Google suspends online gaming trial on Play Store citing lack of regulations

  • Google cited a lack of a “central licensing framework” — regulations that define the legality of such games in respective countries.

Shouvik Das
First Published21 Jun 2024, 09:12 PM IST
Google said that it is working on its own framework to define permissible applications in this sector. (Photo: Reuters)
Google said that it is working on its own framework to define permissible applications in this sector. (Photo: Reuters)( )

New Delhi: Google on Friday suspended its ongoing pilot programme that allowed fantasy sports and rummy games to list on its mobile applications marketplace, the Google Play Store, but extended a “grace period” for India. With this, Google will not be expanding open access for a wider set of real-money games on the Play Store, which it had intended to do in January. Apps that are already live on the Play Store will remain on it for the time being.

The pilot, which was initiated in July last year and extended in January across India, Brazil and Mexico, was suspended by Google citing a lack of a “central licensing framework”— regulations that define the legality of such games in respective countries.

“Expanding our support of real-money gaming apps in markets without a central licensing framework has proven more difficult than expected, and we need additional time to get it right for our developer partners and the safety of our users,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Blow to online gaming sector

The move comes as a blow to the online gaming sector in India, which remains contentious in terms of whether they qualify as ‘games of skill’ or ‘games of chance’. Lawsuits against a ban of online gaming titles across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka remain subjudice at the Supreme Court.

Google said that it is working on its own framework to define permissible applications in this sector. “In the meantime, in India, we are extending the grace period of the pilot program so existing apps offering fantasy sports and rummy games in India can remain on Play Store,” the spokesperson said.

Read | Online gaming firms likely to be left in the lurch at GST Council meet

A senior Google executive further told Mint on condition of anonymity that while the company does intend to come up with a framework, discussions on the matter are currently ongoing, and as of now, there is no “specific timeline” to when might these apps be allowed to operate again.

Since the introduction of Google’s pilot programme, fantasy and rummy apps by India’s largest online gaming firms by revenue—Sporta Technologies (Dream11), Gameskraft and Games24x7—were all listed on Play Store. At the time of publishing, apps that remained listed and live on the Store include Dream11, RummyCulture, RummyCircle and My11Circle, among others.

Dream11 and Games24x7 declined to comment on the matter.

Meity to regulate

Google’s decision to withdraw its pilot comes as the Centre’s proposed plan to establish self-regulatory bodies (SRBs) to certify permissible apps failed to materialize. A senior government official told Mint in March that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), which oversees the sector, was likely to take charge of regulating the sector itself. However, the same remains under discussion at the Centre—and no decision has yet been taken.

And this | Google eyes India's linguistic diversity, talent to lead AI innovation race

Stakeholders of the online gaming industry expressed disappointment. Roland Landers, chief executive of industry body All India Gaming Federation, called the move “arbitrary and anticompetitive”, claiming the company’s dominant market share in India could hurt distribution of such apps.

“Google extensively engaged with the industry over the past year, and even announced earlier this year that they would onboard all skill-based pay-to-play games. Given that the Google Play Store conservatively holds over 90% of the app distribution market, they exert tremendous control over the Indian mobile market and is a ‘must have’. Not having an inclusive policy and discriminating is a form of gatekeeping and market distortion… limiting user choice. We will continue to engage with Google,” Landers said.

The Google executive cited above said the move across all eligible geographies is not a withdrawal, but an interim measurre. 

“We initially expected a six-month window to be enough to establish our own framework, but we realized while operating in the trial markets that we need longer. We’ll be coming up with a new dedicated policy framework as soon as we have one,” the executive said.

 

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First Published:21 Jun 2024, 09:12 PM IST
HomeCompaniesGoogle suspends online gaming trial on Play Store citing lack of regulations

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