Meet Nishith Shah, CEO At 18th Parallel, A Startup That Is Bringing Android Console Gaming On TV

Interview with Nishith Shah CEO and Co-Founder at 18th Parallel to understand how the startup is bringing android console gaming on Android set top boxes and Smart TVs

The global games market which was $70 billion is going to be $75 billion this year and will continue to add 5 billion every year till 2016, informs the Newzoo’s 2013 Global Games Market Report. With console gaming driving the market shares, users from markets like Latin America and APAC tend to be the heavy spenders than North America and Europe.

Last year the gaming community in India was about 75M out of 1.2 billion population. According to a forecast by Gartner, mobile games are the fastest-growing segment in the global markets, with revenues set to nearly double between 2013 and 2015 from USD 13.2 Bn to USD 22 Bn.

While mobile gaming has become quite saturated globally especially in the US, India is the market to be explored with the massive penetration of smartphones in the country. According to research company KPMG-FICCI has also predicted that from the current INR 560 crore, the mobile gaming segment size will triple to INR 1,800 crore by 2017.

However, as per the recent research, in India, out of 100 mobile subscribers, only 2 are mobile gamers, which is much less than the mobile gamer penetration in Japan, the US, South Korea, and the UK. Thus, indicating a wide opportunity available for mobile gaming companies in India, specially in the Android market - the fourth largest market.

Pune based startup 18th Parallel is trying to crack the market in a slightly different way. It is bringing the console gaming experience to the affordable hands of the Indian market. “60-70% of US households have a game console like the Xbox or Nintendo or PlayStation but in India the penetration is not even 1 percent. It’s not that Indians don’t like to play games but the product is not right for the Indian market for various reasons,” says Nishith Shah CEO and Co-Founder at 18th Parallel.

The startup, which is very soon going to turn three, has developed an ingenious middle-ware that can convert any standalone Android device into a micro-console. Cannonball the company’s software layer once integrated on to an Android phone, tablet or set-top box, enables gamers to be able to use Xbox 360, PlayStation or even Logitech controllers to play mobile games right from the app store without any sort of optimization from game developers.

Nishith ShahNishith believes in bringing a hassle-free experience of Android games on the big screen. The product was developed keeping the Indian market in mind and the needs of the Indian gamer. Today he thinks the product which is perfect for the Indian market has figured out the right product part and is working on the way to take it further to the developed and emerging markets.

To know more about the startup, I dropped in at the office on a Saturday. Being a weekend, the office located in Baner, Pune wore a deserted look. Dressed in summer casuals, Nishith guided  me to the top floor of the duplex bungalow converted into a cozy office.

Two of his ex-colleagues and friends Hardik Belani and Samir Patel who have known each other for more than a decade, are all co-founders at 18th Parallel.

Sitting in a meeting room with a big office table in front of us, the hardcore techie born in Pune shared that he has mostly worked with startups be it in the US or India. The natural geek since childhood saw that video and games are the future of the market. With video already being taken care, games specifically to the Indian market was the obvious choice for all the three co-founders.

Cannonball - software platform that enables Android console gaming 

Talking more about the product, Nishith shared that the belief for his product comes after studying the gaming needs of the Indian market and not by the popularity of Android in the country.

“An average US person has grown up playing games and having at least two consoles with him. Compared to an average Indian user who has been more exposed to Android kind of games which are more of a pick up and play games, but at the same time are quality and engaging games,” informs Nishith. “While Android games are still good in quality it also gives a choice to select from the wide variety of games which is quite appealing for an Indian gamer from a cost and choice factor.”

Keeping this in mind, 18th Parallel which remains a very hard core engineering company, developed a software platform ‘Cannonball’ to bring Android games on television. Today the software allows a user to play any Android game which was developed for a touch and swipe experience, with a console while sitting on a couch. The software layer can be integrated with any hardware as long as it is running on Android.

“The USP of Cannonball is that it works with any off the shelf  games, hardware and game pad. We have built a product that could just fit into an existing gaming eco-system without any kind of changes as long as they are on Android.”

Our goal is to bring games on the TV with just a pure plug and play experience

These three USPs of the startup have actually helped in gaining a strong foothold in a market, which was earlier tried by a few startups but failed. Ouya tried to create an Android console but failed miserably due to its portability issues with hardware and games. Nishith says, “A lot of these startups were trying to bring Android on the TV, we are not. Our goal is to bring games on the TV with just a pure plug and play experience, Android happens to be the path to fulfill the goal.”

Indian, US and European market response

Yet to be launched in India, earlier this year it partnered with MiiPC, the highly-acclaimed PC for families with Cloud-based parental control features to provide an exciting and familiar gamepad experience to enhance regular tablet Android gameplay on a large screen HDTV or monitor.

Sharing more on how the startup is exploring the Indian market, Nishith said that they are trying to integrate this technology into devices that will be releasing in the market within a year. They are working with a few service providers in India to integrate Cannonball into set top boxes, apart from several service providers in Europe. However, he chose not to name any of the partners citing confidential reasons.

Talking about the market response from the operators in India, he shared an incident where after looking at the demo, an Indian operator decided to move to Android set top boxes. “Our demo convinced the operators that the next-gen set top boxes should be powered by Android.”

The privately funded startup is now aggressively working in the Indian market along with the European and US markets. “While we are working with operators, we have been approached by customers to meet their set of wish list, which is in a way helping the product to shape better,” adds Nishith while sharing that his hands are too full to think of something else right now.

The USPs of 18th Parallel make it a competitive player in emerging markets like India. But at the same time it is surprising to see that the developed markets which have been largely influenced by console gaming, is also keen about the startup. The nature of the product getting embedded with the existing gaming eco-system has kept the chips high for the startup.

Before wrapping up the conversation, Nishith game me a quick tour of the development cell of 18th Parallel which looked heavenly for gaming wizards. Hard luck for me, I couldn’t get a feel of Temple Run when played with a game pad on an HD TV, since it was a Saturday.

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