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Episode 33: Banned in India ft. Rishi Alwani

Imad Khan September 8, 2020 25

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PUBG Mobile has been banned in India following increased tensions between India and China on the border. This has thrown the esports industry in flux, as players feel lost and teams are considering leaving the region. Rishi Alwani of The Mako Reactor jumps on the show to break everything down.

To add to the confusion, a new game is coming out, spearheaded by actor Akshay Kumar, called FAU-G, which too will feature conflicts on the border between India and China. There’s conspiracies that the government banned PUBG Mobile to give Indian games an edge. Either way, it’s sure to be controversial.


SPEAKERS: Rishi Alwani, Imad Khan

Imad Khan  00:02

What’s up everybody. This is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this band in India Edition is Rishi Alwani of the Mako reactor.

Rishi Alwani  00:09

Hey, what’s up? Thanks for having me.

Imad Khan  00:11

On today’s show, we’ll be dedicating the entire episode to PUBG Mobile’s ban in India on Wednesday PUBG was banned after being classified as prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India as said by India’s Ministry of electronics and information technology, it was banned alongside 117 other mobile apps. To illustrate how big this ban is 24% of PUBG Mobile 734 million downloads have come from India. That’s 175 million. And an email to Business Insider India Tencent said, quote, our apps have always remained in compliance with the applicable data protection laws in India and all other markets where we operate. We look forward to engaging Indian authorities to clarify our long established policy and action in protecting user data and hope to ensure the continued availability of our apps in India. Of course, India was also in the middle of a PUBG Mobile cup open, which has since been put on hold So Rishi, before we even get into all the drama of this app being banned, let’s take a step back for, you know, maybe American listeners who aren’t totally aware of the geopolitical situation between India and China. So let’s break that down. What is going on between India and China politically?

Rishi Alwani  01:17

So okay, just as a disclosure, I am not exactly a policy expert or or someone who’s qualified to talk about politics. But what I will say what’s gone down is a series of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. I’m sorry India and China I’m sorry about that. India and China. And so So essentially, what’s happened is that I’ve been repeated border intrusions or by China on India on on Indian Territory. And they so and because of that, India is basically looking to play this like a game of Civ 6 where we’re looking at the economic victory in that way. That’s that’s just the easiest way of putting it out there. So this can be this hasn’t been the first time China apps have been banned. A full list of hundred and 118 apps were banned. The first list came out at the I mean, a month ago, and, and during this week, PUBG was on the second list of apps. Before that, we had a situation where actual goods from China were being held up at customs. And that did cause a lot, a lot of concern for us for a lot of companies in the country. So stocks are being held back PC components Be it being you know, pharmaceuticals wherever used to come in from China was was held back at the ports due to the ongoing tensions. So this, the PUBG ban is one in a series of escalating, further escalate, escalating moves against China’s border incursions in India.

Imad Khan  02:46

Well, then, again, I just for clarification, so I mean, we know China has a bit of history of exercising its mind whether it be on the South China Sea, whether it be near the Korean in the Korean peninsula as well. Why is China encroaching on Indian territory? or yeah, what’s going on there?

Rishi Alwani  03:07

Oh, well, I mean, so it’s basically to do with certain territories that they feel are theirs, which haven’t been, which aren’t the case that their Indian Territory and then there is a border, right? Where you where we have troops on on part of the border, and they have their troops on their side of it. And they’ve been trying to try to try to intrude on territory that isn’t theirs. So that’s the simplified version of what’s going on, in that point of view. And as to why they’re exactly doing it. Well, I mean, yeah, they have a history of doing it, but that’s what we know so far. And because of this, the the situation is such well, that it has eventually led to our I mean, you know, bans and in a way sanctions on on China product in this country.

Imad Khan  03:54

Yeah, you know, it’s very curious as to why China’s exercising its mind in such a way especially when it’s trying to become dislike global superpower with its, you know, with its new kind of China road initiative or what people call like the New Silk Road. So it’s weird to antagonize such a large market and potentially huge partner in this in this idea of connecting Asia with Africa and Europe, but you know, let’s move over to PUBG Mobile. So that’s a lot of people who have lost access to this game. That’s a lot of potential tournament’s that are put on hold. I mean, what what is the conversation been on in India about what’s going on with PUBG Mobile.

Rishi Alwani  04:34

So there are two kinds of conversations going on about the game at this point in time. But just to be really clear, from a gaming standpoint, this isn’t the only app from China that’s been banned. We’ve seen companies that actually have Chinese companies that have a huge investment in India, not just Tencent, like  YUzu. Yuzu has a team of 45 Indians employed in Puna and they’ve actually been working with the state. You know, our keep doing develop games to you know, set up their facilities. And they’ve they’ve had four of their games which were basically banned outright. NetEase with with its Marvel Super Wars game, their game has also been banned. So it’s not just a PUBG situation. But yes, the book The biggest one of the bunches, obviously poverty. And I mean, we already know how popular the game is in India that’s something that’s that that’s that we spoken about in the past. But essentially now what now the conversation in the industry, there are two kinds of conversations that are going on. One is the sound bites from certain sections of the business, which are talking about how this is a great opportunity, and how this is the best way for Indian game developers to get the word out on you know, make a PUBG competitor. Now, the problem is the voices who are saying these things have never developed the game in their life and don’t know the struggles that game developers in this country actually have to get the games to market. So you know, that’s that’s one part of it and the and that’s the conversation that’s going on publicly that yeah, this is a great opportunity. But internally, there’s been a lot of, it’s been devastating. We’ve had certain tournament organizers who were doing a lot of PUBG related tournaments who seen their top line erode by around 80 to 90%. overnight. We’ve seen situations where eSports teams are with those who are in India, international esports teams that are in India that are looking to exit. We’re seeing eSports teams that were looking at coming to India in a large way, reconsider their plans that’s also been happening at the same time. And aside from all of this, there’s also this cottage industry of content creators that have sprung up around PUBG Mobile, they’ve been impacted as well. Our fact the matter is, the impact has been across the board. And that’s this is before I even consider the impact it’s had on brands. So because of PUBG is not just a big game that people play, PUBG is a big game that people even watch. And if I’m a if I’m a non endemic and I want to start putting money in into into gaming events, and you know, get We’ll put marketing funds behind that. I’m going to think twice because the next the next best option is 50%, lower 60% lower in terms of viewership or retention. So why would I put money into that game when I’d rather put money into something into, you know, conventional media or something else? So the impact is there across the board, and it’s something that the industry is still kind of cope with.

Imad Khan  07:19

Well, you know, then I’m also interested in some of the interesting conspiracy theories that have sprung up in India following the ban. I mean, what’s going on with the entrepreneur Vishal Gondal.

Rishi Alwani  07:31

So, okay, a bit of a disclosure. I have worked at Disney India Games, when Vishal was running the show, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t reporting to him. I was working on a subscription service. So just I get that disclosure out of the way. But so Vishal Gondal has been out of the gaming business after he sold India Games to Disney, and he’s been working on a fitness so his own fitness company called GOQii. So last year, he announced a strategic investment in this company called nCore. NCore is a company that is run by, by by by by talent that worked Digital Chocolate that worked at rockyou that worked in a bunch of mid core game companies. So nCore took a Vishal invested in nCore and came on as a strategic advisor last year. This year. It appears that he is upped his stake because now he’s on board as a chairman and and co founder at nCore. And nCore has been making games or has been doing live services rather so they’ve done live services for Vainglory. They’ve done a couple of projects for Rovio and they claim to fame is their life services and live operations work for for these companies. So we Vishal Gondal well apparently apparently has seems to have upped his take and now they are. They’re going to be you know, bringing out this game called Fau-G which is. So phojee is an Indian is the Indian word for soldier. But it’s also the acronym in this case stands for fearless and united guards and Essentially, this is a game that they’re not saying is directly competing with PUBG. But I mean the name kind of would make you think it does. We have little information on what the game looks like at this point of time. We have little information on what engine achieve and running, what the resolution is, or even anything to do with the actual game per se, but there’s been a lot of controversy around it because of how it was announced. See if the thing is the game was announced alongside was announced by Akshay Kumar as well. Akshay Kumar is a huge bollywood celebrity, who’s also who’s also been who’s also helped the government endorsed several several of his programs over the years. So the problem so the thing is, the game was announced and immediately there was a lot of pushback on it, you know, there are certain sections are claiming that this is crony capitalism by the government because from their point of view, or the entire situation is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about, you know, making games in India then. Then Then the next day you have PUBG banned and then after that you have FAU-G being announced. But it’s just a question about timing. It’s nothing else. The intent from what I from what I have been given to believe is that the intent with from FAU-G is to actually release it release a good game first, and everything else is second. And the game has been in development from what I know for over a period of six months at least. Because otherwise you’re not going to make an announcement and particularly in this day and age where you have gamers who are I mean, Indian gamers aren’t stupid we can we can spot nonsense a mile away. So all we know right now is that the game is in development. It’s so good looking to come out at the end of October. The first level in the game is going to be based on Galwan Valley conflict according to what a press release has been sent. So they’ve been saying, but at this point in time, there is little information as to how they’re going to monetize where the you know what kind of you know, gear or equipment you can use not there’s no actual proper information the game yet. The other part of this announcement that caught a lot of trouble was how they would donate 20% of the funds to specific roles the 20% of the money you spend on the game towards specific funds, which would apparently go towards my understanding is go towards helping the troops out and you know, helping certain other people out. But so now one argument is that this is all basically a scam. But again, our Vishal Gondal has a track record of making games here. This isn’t his first time he’s done stuff like Ra.One Mobile, which did pretty well. His first game was also based around national sentiment, which was Yuda, which was a game based on the Kargil conflict in in the late 90s. So he has a habit of you note taking of basically making games and he plays well on the sense of timing. So that’s what’s happened. He’s basically announced the game at a time where, you know, tensions are a bit of a high and you’re going to have various people wondering what’s up. So it’s just a question of the timing more than anything else. The intent is there to make a good game, I believe, but we’ll have to see when it’s out and October.

Imad Khan  12:00

You know, I can’t blame conspiracy theorist because if he’s making a game in which like the first, I don’t know, I guess level is between the China and India conflict on the border and releasing it as soon as PUBG Mobile is banned, of course like conspiracy theories would fly How could it not? It’s so provocative.

Rishi Alwani  12:16

I mean, that’s the thing in general, right? Because if you look at it from one point of view is yes, it is provocative, but if you also look at it from a pure or from a pure business standpoint, right? If you look at the cost of discoverability, in any market, not just India, I mean, you need something that’s going to stand out. I mean, there’s a reason why we had why we had EA back in the day position or Dragon Age Origins with a Marilyn Manson video, for the Marilyn Manson music. Because at the end of the you still need to do stuff to stand out. It’s the marketing and if what worries me isn’t how its marketed. It’s what worries me is what the what the end product is going to be like. Because we are at a point in time where you have I mean, roughly hundred In Indians who have played PUBG, which is a game, which has an immense amount of polish, and was backed up by a pretty robust esports ecosystem, that’s out that’s not in the picture. So is this I mean find that they’re saying it’s not a replacement game they saying it’s not meant to mimic PUBG we get that. But at the end of the day, the the expectations already built in that are very base level, they should at least be a decent game to play. So that’s what worries me whether they’re able to meet those expectations or not.

Imad Khan  13:29

I mean, I can already see the headlines in China like PUBG Mobile banned do game come like is about killing Chinese troops or whatever, right? I mean, it’s just the comparisons are going to happen.

Rishi Alwani  13:40

Yeah, comparisons are going to happen. And what we also do know is that it seats in third person right now that they’re not committing to a first person, game or game type. And the same players can team up in teams of five to collaborate and fight again for sort of heal but they’re not being clear with the PvP or PvE at this point in time. I suspect that this would change over the course of the coming week, we would have more information coming out, because they didn’t put up a trailer on their channel. But the trailer also is a little is a little, I mean, looks more like a proof of concept at this stage. So, I mean, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this in terms of what the actual game is going to be like. Now, the question now the reason why that’s one part of it right, the game. Now the other part of it where people are this controversies, and core is dedicating the game to Bharat Ke Veer. Bharat Ke Veer Trust gives support to India’s brave hearts. 20% of the net revenue from the game will be donated to the Bharat Ke Veer trust. And the Bharat Ke Veer Trust is conceptualized by Akshay Kumar, and implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs to support families of India’s Armed Forces martyrs. So that’s what they saying as well. So I mean, yeah, all of that with the optics on this isn’t exactly looking too great. I will agree with you on that. But at the end of the day, see whatever the optics is, and wherever they’re trying to do if the market isn’t going to if the market thinks it’s not a great game, it’s not a great game, and we’ve seen In the past, right like with TikTok. When TikTok was banned, you had you had a couple of Indian apps that try to take that try to take its place and they bombed, they fizzled out. If anything in the Indian audiences are moving towards reals. So at the end of the day, it’s a question of the market deciding and for all the bluster, and for all of that, we’ll have to see what the game comes towards or being. Because then see, again, the thing is that these guys have had it in which all has had a track record, or at least releasing games that have some decent quality. So let’s see what comes of this.

Imad Khan  15:30

Yeah, I have a question. Do you think vishawn was the type of person that would make a game like that would involve historical conflicts between India and Pakistan as well?

Rishi Alwani  15:40

I think that’s exactly what you the the Kargil or the his game on Kargil, was about that was about that conflict.

Imad Khan  15:47

And it just seemed like banned in Pakistan. I mean, what was the result there?

Rishi Alwani  15:51

So so I’m not clear if that I don’t think that was banned in Pakistan because he that game came out in the mid 90s. And it was based on the 4A engine, if I’m not mistaken, really. Also cool tech at that time, and the focus was the get a game, so the reason why He even went with Kargil for that game was he actually wanted to make it around Sholay, surely was a really popular Bollywood movie. And it was, I think, was released in the mid late 70s. And that license was still really expensive to get he couldn’t get the Sholay license. So he ended up going with this. That’s what that’s how that game came to be.

Imad Khan  16:23

So interesting, interesting. Well, you know, with with where PUBG Mobile is in India at the moment, do you feel that? Do you feel that Tencent has a chance at like getting the game unbanned? Or is are the security concerns? So grave that India feels that no, it needs to just be gone?

Rishi Alwani  16:41

Okay, ah, so while I’m not a cybersecurity expert, I will say this much that No, I mean, it’s better to give those disclosures, right. Because, yeah, I don’t want to mislead people. But what we do know is are one of the bigger concerns was, the data has to be in India, right and on if I’m not mistaken on the 30th of July, if I’m not mistaken is when Tencent had made changes to the privacy policy to state that Indian gamers will have their data stored on Indian servers. So they made that commitment on that day itself. And it’s not just them, even even Yuzu and so on, whose apps are also banned and a few others, they also have their data stored in India. So it’s not like there was a problem. To me this basically looks like a situation where I mean, let’s look at it this way, right if gaming is super visible in India right now, to the point where the Prime Minister had name checked PUBG Mobile in his address is a rash to students a year ago, he actually went to that degree where he named checked PUBG and he named checked Fortnite. So point is it’s a super visible medium and it’s something even the government’s aware of so the question is, from a political standpoint, this makes it easier to pick off right then it then it does to something that you know, really, then then it makes it something that’s completely a hardcore utility device, like your smartphone or energy. So from a point from that point of view, game gaming seem to be an easy target app seem to be an easy target, because you can still make competitors or clones in a relatively, you know, relatively short time span of time versus versus doing r&d on a smartphone, or versus, you know, are putting together tech for electricity infrastructure. So, I feel that it’s a situation of, you know, showing the world that Yeah, we can we can do this. And, you know, China will eventually come to terms with it.

Imad Khan  18:31

Well, you know, I think we should close up the show, speaking about the players. I mean, what has your conversations been with players and teams? How worried are they?

Rishi Alwani  18:39

So to be honest, the teams are pretty worried. For a couple of reasons, right? So even teams that have been winning pmco in India regularly, a lot of the dues haven’t been cleared yet. So if you’re running it as a business, and you’ve booked earnings a year ago, and you still haven’t got the money yet, it’s a big problem. So yeah, the teams are a little concerned and on top of that, the local teams obviously who have been winning. But if I look at it from the point of view also of teams that are looking to come in the teams are have made announcements in the past of coming in India, be it something and even teams that exist right now. Right. Like we have fanatic that has a PUBG Mobile team, are we, their future is uncertain. Our earlier in the year we had a vitality put out a press release saying that they were looking to come in India. I don’t know if this will impact their decision as well. But I mean, considering how big PUBG Mobile was, it would impact their decisions, too. So fact the matter is, yes, it the impact isn’t just with local teams and Indian teams, it’s with teams that have any aspirations, and or one actually set up base in India to you know, get the ball rolling with local teams and to support the community. So on one aspect, yes, they are really worried. And even from that, from a general community standpoint, the gaming community here is a lot more evolved. They’re wondering, that if if you if if that’s if this is what’s being banned, then there is no holds barred or anything So there wasn’t from that aspect. But if you look at it traditionally, this is the first time we’ve actually seen the government banned any form of games. On the first banned list. There were a couple of other games like like, like, I think Mobile Legends, which is a mobile from from from another China company that was on that list as well. The the government hasn’t really bothered too much with console and PC because the numbers are negligible versus mobile. So there is a certain amount of fear from the community that deregulation may be next but I don’t see that being a thing I think this is more of a thing of you know, trying to make sure China tows the line it’s we’re trying to go for like I said earlier Civ6  style, economic victory.

Imad Khan  20:40

Economic victory. That’s a good that’s a good analogy with that, Rishi, thank you so much for giving us your time. I know it’s late over there. I know. It’s been very crazy and hectic, but really, we truly appreciate you jumping on and giving us your insight.

Rishi Alwani  20:53

No problem.

Imad Khan  20:54

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you like the show, please rate, subscribe and share. Your support will help the show grow. To see full transcripts of the show or links to our Patreon, head on over to ftwimad.com. If you’d like to follow Rishi and keep up to date with everything happening in the world of Indian esports and gaming, follow him on twitter @RishiAlwani or check out themakoreactor.com. If you’d like to follow me in my writing over at the New York Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere, follow me @imad on Twitter. Annie Pei is our producer. If you have any questions or would like to submit a fan of the week question, reach out to her at @Pei_Annie on Twitter. Joe Domeq is our outreach manager and Ron Lyons is our researcher. With that. We’ll catch you guys next week.

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