Digital Gaming: How India Can Play It Right

by Ashutosh Muglikar - Dec 17, 2020 12:25 PM
Digital Gaming: How India Can Play It RightDigital gaming catching up.
  • E-sports attract immense public interest and has huge investment potential, and NITI Aayog’s initiative to set up a self-regulatory body for online fantasy sports has come at the right time.

In a draft report titled, “Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-Level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India”, NITI Aayog’s recent recommendation for setting up a self-regulatory body for online fantasy sports, has acknowledged the massive public interest in the fantasy sports industry, whose legitimacy has also been validated by findings of various high courts.

This unique position currently enjoyed by fantasy sports amongst all games of skill is a welcome development and the NITI Aayog has correctly identified that this industry is aptly designed for a self-regulatory system. We believe the same arguments hold good for, or in fact, are more relevant for the larger umbrella of e-sports.

What Are E-Sports

The recent ordinances passed by several Indian state governments highlight the confusion between card and dice games and e-sports. While the state-level efforts are commendable, it is important to recognise the benefits that e-sports bring to the public at large, rather than generalising all games under the heads of “gambling/wagering”.

The digital version of real world sports or e-sports promotes games which involves a test of skill and stamina (physical or mental) and is played against real people. From improving hand-eye coordination, promoting mental health and wellness, to giving a boost to strategic thinking, the benefits of skill gaming in e-sports are manifold.

With the increasing reach of high-speed Internet and smartphones, playing, practising and improving at e-sports is very much within the access of players across most social and economic strata. With this, e-sports shall not suffer from the traditional barriers that have served to restrict access to physical sports and dashed many a player’s dreams.

The Real Need For Regulation In E-Sports

The e-sports industry has been attracting the attention of not only a large number of players but also investors who recognise the immense potential for growth. With this, the absence of regulations is a valid concern that has been expressed by the lawmakers as the scope for misuse is immense and the brunt of any such activity will almost certainly be felt by the players.

This is where a self-regulatory body, composed of industry stakeholders and guided by independent experts, can step in to ensure free and fair gameplay and development in the e-sports sector through facilitating representation, transparency, neutrality and accountability.

Take the instance of the Entertainment Software Rating Board in the United States, which regulates video games and app ratings to assist parents in making purchase decisions, or the framework for mobile content and payment services between telecommunication companies in Denmark regulating mobile content and payment services.

These organisations and their manner of operation will have to be closely studied and India will have to formulate a self-regulatory policy that will cater to problems that are unique to the sub-continent.

Economic considerations aside, the focus should always be to promote genuine, responsible and safe gaming within the e-sports sector. Several companies have in fact gone a step ahead to have themselves vetted by independent certifying organisations to validate that they are a “no bot platform”, ie, that all gaming activities on the platform are between real players with no digital interference or manipulation.

Challenges To E-Sports

According to the latest Inc42 Plus report — E-Sports In India: Market Landscape Report, 2020 — E-Sports accounted for around 4 per cent of all online gaming users and 9.13 per cent of aggregated revenue, out of the overall online gaming market in financial year 2020.

However, Indian platforms are also facing challenges with foreign firms making inroads. Established e-sports companies like Nodwin Gaming mostly tie up with foreign titles at the expense of Indian games and game developers. When associations do happen, they are few and far in between, and fraught with unfair trade practices. This was evident in the opposition voiced by several foreign platforms when PUBG was banned in India, and ‘Made in India’ e-sports was encouraged by the Indian government.

In the meanwhile, increasing monopolisation by a few large, foreign players in the e-sports sector, who are gaining notoriety for the onerous and unfair contractual obligations placed on their players, emphasise the acute need for a self-regulatory body which can effectively regulate the industry without losing focus of player interests. There is also an egregious campaign to malign newer Indian platforms which are democratising e-sports by deliberately labelling them as gambling platforms.

Needless to say, it is high time that the government steps in to boost opportunities and give the Indian game developers and gamers, a global platform to showcase their skills; a potential which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vocal about.

The Prime Minister believes that ‘Made in India’ games are an excellent medium to further the spirit of "Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat". And true to his vision, certain state governments along with key e-sports platforms, have organised some e-sports (chess) tournaments during the pandemic, which not only aided in fundraising efforts but also brought together Indians and fostered a sense of community building during a challenging time.

What Lies Ahead

E-sports carry immense public interest due to the plethora of opportunities it offers for sports engagement, economic opportunities, accolades and promotion of ‘Made in India’ games. The present times and the concerns for potential misuse demonstrate that e-sports space is ready for self-regulation.

Keeping in mind the larger public interest, NITI Aayog should consider including e-sports and expand the scope of fantasy regulations. While we hope that such a uniform countrywide regulation on lines similar to that of NITI Aayog’s call for regulation for the fantasy sports shall not only regulate and enable a safe harbour for e-sports, but shall also foster development of this industry in the years to come, only time will tell.

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