The ban on PUBG’s mobile applications was imminent. Several questions on the game’s availability and viability had remained following the first round of bans when popular apps like TikTok and WeChat had faced the axe. The game, immensely popular among Indian players, has been a steady cause of consternation on several fronts and the ban seems to put an end to a lot of the supposed angst surrounding the game.
However, the popularity of the game in the country is undeniable. With over five crore registered players and over a crore playing regularly, the global gaming community estimates that over 80 per cent of the game’s players are from India.
The ban of other games like Arena of Valor and Chess Run to name a few (it is now a list of over 150 applications) is unlikely to be noticed but the ban can be viewed as a major loss to the Indian gaming industry. Tencent and other Chinese game developers have set the standard for mobile gaming experiences in the last five years and to be deprived of them will affect new/young players considerably.
Similarly, newer practices like players playing the game professionally or streaming their content and carving careers out of showcasing their in-game achievements will receive a telling blow as most of India’s players watch streamed content from PUBG.
As Tencent decides on ways to address the issue (Tencent’s valuation fell by over $34 billion since the ban) and protect investments and achievements of Indian players, it is important to remember that celebrated players like Mortal, VipeR, RonaK, Ted and Smokie will have to find new games to play if the ban stands.
The decision to ban the games in order to “ensure safety, security and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace” and prevent “activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order” (as stated by the IT ministry) must be examined in conjunction with rising tensions with China across the border.
The issue of surreptitious transmission of user data though is of vital concern. In a world where Facebook and other SNS platforms consistently lower standards of data privacy by mining and selling their users’ data with reckless abandon and initiatives like NSA-Prism exist, banning multiplayer games for it is nothing but a smokescreen. As players find ways to circumvent the ban (the game is still playable for those with the app installed), the experience of play will be less than ideal.
PUBG and Fortnite’s role in popularising the casual play and free2play models of games is undeniable. The two have constantly grappled to be the mobile player’s games of choice over the last three years but for the first time neither are widely available for players in India. As PUBG battles the ban and Fortnite its issues with Apple and Google, there is suddenly room for new games and genres to be experienced.
The Indian gaming community is much larger and also probably open to newer gaming experiences. The unavailability of popular games thus can enable the emergence of a diverse gaming community with a variety of interests.
As others rush to fill the void, it will be interesting to see what finds favour with the Indian gaming audience. Their sheer size can make or break gaming empires.
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