Tencent relinquishes rights to PUBG Mobile in India amid latest ban on Chinese apps

By Josh Ye

In light of recent developments, PUBG Corp said it will no longer authorise the PUBG Mobile franchise to Tencent Games in India. —South China Morning Post

Tencent Holdings has surrendered its rights to publish PUBG Mobile in India to the company behind battle royale hit PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, in a move that analysts expect to help the popular spin-off mobile game get around New Delhi’s latest ban on Chinese apps.

India last week banned 118 Chinese mobile apps, almost a third of which were video games, including PUBG Mobile. The government had initially banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok and WeChat, in June when there were only two games in the list.

“Tencent confirms PUBG Corp will take on all publishing responsibilities of PUBG Mobile in India,” Tencent said in a statement on Sept 8. “Our existing cooperation with PUBG Corp in global markets other than India is not affected.”

Seoul-based PUBG Corp, formerly known as Ginno Games, is the studio that developed and published PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds for desktop personal computers and console gamers. It is a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Bluehole, in which Tencent is the second-largest shareholder.

PUBG Corp said in statement on Sept 8 that it is “actively monitoring the situation around the recent bans of PUBG Mobile Nordic Map: Livik and PUBG Mobile Lite in India”.

The company said it “fully understands and respects the measures taken by the government as the privacy and security of player data is a top priority for the company”.

In light of recent developments, PUBG Corp said it will no longer authorise the PUBG Mobile franchise to Tencent Games in India. “Moving forward, PUBG Corporation will take on all publishing responsibilities within the country,” it said.

Tencent’s move represents a way for PUBG Mobile to sidestep New Delhi’s pushback against Chinese apps in India, following a deadly border clash in June between the two nuclear-armed neighbours and recriminations over the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a very smart decision,” said Liao Xuhua, gaming analyst at Beijing-based Analysys International. “If all goes according to plan, PUBG Mobile may be able to get around the new ban.”

PUBG Mobile is enormously popular in India. The game has been installed about 180 million times by the end of July, representing roughly 24% of the title’s total installations worldwide, according to app tracking firm Sensor Tower.

“This would be a similar arrangement to other mobile games such as Call Of Duty Mobile, which is developed by Tencent’s Timi Studio but published by Activision Blizzard,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Kanterman. “That escaped the ban list.”

It also means Tencent, which runs the world’s largest video games business by revenue, still stands to profit from PUBG Mobile in India because of its significant interest in PUBG Corp’s parent firm Bluehole.

“Tencent’s Lightspeed & Quantum Studios is the developer of PUBG Mobile,” said Liao of Analysys. “Even though it’s not the game’s publisher in India, Tencent still gets a cut as developer in accordance with market rules. This will minimise Tencent’s losses.”

Local alternatives, however, are springing up in India in the aftermath of its campaign against Chinese apps. India is now rife with opportunities for game developers to launch close copies of the blocked Chinese titles, according to Pontus Mähler, director of business development for video games fund GTR Accelerator, in an interview last week. – South China Morning Post

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