and some even with real guns.”
Pivot and persist
Word started spreading, and the Tactical Arenas team started getting business inquiries for franchisees, partnership and OTT collaborations. The repeat customer rate was as much as 80 percent, the founder says.
However, operations took a major hit in March 2020 as coronavirus upended the world. “We generated revenue to the tune of Rs 12 lakh in six months, but operations had to shut due to lockdown,” Manu says.
But the Tactical Arenas team continued to gun for growth despite the challenges.
The four-member core team used this period to go back to the drawing board and come up with a winning strategy. “We wanted to strengthen our technology and expand our presence pan-India and globally.”
The gaming startup pressed on with the franchise model and within six months had six arenas across South India and one in Lebanon.
The idea or “mission” has been to rule the tactical adventure segment with the mantra “I see, I wish, I feel, and I am”. The team also started developing War Call, a game that can be played at home by turning the home into an arena.
“”The game is now fully developed and ready to be sold. It comes with software and guns that are sourced from Russia. We will add Virtual Reality at a later stage. As of now, a unit of War Call costs between Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000,” Manu says.
Funding, revenue, and plans
The company has been bootstrapped so far, with Rs 1.2 crore raised by Manu, Arjun, Manasa, and Nandish.
“The pandemic set us back, but we are looking to come back aggressively and are scouting for investors to raise capital to fund our technological advancements and expand our presence in our target market,” Manu says.
The startup is also in talks with the armed forces for training their personnel using Advanced Tactical Arenas, a battlefield simulation system that aims to make soldiers smarter and skilled to fight – from high altitude warfare to desert warfare with integration of tank, APC, and RPG.
Manu says the training philosophy of the Indian Army is “no soldier or officer should ever lose life or limb in combat because of inadequate training”.
“We believe our holistic simulation kit will ensure that each and every soldier receives the best training,” he says. He adds that the company is also developing an Advanced Firearm Force on Force Simulation Kit, which aims to train law enforcement and special forces for close-quarter battles and urban warfare.
The co-founder says the startup wants to eventually create an ecosystem to offer military experience to civilians with the help of content, hardware, IoT, gaming analytics, laser engagement system, and more, and become a leading gaming and training company in this niche.
Market and the competition
According to a report by Grand View Research, the global gaming simulator market size was valued at $4.04 billion in 2019. It is expected to expand a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.1 percent from 2020 to 2027.
Initiatives being pursued by market players to implement VR to ensure real-life gaming experiences for gamers are expected to drive market expansion. The growing adoption of gaming simulators for training and analysis in various industries and industry verticals is also expected to contribute to market growth.
In a new report, Accenture estimates that the full value of the gaming industry now exceeds $300 billion, more than the combined markets for movies and music, driven by a surge in mobile gaming and an emphasis on social interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Accenture’s Gaming: the new superplatform report, the gaming industry has increased by half a billion players in the past three years, totaling 2.7 billion people globally. The report predicts more than 400 million new gamers are expected by the end of 2023.
Manu says the market is in its nascent stage in India with few competitors like Zen Technologies, which develops and manufactures training simulators. “CRAIC is focused at capturing the gaming market by focusing on character and content creation in reality-based, AR, VR, and mobile games,” Manu says.