2 Minutes Read
In a significant policy shift, global tech giant Google has announced it will permit India-based real money daily fantasy sports and online rummy apps on its Play Store. This is part of its new one-year pilot project that will go run from September 28, 2022, until September 28, 2023.
On Thursday, Google posted on its support page – “From September 28, 2022, through September 28, 2023, Google Play will run a limited-time application-only pilot to allow DFS and Rummy apps by developers incorporated in India to be distributed to users on Google Play in India.”
The policy change itself will become effective from September 7 and has been brought in “to explore possible updates to the Other Real-Money Games, Contests, and Tournament Apps policy….”
A Google spokesperson said, “We are constantly exploring ways for local developers to build successful businesses and offer delightful experiences on Google Play. Through this pilot programme, we are taking a measured approach that will help us collate learnings and retain an enjoyable and safe experience for our users.”
Gaming operators in India can get their apps listed on the Google Play Store after filling an application form that will be reviewed by the company, which will subsequently “notify eligible applicants of the result within seven business days of form submission.”
In February 2021, Google updated its Play Store policy permitting Android users to download and install real-money gambling applications in 15 countries. Unfortunately, India did not figure in the list.
Google Play Store has an almost 95% market share in app distribution in India. Hence, listing DFS and online rummy apps on the Google Play Store is a decided positive for India’s fast-growing gaming sector, where new users can discover and download such apps more easily. On the flip side, other gaming verticals like online poker apps have been left out of the pilot project, evoking criticism from several gaming operators.
New Pilot Project Comes With Caveats
Daily Fantasy Sports and Online Rummy operators can apply for publishing their apps on the Play Store but will need to follow a set of directives.
Google has emphasized that all such apps will be rated 18+ only and available as free downloads; hence will not be eligible to use Google in-app billing. It is unclear whether Google will permit fantasy apps to use alternative payment methods, but the company should come out with more details soon.
The app operators must ensure users furnish their PAN card and bank details.
All interested operators will need to fill out an application form which Google will review before it decides whether to permit or reject the app publication.
As part of the policy, the permitted developers must abide by Google’s terms and conditions, comply with local laws, provide ownership of licenses and permits, and ensure their apps prohibit user access from states where the games are currently deemed illegal.
Pilot Project Only For DFS & Rummy Apps – Not Poker
In September 2020, Google removed PayTM and PayTM First Games from the Play Store for violating the app store’s gambling policies. In its terms and conditions, as laid out on the Google Support Page, Google permits only online fantasy sports and rummy gaming for ads in India. The latest announcement is in line with the platform’s policy on online gambling.
While Google’s announcement means that players in India will finally be able to download apps like Dream11 and Mobile Premier League directly from the Play Store (these were earlier banned from the Play Store), other games like online poker apps are not being considered for the pilot project. This has not gone down well with several gaming industry components who have called Google’s new policy arbitrary and partial.
The Hindu, in its latest report on the issue, quoted two prominent gaming industry operators. The co-founder of WinZO, Saumya Singh Rathore, called the policy change unreasonable. She pointed out that all other skill-based games cumulatively form a bigger user base of over 500 million users in India.
“This is another example of arbitrary platform policies and misuse of dominance. Google must rethink this decision as applications and platforms not on the Play Store versus those that are now allowed will have to spend at least four times more, that is, 300% more money to distribute. This can cause long-term market distortion in favor of the already entrenched player and discourage innovation,” she said.
CEO of the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), Roland Landers, said the move is a progressive step, but it needs to be inclusive, permitting other online games like poker.
Google Play Store, Landers said, has almost 95% market share of app distribution platforms in India. “Games of skill is a broad category, and fantasy gaming and rummy are just two game formats considered in this pilot program by Google. Poker, too, is considered a game of skill by several High Courts in India. Likewise, numerous developers offer classic and innovative games of skill.”
Suraj Chokhani, Managing Director of Ability Games, pointed out that despite Google’s “hegemony and seemingly arbitrary apps,” the nationwide online gaming industry has grown over time, attaining over 300 million downloads. “We will have to wait and watch to see how the situation unfolds in the near future,” Chokhani said, adding that Google needs to provide more clarity on the payment gateways permitted.
On a side note, Google’s policy change comes days before the Competition Commission of India (CCI), which is looking into Google’s Play Store policy, delivers its ruling. The CCI has been investigating Google for charging a 30% commission for all Play Store transactions in 2020. Earlier this week, the CCI reportedly accepted submissions from different parties, including Match Group, Alliance of Digital India Federation (ADIF), etc. The CCI has also called Google India officials to make their deposition.
When the Union government has set up a committee to regulate online gaming, Google’s latest announcement indicates the U.S.-based tech giant is testing the waters for online gaming in India while sticking to its policies on online gambling.