(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives in the light of India banning 43 Chinese apps on 24 November.)
As India bans PUBG, one of the most famous and engaging mobile games, the hue and cry from some quarters is already audible. The tone of mockery from those who plan to downplay and denigrate this move comes with their famous dialogue: “China is occupying land and India bans PUBG !”A recognisable outcome because we don’t understand gaming as an industry. We don’t understand the implications of this action beyond one less app on the phone.
A teenager at home deeply engrossed on his phone, punching furiously on the buttons is the maximum we think of gamers and gaming. Parents hate it, and ‘losing eyesight’ to ‘wavering focus on studies’ there are common complaints. Let’s take a moment to understand what banning this app means for India.
Every Desi PUBG Fan Right Now
PUBG & The ‘Chinese Connection’
Gaming is a big industry. If we ask a common person to name the biggest IT companies, everyone will say ‘Microsoft, TCS, Infosys, Adobe,’ etc. You’ll never find people quoting Sony games (20.3 billion), Nintendo (11.1 billion), Tencent (9.2 billion) and others. Just to put give a financial perspective, Sony gaming in Indian currency is approximately Rupees One lakh fifty-one thousand crores, that’s one and a half times India’s education sector budget in 2020, and nearly one-third of the Indian Defence budget.
And this is just one company of an industry we often wave off as, ‘it’s just gaming!’ And all this money comes from – guess who – people who play games.
PUBG is one of the largest mobile and PC games that has a massive user base of 50 million downloads and 33 million active users. It is owned by Krafton (initially named Bluehole until 2018), a South Korean company. In 2017, when it launched PUBG, it had 65 million downloads. The mobile version of the game came in 2018. By 2019, 50.2 percent of Krafton’s sales stemmed from mobile users. ‘PUBG Mobile: Battlefield’ and ‘Game for Peace’ had a combined USD 226 million in sales during May 2020, a 41 percent year-on-year increase, according to SensorTower, a market research service.
‘Game for Peace’ is a Chinese version of PUBG Mobile, launched by Tencent Holdings, a Chinese company. Surprisingly, PUBG was banned in China because according to the government, it had a ‘negative effect’ on young minds. Between 2017-18, Tencent subsidiary Image Frame Investment became Krafton’s second-largest shareholder with a 13.2 percent stake. Hence, the Chinese connection. As Krafton is planning to launch its IPO for funding, it is assumed that most of it will come from Chinese investors.
- PUBG is one of the largest mobile and PC games that has a massive user base of 50 million downloads and 33 million active users.
- Surprisingly, PUBG was banned in China because according to the government, it had a ‘negative effect’ on young minds.
- So how does banning PUBG help? Firstly, economics. We stop the outflow of funds to overseas, and that’s mainly China.
- Now having hundreds of apps banned could mean billions of dollars being denied to Chinese companies.
- This should give an opportunity to Indian IT companies to venture into gaming, which has been almost nonexistent in India so far, and we can create large revenue streams for them.
How Ban On PUBG Will Help India
So how does banning PUBG help? Firstly, economics. We stop the outflow of funds to overseas, and that’s mainly China. Now having hundreds of apps banned could mean billions of dollars being denied to Chinese companies. This should give an opportunity to Indian IT companies to venture into gaming, which has been almost nonexistent in India so far, and we can create large revenue streams for them.
India has huge potential to not only create this industry and fill the gap, but also generate lots of employment and earnings from it.
While it is just one game gone – and the gamers will definitely find others – it’s more of an understanding that the scope for this industry exists and has huge potential. How the government and private players can make best of this opportunity is now anybody’s guess.
Second is the intelligence and data issue. With so many apps entrenched in Indian phones, from TikTok to PUBG, and a huge portion of them on Chinese phones itself, it is very easy for China to access the data of individual users.
Again, as Indians, we aren’t very data privacy-conscious. A hack here and there to take some money out of some account, is what we understand as data theft. Well, it’s much more. Data is the new gold. It is the new oil. A company like Sony had to apologise globally when it was hacked into, and the data of a few million users was stolen from their gaming section.
Having access to data gives one the ability to access and control someone’s bank account, IDs, all sorts of other information. The gaming companies can easily mine data and sell it ahead to third parties for large amounts. This is especially critical in the case of China, because to speak plainly, we are not on friendly terms anymore. If the situation goes from bad to worse, imagine the Chinese having control over all those devices and and access to data, and hence, the ability to exploit further.
Threat From Chinese Apps
While cyber war focuses more on the cyber units of the enemy targeting your infrastructure controls, government assets, military radars, ATC, etc to create huge chaos and mayhem, access to individual data can also lead to the same. It’s an excellent tool for propaganda and misinformation. A message to all from a fake handle of the government saying, “ Chinese have entered India at so and so locations, save yourself!”Imagine the chaos.
Seizing control of all bank accounts of users, when they need their money the most. Misinformation on anything that can cause civil pandemonium and uproar, diverts the attention of the government to wage a war effectively.
Hence, this should be taken seriously. Riots have been triggered by WhatsApp forwards, we all know that. The Indian government did a good job of nipping this problem in the bud. Let’s not give any chance to the enemy cyber militia and units to take advantage of our citizens and their possessions.
But What About Indian Gamers? Who’s Looking Out For Them?
But I’d like to say a word on behalf of the gamers also. I’ve been a gamer for 15 years myself. A Call of Duty purist, I’ve spent thousands of hours playing it and also Far Cry, GTA and Red Dead Redemption. Started gaming on a PC and now on the PS4, I know how engaging, refreshing and interesting it can be. It takes a very long time to develop a character, weapons and bases. If someone was to say that the government is banning Sony network for gamers, I would be really heartbroken.
This ban is taking away from people what they like to do. So a good strategy would be to develop our own content and provide a platform, this time not only for revenue, but for indulgence.
Because in my opinion, not understanding the gaming community doesn’t give us the right to belittle their demands. While the gamers will find another game to move on to, and PUBG will become a thing of the past, still, an effort from the government’s side to fill these gaps for millions of gamers would be a mammoth step in establishing a relationship with the new generation. On that note, I’ll just say, if someone thinks gaming is easy, do invite them for a PvP multiplayer battle in Call of Duty, and let’s see how long they survive.
(Maj Manik M Jolly, SM, is a decorated Mil Int veteran who now works in the rural development sector. He tweets @Manik_M_Jolly. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)