The government of India has announced in a new wave of app bans which include 118 names in the list. In this long list are a lot of games among which is PUBG Mobile. Now, while a list of 118 seems like a lot of different apps, all news stories and reporting comes down to the peg that PUBG Mobile was included in this list. And justifiably so, since PUBG Mobile is not just any mobile game, it is the mobile game.
Before we get into the current discourse I feel we need to mention how PUBG Mobile came about. PUBG or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the brainchild of Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene. PUBG like other popular multiplayer games including Counter Strike and Dota 2 evolved from a mod of another game. It was Half-Life in the case of Counter Strike, World of Warcraft for Dota 2, and Arma 3 in the case of PUBG. When the game released it took over the gaming world by a storm in the year 2017. The PC version of the game launched first, followed by the console version and finally PUBG Mobile in February of 2018.
PUBG Mobile’s success
Video games and competitive gaming (eSports) have long been present in India. However, the term gaming only became popular after PUBG Mobile. PUBG Mobile brought about a revolution in the mobile gaming scene in India. It had players hooked from the day it launched. To be fair there were quite a few battle royale games already available on mobile when PUBG Mobile launched. These battle royale games were poor imitations of the PC version of PUBG that just wanted to cash in on the vacuum that was present in the mobile arena.
But PUBG Mobile blew these competitors out of the water when it launched, and there were a few reasons behind that. What hooked people to PUBG Mobile, to begin with, was that it was immersive beyond what I thought was possible for a mobile game. Sure, the controls took quite of bit of getting used to. And it isn’t as intuitive as quick scoping someone with a mouse on PC, but it is something one could get used to. And Indian players finally had a platform where they were not just kidding around and could actually compete hard. Up until this point, the Indian gaming scene was restricted by the lack of cheap hardware available. With the boom of easily available internet (thanks to Jio) and lowered smartphone prices, PUBG received a boost.
Downloads and streaming
PUBG Mobile recently reported that 24 percent of its lifetime downloads have been from India. This means 175 million out of the total 734 million downloads were from India as of July 2020. This was following the record-breaking month of March when the game broke into the 600 million number. And these are no mean numbers, and if we consider things then almost 1/10th of the population of the country plays the game or has played it at some point or the other. Now besides smartphones being readily available, there are some other reasons for this as well.
Most successful multiplayer PC games have a steep learning curve and skill acquisition rate. And that is consistent with PUBG Mobile, and that is exactly why it gave rise to such a competitive eSports scene. This is also the reason why PUBG Mobile players and streamers like ScoutOP and Mortal are as famous as they are. Their fan base can comprehend the kind of dedication and time investment it must have required to reach that position for them. The fan base aspires to emulate the success of these popular players and streamers. This aspiration also gave rise to a nascent streaming scene in India.
PUBG Mobile and eSports
Tencent Games also took the initiative and made the PUBG Mobile esports scene a success story in India. Indian parents that instinctively discouraged playing video games and portrayed it as a vice, are now aware that people earning a livelihood playing video games exist. While some of them also made a hue and cry about how big a danger the game is for the lives of their children. But I think we can all agree that some shoddy parenting is to blame there instead of the game.
India has had some embarrassing experiences in the past when it comes to esports tournaments. But a healthy PUBG Mobile fan base and tournament calendar were steps in the right direction. Watching esports matches are enjoyable and PUBG Mobile has become quite a draw.
While many of these may just seem like positives I’m stating about PUBG Mobile and its success as a game in India, one has to understand that liking a multiplayer game is not just about it having great features. It also has a lot to do with its image and player community. PUBG Mobile has both, the features, and the community to back its success.
Why the ban is unjustified
Now, coming to the matter at hand which is the ban on PUBG Mobile from the government of India, the decision seems short-sighted at best. While the premise of the ban assumes that the Chinese government is using the game to collect user data, there is little evidence to prove the claims. Tencent Games previously clarified that it adheres to all the requirements that the Indian government has. This includes Indian servers to host the data of all the Indian players. It even mentioned that PUBG Mobile has support, engineering, and other teams based in India.
The ban seems to lack clarity at present, and only comes off as stifling what was a budding gaming scene in India. It robs people of the platform and opportunity based on some unclarified assumptions. And while we wait for more clarity, players expressed their disappointment regarding the move on social media.