Gamers left reeling as India pulls plug on Tencent's PUBG in China spat
NEW DELHI/ CHENNAI, Sept 3- For tens of millions of Indian gamers, Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds videogame was a welcome distraction from the coronavirus pandemic. India’s technology ministry said the apps were a threat to India’s sovereignty and security. In a statement on Thursday, Tencent said its apps complied with India’s data protection laws…
By Sankalp Phartiyal and Sudarshan Varadhan
NEW DELHI/CHENNAI, Sept 3 (Reuters) – For tens of millionsof Indian gamers, Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’sBattlegrounds (PUBG) videogame was a welcome distraction fromthe coronavirus pandemic.
Then the Indian government said it was pulling the plug.
“When everything was under lockdown, PUBG’s interactivefeatures gave me a semblance of real-world social interaction.It was a stress-buster for me,” said Mustafa Scentwala, 26, wholives in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, and played PUBG withnine friends for hours each day.
PUBG, part of the “battle royale” genre in which a group ofplayers fight one another until only a single combatant is leftalive, became a casualty of geopolitics on Wednesday when theIndian government said it was banning it, along with over ahundred other Chinese apps, as tensions with Beijingescalated.
India’s technology ministry said the apps were a threat toIndia’s sovereignty and security.
In a statement on Thursday, Tencent said its apps compliedwith India’s data protection laws and that it would engage withlocal authorities to clarify its policies.
The ban is the latest move against Chinese companies inIndia amid a months-long standoff over a disputed border but thetiming and the target were particularly tough for young people.They have been using the game to stay in touch with friendswhile schools and colleges are shut to stop the spread of thecoronavirus.
PUBG’s interactive features allow gamers to communicate withone another using text and voice, and users say these make it aunique mobile game in a country where millions of gamers cannotafford expensive gaming consoles and broadband connections.
“The only thing that couldn’t be locked down by corona wasPUBG,” said Veera Raghavan, a gamer hailing from the southerncity of Chennai.
Tencent had launched a lighter version of the game, whichconsumes less mobile data and runs smoothly on cheaper phones,in a bid to woo even more Indian players who would potentiallyspend on the app in the future.
Some PUBG players in India have spent thousands of rupees tobuy so-called Royal Passes, a way to earn quick rewards and haveaccess to special missions in the game. Some took to Twitter toappeal the ban making #PUBG a top trend across India this week.
India is PUBG’s biggest market by users, and according toanalytics firm SensorTower, accounts for 29% of the apps totaldownloads.
The ban is another blow for Tencent whose WeChat app wasalso outlawed by New Delhi in June, following a border skirmishthat left 20 Indian soldiers dead. Tencent’s other flagship game- Arena of Valor – is now also banned in India.
Still, SensorTower says PUBG’s revenue hit will be marginalas India only contributed about 2.5% of its lifetime revenue.(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal and Sudarshan Varadhan;Additional reporing by Pei Li in Hong Kong, and Sachin Ravikumarand Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru;Editing by Euan Rocha and Carmel Crimmins)
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