On September 2, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology announced a ban on 118 Chinese mobile apps, including PUBG, the battle royale video game that cooked up a storm in the Indian gaming industry with its entry in 2018. The announcement came in the evening, against the backdrop of fresh tensions between India and China in Ladakh, and three days after Prime Minister Modi, in his monthly radio program, Mann ki Baat, urged Indians to not just make video games in India but also base them on India.
Avichal Singh, one of the founders of Nodding Heads Games (NHG), a group of game developers based in Pune, says it is far from easy to make a top-notch game in the country. Long before the prime minister urged Indians to do so, NHG had set its sight on making games that represented the stories, myths and lore of India. But it was tough, since getting publishers interested is an uphill climb, Singh says. The team, which recently launched Raji: An Ancient Epic, went through many financial ups and downs in the process. They crowdsourced funding, dipped into their savings, with one team member even selling her apartment to bring the game to life. Usually, developers have to present a demo of the game to investors. Singh, along with two other team members, had spent 10 months making the demo before formally setting up NHG. After nearly four years of hard work, the team launched the game on Nintendo Switch on August 18. Theirs is the first Indian indie-game to make it to Switch.
PUBG Mobile did this well in India because the publishers of the game, Chinese technology giant Tencent, spent a lot of money on marketing the game. Rishi Alwani, co-founder of the Mako Reactor, a publication that focuses on Japanese games and the Indian games market, explains that Tencent ‘brute-forced’ PUBG into the Indian market—they had deep pockets and a clear-cut promotion strategy, paying influential gamers to video-stream themselves playing the game to build up a following. Gradually, a whole industry came up around this push—with popular players like Ajey Nagar and Animesh Agarwal, better known by their gamer names, Carry Minati and 8bit Thug, amassing a huge number of YouTube followers. PUBG put Indian gamers on the global map. As a result of the ban, the domestic mobile tournament space, and more generally, the esports space, will take an immediate hit.
In fact, some professional esport organisations, like the UK’s Fnatic and America’s TSM, had entered the Indian gaming market by venturing into the PUBG mobile gaming space. Rahul Puri, the founder of The Gaming Reporter, a publication launched this year, said that the gaming space was only just coming into its own, and that the government should have better evaluated the online gaming space and the consequences of the ban. He added that the ban doesn’t mark the end of the industry since fans of PUBG can still watch other streamers across the world. The mobile gaming industry, which was valued at about $266 million (Rs 1,949 crore) in 2016, has grown significantly—it was projected to reach about reach $405 million (Rs 2,968 crore) by 2022. Puri says the ban is a “two steps forward, ten steps back” situation, but maintains it isn’t the end of the gaming industry in India, which has already seen some people making a success of taking up esports as a professional career.
A spokesperson from Mobile Premier League also maintained that while PUBG was massively popular in the battle-royale category, players will move on to other games. PUBG streamers are disappointed, but not shocked, since reports that the government was mulling a ban had already made headlines. In an interview to The Gaming Reporter on August 28, Animesh Agarwal (8bit Thug) had said that his focus was on gaming as a whole, rather than one single game. He was answering a direct question about what life without PUBG would look like. “Even if there is no PUBG someday, the show will go on with other games,” he said.
World news – CA – The PUBG ban: Indian gaming takes a hit