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Google Play to pilot allowing daily fantasy sports and rummy apps in India

The distribution of these apps in the year-long pilot programme will be limited to India at present

September 08, 2022 / 08:45 PM IST

Google on September 8 announced a limited-period pilot to start offering real-money games such as Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Rummy apps on its app marketplace Google Play in India amid the rising popularity of these applications in the country.

The move by Google will likely be a huge shot in the arm for Indian real-money gaming apps that currently account for the majority of the industry's revenue in the country.

Real money games accounted for about 51 percent of the overall gaming industry revenue that reached around $1.8 billion in the financial year 2020, according to a recent report by gaming and interactive media venture fund Lumikai and consulting firm Redseer.

The sector has minted three unicorns so far - Dream11, Mobile Premier League, and Games 24x7 - which were side loaded until now, as they were not allowed on the Play Store.

"It is great for everyone in the skill-based real money gaming ecosystem and long overdue from Google" Nazara Technologies CEO Manish Agarwal told Moneycontrol.

Nazara Technologies's real-money gaming portfolio includes fantasy sports platform Halaplay and skill gaming platform OpenPlay. The segment accounted for about 6% of the company's revenues in Q1-FY23.

No in-app billing 

Google said the pilot will be for one year starting from September 28, allowing DFS and Rummy apps from developers incorporated in the country. The app distribution will, however, be limited to only India at present.

What's particularly noteworthy is these apps should not use Google's in-app billing or be available as a paid app on the app store.

Over the years, Google Play has faced an intense backlash from Indian developers over the mandatory integration of its Play billing system.

This move has also attracted a probe from the country's antitrust body Competition Commission of India, which is of the prima facie view that such a policy is unfair as it restricts the ability of app developers to select a payment processing system of their choice.

"We are constantly exploring ways for local developers to build successful businesses and offer delightful experiences on Google Play. Through this pilot program, we are taking a measured approach that will help us collate learnings and retain an enjoyable and safe experience for our users," a Google spokesperson said.

ReadGoogle Play spots key monetization opportunity in India as spends on local apps rise 80% in two years

Until this pilot, Google had a strict policy of not allowing real-money games on its Play Store. In fact, the tech giant had pulled the popular fintech app Paytm for a few hours in September 2020 on the grounds of allegedly facilitating gambling on its platform.

Jay Sayta, a technology and gaming lawyer, said the move to allow real money rummy and fantasy sports apps on a pilot basis is a welcome decision and they will hopefully extend this to other recognised skill-based games such as poker, pool, chess, carrom.

"Google's policies for advertising and listing on Play Store are often arbitrary and inexplicable. For the last several years, it did not allow rummy and fantasy sports apps on its platform despite there being clear judicial rulings recognising them as a game of skill and a constitutional activity" he said.

"Google should come up with a clear, transparent, non-arbitrary and permanent policy for listing gaming apps on Play Store and clearly define a fair revenue sharing mechanism between Play Store and the developer from the payments made for such games" Sayta added.

WinZO co-founder Saumya Singh Rathore said the selective exclusion of other categories of skill games from the pilot is clearly discriminatory and is yet "another example of arbitrary platform policies and misuse of dominance".

"The Supreme Court has settled precedent on games of skill. It has been held that success in these games depends upon a substantial degree of skill. So, players' knowledge, training, attention, and experience, determine their success in such games. It is unreasonable for Google to only allow Rummy and Fantasy games while foreclosing the door for all other skill-based games that cumulatively form a bigger user base of over 500MM users in India" she said.

Rathore said this move could cause long-term market distortion in favor of the already entrenched player and discourage innovation. It could give a boost to apps that are permitted vs those that aren’t in the pilot "to the extent of 70-75%", she added.

More compliance norms

To participate in the pilot, developers will have to complete and submit an application form and comply with the terms and conditions of the pilot program in addition to all Google Play Policies.

This includes complying with all local laws and regulations, holding requisite licenses and permits where required.

Developers will also have to ensure verification of users so that it is accessible to only those over 18 years of age and reside in states where the game is permitted to operate. It will also have to collect the user's PAN card details for tax compliance and bank account details.

Since gambling is a state subject in India, several states are taking different approaches in order to curb or license these activities

States like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have banned real money games while states like Meghalaya, Sikkim and Nagaland have a licensing regime for these games.

Besides these norms, the terms also mention that developers are required to provide users with redressal mechanisms and customer support. The tech giant said it will review these application forms and notify its status to eligible applicants within seven business days.
Vikas SN
first published: Sep 8, 2022 09:59 am