India’s latest ban of Chinese games like PUBG Mobile opens door to home-grown alternatives, experts say

By Josh Ye

Almost a third of the Chinese mobile apps affected by India’s latest ban were games, such as PUBG Mobile and Arena Of Valor. This will open up opportunities for Western or Indian home-grown apps to fill the void, analysts say. — SCMP

With many popular Chinese mobile games now banned in India, there is plenty of opportunity for Western or home-grown alternatives to replace them. And investors are taking notice, experts say.

On Sept 2, India banned 118 Chinese mobile apps, almost a third of which were games. Tencent Holdings’ hit mobile game PUBG Mobile was among the 35 games blocked in the latest move, which came after the government first banned 59 Chinese apps including video-sharing sensation TikTok and messaging app WeChat in June. The list in June only included two games.

Pontus Mähler, director of business development for video games fund GTR Accelerator, said that with the latest round of bans, India’s gaming market is now rife with opportunities for developers to launch close copies of the blocked Chinese titles.

“To capitalise on the current situation, companies would basically just try to release copycats because people aren’t going to forget about PUBG Mobile and Arena of Valor. They want to keep playing them,” he said. “So if you have a game right now that is very similar, it’s definitely a really good time to launch it,” Mähler said.

The bans are part of a larger pushback against Chinese tech in India after a deadly border clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbours and recriminations over the Covid-19 pandemic. Local alternatives are springing up in the aftermath and venture capitalists and angel investors are moving to support them, especially since the government has been vocal about building up a home-grown games industry.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last month that India should tap the huge potential in the digital gaming arena by developing games that are inspired by its culture and folk tales, according to The Economic Times.

The Indian Union Education Ministry also recently announced plans to support students with jobs in gaming, and said that it will soon organise a national level hackathon for online games to showcase the talent of Indian students, The Economic Times reported.

“The bans on Chinese apps will open up opportunities for Western or India’s home-grown apps to fill the void very quickly,” said Vey-Sern Ling, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Salone Sehgal, general partner of gaming-focused venture capital fund Lumikai Fund, said that she saw the latest developments as an opportunity.

“Domestic content makers and domestic start-ups now are given an increased impetus to start innovating for Indian audiences, building local products that [are] being done within India,” she said.

The Delhi-based fund said that it is looking to invest in 15 to 20 early-stage gaming and interactive media startups in India in the coming months. Although the exact make-up of the fund remains undisclosed, it looks set to cut cheque sizes ranging from US$200,000 (RM829,900) to US$2mil (RM8.29mil).

Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst at Niko Partners, said that while some Chinese owned or developed games such as Call of Duty: Mobile were spared in the latest round of bans, they continue to be at risk of being targeted by further restrictions.

“While no Supercell games have been banned, India’s government has been looking into the company to decide whether it should be banned in the future,” Ahmad said of the Finnish developer which is majority-owned by China’s Tencent.

“The ban of Mobile Legends and Arena of Valor has led to a vacuum in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games market in India,” he said. “This is currently being somewhat filled by Supercell’s Brawl Stars, but there is now a chance for local or global developers to exploit this market.” – South China Morning Post

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