For tens of millions of gamers in India, Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) video game used to be a welcome distraction from the coronavirus pandemic. Then the government said it used to be pulling the plug.
“When everything used to be under lockdown, PUBG’s interactive features gave me a semblance of real-world social interplay. It used to be a stress-buster for me,” said Mustafa Scentwala, 26, who lives in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, and played PUBG with nine friends for hours on a daily basis.
PUBG, a part of the “battle royale” genre in which a group of players fight one another until only a unmarried combatant is left alive, became a casualty of geopolitics on Wednesday when the government said it used to be banning it, in conjunction with over a hundred other Chinese apps, as tensions with Beijing escalated.
Technology ministry said the apps were a threat to the country’s sovereignty and security.
In a commentary on Thursday, Tencent said its apps complied with India’s data protection laws and that it would engage with native authorities to clarify its policies.
The ban is the newest move against Chinese companies in India amid a months-long standoff over a disputed border but the timing and the target were especially hard for young people. They have got been the use of the game to stay in touch with friends while schools and colleges are shut to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
PUBG’s interactive features allow gamers to convey with one another the use of text and voice, and users say these make it a unique mobile game in a country where millions of gamers cannot have the funds for expensive gaming consoles and broadband connections.
“The only object that couldn’t be locked down by corona used to be PUBG,” said Veera Raghavan, a gamer hailing from the southern city of Chennai.
Tencent had launched a lighter version of the game, which consumes less mobile data and runs smoothly on cheaper phones, in a tender to woo even more Indian players who would potentially spend on the app sooner or later.
Some PUBG players in India have spent thousands of rupees to shop for so-called Royal Passes, a way to earn quick rewards and have access to special missions in the game. Some took to Twitter to appeal the ban making #PUBG a top trend across India this week.
The ban is a blow for Tencent in India whose PUBG is a smash-hit in the country. India is PUBG’s biggest market by users, and according to analytics firm Sensor Tower, accounts for 29 percent of the apps complete downloads. Still, Sensor Tower says PUBG’s revenue hit will be marginal as India only contributed approximately 2.5 percent of its lifetime revenue.
India first banned 59 Chinese apps, including ByteDance’s popular video-sharing app TikTok, Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s UC Browser, in June.
That move, which technology minister known as a “digital strike”, followed a skirmish with Chinese troops at a disputed Himalayan border site in June when 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
Tensions have simmered between New Delhi and Beijing ever since and sources told Reuters final month of another ban of 47 mostly clone apps.
Will have to the government give an explanation for why Chinese apps were banned? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you’ll subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.