India’s mobile gaming rage PUBG promises to improve after backlash

Image: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
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Over the past six months, India’s most popular mobile game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), has faced severe criticism for becoming an unhealthy obsession among the country’s avid smartphone gamers.

But now, the PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Bluehole, has decided to step up its game to fight the backlash.

“While we strive to deliver the best possible gaming experience to our fans, we also believe it is extremely important for us to be a responsible member of the gaming ecosystem,” PUBG Mobile said in a statement, adding that it was working with parents, educators, and government bodies to improve its app.

The game, which has over 30 million daily active users globally and is a chart-topper on Android and iOS handsets alike in India, has shouldered a lot of blame for mishaps across the country in recent months.

In August 2018, India saw its first case of a Bengaluru clinic treating a 15-year-old boy for PUBG addiction. This January, a fitness trainer from Jammu was reportedly hospitalised due to mental imbalance after he began harming himself in the aftermath of playing the game. The next month, a Mumbai-based teenage boy killed himself after his parents denied him a high-end smartphone to play PUBG on.

“To foster a healthy and balanced in-game environment, we are developing numerous new features and enhancements which enables us to provide an environment for players to enjoy PUBG MOBILE in a rewarding and responsible manner,” the company, backed by the Chinese internet giant Tencent, said.

PUBG’s statement comes at a time when several voices have been raised in India, calling for a clampdown against the game.

To ban or not to ban?

PUBG was first launched in December 2017 on gaming consoles and then in March 2018 on smartphones. In each round of the game, PUBG parachutes 100 players on to a virtual island where teams of four fight each other to death till only one survives.

The game has been accused of being extremely addictive among young Indians, leading authorities in various parts of the country to act.

At the end of last year, Tamil Nadu’s Vellore Institue of Technology (VIT) reportedly banned students in its men’s hostel from playing the game in their rooms, copies of a circular posted across Reddit and Instagram show. By the end of January, a state-wide ban on PUBG was issued across primary schools in Gujarat owing to children’s studies being adversely affected.

Earlier this month, 11-year-old Ahad Nizam filed a public interest litigation (PIL) at the Bombay high court through his mother, alleging that the game perpetuates violence, aggression, and cyberbullying. Goa’s information technology minister Rohan Khaunte also labelled the multi-player game ”a demon in every house” and called to curb its spread in the coastal state.

But despite the resistance, PUBG has remained a rage–it even got a mention from prime minister Narendra Modi—and is only poised to get bigger.

PUBG’s potential

Currently a $290 million (Rs2,070 crore) business, India’s gaming industry will be worth over $1 billion with 190 million games by 2021, a KPMG study estimates.

Already, Indian gamers made in-app purchases worth $19.65 million in the year ending February 2017, and over seven in 10 PUBG players were making purchases for players’ clothing and weapons within the app as of late last year.

Moreover, just playing isn’t a draw. PUBG streaming, especially in the local language, has become a lucrative business.

“Before PUBG I had around 17K subscribers on YouTube. As soon as I began streaming PUBG Mobile, it took me 50-60 days to reach around 70K subscribers,” Rahul Panday who posts PUBG games streams in Hindi on his channel GoldyHindiGamingtold Now, Panday has over 200,000 subscribers. And he’s not alone: Twenty-two-year-old Naman Mathur with the YouTube game streaming channel MortaL saw his subscriber base skyrocket from some 300-odd subscribers in August 2018 to over 995,000 subscribers by this month.

Additionally, competitions offer players a professional platform to compete, offering handsome rewards. For example, in the ongoing PUBG Mobile India Series 2019 tournament, which has a pool of Rs1 crore, the top 10 teams bag cash prizes and the winning team takes home Rs30 lakh.

Now, as a battle between fans and critics ensues, the game’s fate is up in the air.