PUBG Banned: A Boon or Bane?

Six months ago, all our lives came to a standstill. Socialising to social distancing, the methods changed but the basic human need to socialise did not. We found our own creative ways to interact and make the most of our time with our close ones who were far away. The online gaming industry was thriving and developing games to enhance our experience.

But, during this time there was also a geopolitical matter in hand to be taken care of, and boom! 160+ Chinese apps were banned in India in a span of 3 months. On 3rd September 2020, The Indian Govt. banned 100+ apps, and the one which gained maximum traction amongst them was PUBG!

Why PUBG?

PUBG had launched its PC version in 2017 which was not that popular in India until 2018 when they launched the free mobile app. This was also around the time when brands like Realme, Xiaomi, Jio and the like were manufacturing smartphones at extremely reasonable prices, and the Internet was made accessible with the entry of Jio in the market. In 2019, India crossed 500 million smartphone users — a number that’s still growing! With such a market, an online game which was so well developed and free was bound to explode in India.

With over 50 million users, PUBG was a hit; and clearly, a significant part of everyone’s routine. Multiple users started streaming and took part in championships to earn their livelihood. The brand had conducted 5 major tournaments and there was a record-breaking participation by the Indian gaming community.

PUBG’s interactive features gave the user a semblance of real-world social interaction, which became a necessity for so many of us.

Why did India ban PUBG?

Let’s go back to April to get a clear understanding. In April, India made a change to its Foreign Investment Policy that required Chinese investors (who have invested billions of dollars into Indian startups in recent years) to get approval from the government before writing new cheques to Indian firms. The move significantly reduced Chinese investors’ presence in Indian startups’ deals since then.

Fast forward to June 31st, when we were hit with the shocking news that 59 China-based applications were banned; topping the chart with maximum users were apps like Shein, Tiktok, Shareit and many more. PUBG, which is also a China-based application, was not banned then — this came as a relief to all the gamers out there but they did see it coming when 47 more apps were banned in July. It was around this time when the public thought that maybe, PUBG wasn’t at a risk of getting banned — until 2nd September.

This move was in response to the clashes with China at the border in June, which involved hundreds of soldiers battling each other with rocks, sticks, and bare fists. Twenty Indian soldiers lost their lives. A wave of anti-China sentiment swept across India, with Indians taking to the streets in some places and crushing Chinese-made products to show their rage.

“Chinese apps have been banned under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act. With the relevant provisions of the Information Technology Rules 2009 and in view of the emergent nature of threats, the IT Ministry has decided to block 118 mobile apps since in view of the information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state and public order.” — The IT Ministry, in an official press release.

Let’s dig a little deeper now

On 30th of August the Prime Minister addressed the nation (via Mann Ki Baat); some of the key points to be noted are that he encouraged entrepreneurs to start a business in the field of toy manufacturing and encouraged app developers and game developers to develops applications based on Indian history and mythologies — games which showcased our culture and heritage.

This was just the calm before the storm — 2 days after this, 118 apps were banned. PUBG being on the list outraged the public, but let’s not forget other apps and games like Chess Rush, Game of Sultans, Wechat Work and so many more were in the list. The sheer suddenness of the move shook China.

Tencent Games (PUBG’s developer) lost almost 34 billion in market share valuation with the ban on PUBG. Similarly, many Chinese brands see India as their avenue of growth and the ban and change in policies has proven to be detrimental for China.

Furthermore, multiple toy companies manufacture their products in China due to its low costs. Can India match up to these costs?

Consequences Tencent has to face -

Tencent did not see this coming, since 2nd september their share prices have been falling and there’s no beacon of hope for that to rise anytime soon with such a massive loss.

One very important thing to note here is that India banned PUBG because they suspected data leaks, and this affects Tencent’s brand image if found to be true.

Once a brand’s image is ruined, it is extremely difficult to improve it. When the US banned WeChat they lost 66 billion.

Do you notice a domino effect here, all these bans were a response to one crucial aspect of their apps; data security.

It is crucial for a brand to always protect its image, the smallest allegations can light up a fire and everything goes to ashes.

Tencent assured the public in a press release that they take data security very seriously and all their users’ data is not used for any unethical activities.

Does a press release solve the issue? To an extent, yes.

One way out of this downward spiral is if Tencent shows physical proof that all these accusations are false. How will they do that? They need a good PR strategy combined with smart marketing to make a ravishing comeback!

What will India gain from this?

India has so much talent and skill, but most of our best talent goes abroad for better opportunities. With these apps being banned, there is now a massive need for proficient developers in India to come up with products to match and make up for this thunderstorm that just hit the country.

This can go two ways: development of more products implies increased job opportunities for people in multiple sectors and good products will add to the revenue of our country.

But development and testing of products takes months, so how will India make up for it? We do have existing applications like Mitroon, Hipi, Roposo and the like which gained popularity after the ban on Tiktok. Multiple games and substitutes do exist — it’s only a matter of time when these get better for the user!

On 4th September, Akshay Kumar announced the news of the upcoming substitute for PUBG called FAU-G! There is hope that Indians with their great minds will create wonders and add to the development of the country. But will this please the public? Only time will tell!

Summary

Both sides have to fight their own battles to overcome this, Tencent lost 50% of its users, similarly other chinese brands lost a major share of its users leading to losses. India is a major market for any app developer and one that gives them a large share of not just their user base but also their revenue. India has to work rapidly to fill in the gaps that have been created after these bans. Whether it’s building a new brand or rising from the shambles, both of them require innovative products combined with creative marketing strategies to make them a success!

Let’s not forget, this was an answer to China for the clashes in June, and the first step India took to make the country more ‘aatmanirbhar’ and promote Make in India. There are a lot of positives that have come out of this, one of the major ones being creation of massive job opportunities and keeping the bright minds in India.

The outrage was a consequence of the sentimental attachments with these apps which can be developed again for Indian versions. It will take some time, but we will get there!