Play Store's move on Real Money Gaming a score for the gaming industry?
Industry experts applaud the 'progressive' step by Google but are cautious about the tech giant's 'arbitrary and inexplicable' policies for advertising and listing
Real Money Gaming (RMG) in India may have gotten a fillip thanks to Alphabet, Google. The tech giant announced last week that a change has been made on its Google Play Store on a pilot basis ‘in order to explore possible updates to the Other Real-Money Games, Contests, and Tournament Apps policy'.
As per the announcement, India-based real money game apps of daily fantasy sports and rummy will be allowed on Google's popular app store on a pilot basis from 28th September 2022 to 28th September 2023, with the industry welcoming the news though some wishing that it had come much sooner.
Note that previously The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory in June of this year to print media, private satellite television channels and digital news and current affairs platforms to adhere to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) guidelines with regard to advertisements of online betting and gaming platforms.
That being said, apart from a few states, most of the country recognizes certain card games and fantasy sports as ‘games of skill’ rather than ‘games of chance’ (aka betting), making them kosher for consumption and use. Google for its own part has also clarified that the actual money rummy and fantasy sports app will be rated 18+, only be available as a free-to-download app and not be eligible to use Google in-app billing.
Roland Landers, CEO of All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), commented on the move, saying that while it was a progressive step, it needs to be more inclusive, as it left other games of skill out of its ambit.
“AIGF has been advocating for a while that all games of skill be allowed on Google Play Store to augment the Indian online skill gaming industry. However, ‘games of skill’ is a broad category and Fantasy Gaming and Rummy are just two game formats considered in this pilot programme by Google. Poker too, for instance, is considered a game of skill by several High Courts in India,” he said.
Landers adds that being present in the Google Play Store is a must for these games and platforms, as it has almost 95% market share of app distribution platforms in India, saying, “Likewise, there are numerous developers who offer classic as well as innovative games of skill. As AIGF, we believe that Google should have an inclusive approach of adding all these games of skill under the umbrella of this pilot project for India to keep the competitive spirit of the industry intact and promote innovation.”
However, while this first step may be too little too late, given the lack of clarity on policies for gaming brands and sponsors, industry stakeholders are excited saying that this particular policy adopted by Google Play Store has unlocked vast potential in general and these platforms are set to attract the attention of game developers as well as both endemic and non-endemic sponsors who are ready to advertise their products too.
Bharat Patel, Co-Founder and Director, Yudiz Solutions (an RMG game developer) also points out that the gaming and eSports industry saw a 75% increase in its sponsorship for massive pro-tournaments and game development from non-endemic brands since it started.
At its current CAGR, the Indian gaming and esports industry, according to a recent report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and EY India, is expected to reach INR 11 Billion (approximately USD 2.8 billion) by 2025.
“This opens up the push for potential new brands, upcoming game developers and publishing platforms. Each of them will mutually be able to reap the benefits of these smart strategies,” says Patel, adding, “Taking a general example; Companies that make energy drinks are often seen sponsoring massive eSports tournaments which directly affect the growth of their sales and brand perception. We believe implementing this policy of making RMG games an official part of the Play Store will allow more brands to collaborate, invest and create a positive brand perception of themselves as well as the games.”
Jay Sayta, a technology and gaming lawyer believes that Google should come up with a clear, transparent, non-arbitrary and permanent policy for listing gaming apps on Playstore and clearly define a fair revenue sharing mechanism between Play Store and the developer from the payments made for such games.
"Google's policies for advertising and listing on Play Store are often arbitrary and inexplicable. For the last several years, it did not allow rummy and fantasy sports apps on its platform despite there being clear judicial rulings recognising them as a game of skill and a constitutional activity," says Sayta, adding, "The move to allow real money rummy and fantasy sports apps on a pilot basis is a welcome decision but hopefully this will also be extended to other recognised skill-based games such as poker, pool, chess, carrom etc.”
Other insiders, however, urge caution when reaching out to sponsors, pointing out that gaming, especially RMG, is all about the experience.
“While the move of listing the Fantasy sports and Rummy applications on the Google Play Store opens an avenue, it might, however, impact the overall gameplay experience. Since our players are our main stakeholders, we believe in no compromise when it comes to providing them with a smooth experience and hence, it is recommended to make a conscious decision in this regard before rushing into the in-app advertising possibility,” concludes Varun Ganjoo, Co-Founder and Marketing Director, Baazi Games.
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