January 23, 2021 4:07:48 pm
The noise surrounding gaming titles like PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile often make us forget the first early games Indians played on their smartphones. Before Battle Royale became a thing, there were games like Bombsquad and Doodle Army 2: Mini Militia, but even before those rose to popularity, card games were what found currency in India, especially when it came to social gaming.
Connecting with others over the internet, card games like Teen Patti offered a new form of gaming where the stakes were bigger than beating a mobile CPU. Suddenly, players faced off against others who could use the same kind of tricks as they do, and could get better at the game along with you. In a weird way, this was the transition from arcade into the early days of Esports as we know it today.
“We had more than 2 million daily active users back in 2013, which was in the very small Indian smartphone market at the time,” recalls Saurabh Aggarwal, CEO of Octro Inc, the company behind hit Indian games including Teen Patti, Play Rummy and Tambola.
Octro was a company focused on voice and video calling software until 2012, when Aggarwal realised the potential of the fledgeling mobile gaming industry, taking inspiration from various titles that had been making it big in the west. A year later, Teen Patti was a hit among Indian gamers and multiplayer gaming was now a possibility on mobile platforms.
“There was no real multiplayer title in 2013 when we started launching these card games,” explains Aggarwal. “That was a time when we created a cutting edge experience for our users which was extremely social,” he adds.
However, in 2020, with people stuck at home because of lockdowns, Octro’s Teen Patti saw 800 per cent growth, claims the company, while Indian Rummy which launched in 2017 saw a 150 per cent growth in terms of player deposits. Teen Patti now has over 150 million active users.
The spike, in this case, has also caught the attention of the government and Niti Aayog now plan to bring uniform regulations for fantasy sports and skill-based card games across the country.
Bringing real money into play
In India, card games have been synonymous with gambling long before the titles went digital. When these games came to the mobile platform, similar challenges were faced with parallels being drawn to gambling. As a result, only a handful of games on the Google Play Store and app store are allowed to operate with real-life money, and that too depending on the region you reside in.
Skill-based games like Teen Patti and Rummy continue to be banned in many Indian states like Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and regulated in others like Sikkim and Nagaland. “Gambling and gaming is actually a state subject, so states have the right to make their own laws with respect to games,” explains Aggarwal, adding that three major elements determine the difference between a skill-based game and a gambling title. These are Consideration, Reward and a Predominant element of Chance, with the final one being the most important. Any game that relies more heavily on chance or luck, compared to skill is termed gambling by Indian courts.
This is in fact the reason why of all card games, Rummy continues to be the only game where users can put in real money and win more. Aggarwal explains that “while rummy is predominantly a game of skill, something even confirmed by a supreme court ruling, the other games are harder to justify as skill-based games over chance-based games. These include Teen Patti and Tambola.”
However, in some regions, local state laws simply do not take the third element into consideration, preventing access to any title that involves real money and consideration, irrespective of whether it relies on skill or chance.
Niti Aayog proposes a uniform governing body for Fantasy Sports
In a draft report titled ‘Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-Level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India,’ Niti Aayog has proposed that the fantasy sports industry receives recognition from the government and get its own identity. “A single self-regulatory organisation for the fantasy sports industry should be recognised by the government,” adds the report.
“If different states start creating different laws, it becomes a hurdle for the upcoming industry. Niti Aayog’s initiative is trying to bring a central regulatory body for these games,” mentions Aggarwal. However, the draft is targeted at Fantasy Sports in particular for now, and not skill-based games.
How social games have changed over the years, and the way forward
Unlike the early years around 2013, online multiplayer gaming has evolved quite a lot today. So much that involving some form of a multiplayer element has become a huge plus point for many titles. Even if true multiplayer isn’t possible, games feature leaderboards and an in-game friend mechanism to add a social element.
“I think Social Gaming has increased considerably on the back of better smartphones, digital connectivity and digital payments,” says Aggarwal who recalls that credit cards were the only acceptable form of payment for in-app purchases back when Teen Patti was launched in 2013. “Only 1 per cent of users actually had access to credit cards at that time,” mentions Aggarwal.
Today access to quality multiplayer games on your smartphone is much easier than getting your own console and calling your buddies home. While the ‘LAN-Clan’ still exists and continues to grow stronger with the timeless popularity of titles like Counter-Strike, Need for Speed and the FIFA series, social and online games have seen tremendous growth in popularity over the past decade.
Moving forward, social gaming is expected to grow into a much bigger industry, along with the rest of the gaming industry. Gaming is already growing bigger than Hollywood, suggests a report by IDC, hinting that gaming could be the stronger foot of the larger entertainment industry in the future. Once much smaller, the industry is expected to grow into a $300 billion industry by 2025, as per a report by Cision PR Newswire.
India is also set to be a major player in the gaming industry moving forward. “I believe the market is at the point where we will continuously see exponential growth,” said Aggarwal, adding that India “will probably see 40-50 percent YoY (Year on year) growth” and become one of the largest gaming markets in the world.
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