Google allows existing real money game apps on Playstore to continue

AIGF dubs it arbitrary anti-competitive

PTI, Jun 22, 2024, 8:11 AM IST

Representative image (Source: Pexels)

New Delhi: Google on Friday extended the grace period indefinitely for existing online real money gaming on the Playstore, following which small gaming companies and startups accused the internet giant of engaging in arbitrary and anti-competitive practice.

The grace period will continue till the next update on Playstore policy for digital fantasy sports (DFS) and rummy apps.

When contacted, Google spokesperson said expanding support of real-money gaming apps in markets without a central licensing framework has proven more difficult than expected.

“We need additional time to get it right for our developer partners and the safety of our users. We’re working hard to develop a thoughtful framework — and in the meantime, in India, we are extending the grace period of the pilot programme so existing apps offering DFS and Rummy games can remain on Play and users can continue to enjoy them.

“We hope to have further updates in the coming months on a path forward,” the spokesperson said.

The Google Play Pilot Program for DFS and Rummy apps in India ended on September 28, 2023 and new apps can no longer be part of the pilot programme.

The latest move marks yet another instance of face-off between BigTech and startups in the online and digital space.

In September 2022, Google launched a pilot programme for distributing DFS and Rummy apps to users in India with select apps from Dream11, Games24x7, etc, (that command high market share) with promise that the new policy will take effect after June 30, 2024.

The company has now decided to extend the pilot as it is finding it challenging to develop a framework for real money games in countries like India where there is no licence framework available to manage them.

Indian gaming industry body All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) said the Google Play Store conservatively holds over 90 per cent of the app distribution market and they exert tremendous control over the Indian mobile market.

“We are extremely disappointed by Google’s arbitrary and anti-competitive decision. In this context, not having an inclusive policy and discriminating is a form of gatekeeping and market distortion.

“The disregard for Indian law, encouragement of anti-competitive practices, and limiting user choice by a private entity is alarming,” AIGF CEO Roland Landers said in a statement.

AIGF said it was initially concerned about Google’s decision to limit the pilot to certain gaming apps but believed that the same would eventually be expanded to include all skill-based Pay to Play games.

“Their (Google) decision grants them unchecked control to pick winners in the market, favouring large companies and preventing small and emerging startups from effectively competing in this sector,” Landers said.

He contended that the situation underscores the imminent need for ex-ante competition regulation and the swift implementation of the Digital Competition Bill.

Google had been at loggerheads with several Indian startups and digital entities over its PlayStore policies.

Antitrust body Competition Commission of India had previously ordered Google not to mandatorily enforce an earlier system of charging 15-30 per cent.

Google, thereafter, imposed a fee of 11-26 per cent on in-app payments.

Earlier this year, the company removed a large number of Indian apps from its Play Store like Bharat Matrimony, Naukri, Kuku FM, Shaadi, etc, for non-compliance with its in-app payment guidelines. It, however, restored the apps after the government’s intervention.

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