Mobile and online gaming has been steadily growing during a difficult year for everyone. Its social and economic importance for desi consumers and tech businesses is getting increasing recognition. Yet, little is done in terms of legal regulation and nationwide standards.
A Constantly Growing Industry
Online gaming had already shown its potential in India when affordable smartphones and cheaper internet packages gave everyone a chance to try a new digital pastime. Casual and card games were an instant hit, even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
But when a series of lockdowns forced most of us to stay home – to work, shop and have fun over the internet – the trend became unmistakable. Online gaming turned into an immensely popular type of digital entertainment. The segment picked up speed and was one of the few remaining sectors that did not suffer from physical distancing and other restrictions.
The gaming user base is estimated at 365 million in mid-2020 by KPMG’s Media and Entertainment report, a figure which significantly outpaces earlier predictions for market size and growth. In fact, another one of the Big Four global accounting consultancies, Deloitte India determined in early 2021 that India’s online gaming industry has been growing by 40% annually recently and will reach nearly $ 3 billion by next year.
Mobile games have shot India to second place in global market rankings, with some data sources pointing to a 17% overall share in game downloads. During lockdown, Google Play and Apple’s App Store both reported additional increases, an average 50% over the periods. Time spent with gaming apps rose as well, Nielsen surveys confirm. From 151 minutes, Indians now spend an average of 218 minutes playing games every week.
While skill games are the ones that provide the biggest growth – as well as excitement and competitive edge akin to real-life activities or even sports – the macro-segment distinction is neither clear nor legally accurate as it stands.
Regulators Need to Step Up Their Game
The fact of the matter is that if an online casino in India were to reveal its actual growth over the past couple of years, we will see similar figures and trends. The Real-Money Games segment (RMG) has been steadily growing, above and beyond most Media and Entertainment segments, websites like 10Cric offers a big selection of casino games.
However, while some traditional genres like rummy or poker are considered skill games and might be formally allowed, others like teen patti (or “Indian poker”, as foreigners know it) would fall outside of any legal practice or recognition. The same goes for timeless classics like ludo, carom or even chess. If played under free formats, they might be perfectly legitimate, while pay-to-play game apps might be formally banned in some States.
In the end, the online RMG sector has been growing “in the dark” for a number of years. The lack of clear market regulations and legal definitions – mostly on Central level – is not holding it back as a social phenomenon. But it is preventing the industry from capitalizing on a growing trend and providing Bharat tech companies with the chance to attract more (foreign) investment, crucial for the sector’s innovation potential and competitive edge, experts say.