Conference Room No.1007, Ministry of Electronics and IT, Electronics Niketan, 6 CGO Complex, New Delhi will be the venue of a landmark meeting on June 7 that could change the way the online gaming business is conducted in India. (More Sports News)
This is the first time a clutch of important Central ministries have shown interest to make the online gaming operators conduct their businesses in a regulated manner. Apart from MeitY, the meeting will be attended by representatives of the Home, Information and Broadcasting, sports and youth affairs and NITI Aayog.
"The Central government has recognised the contribution of the skilled online games industry of approximately creating over 2 lakh jobs and reaching an economy of USD 2 Billion in just five years. I do believe these are the first steps toward ring-fencing sectors with high potential so that they can be nurtured and their full potential harnessed for the country’s good," said Amrit Kiran Singh of top rummy company, Gameskraft.
In the last two years or so, the online gaming business has suffered from court battles, state bans, indiscriminate lobbying and a general tendency towards monopolisation by killing competition.
This has only led to considerable bad blood among operators which ultimately saw top operators like MPL and My11Circle withdrawing from the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, a private body founded by India's leading fantasy operator, Dream11.
Online gaming business is a controversial subject in India. Although it is projected to become a 2 billion USD industry by 2023, lack of regulations and the absence of a level playing field is threatening to choke an industry that thrives on innovation.
According to the Indian constitution, online gaming is a state subject. Several states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are against online games like rummy and poker that are played with stakes. This has led to protracted court battles that have now reached the Supreme Court but gathering dust.
Recently, the Rajasthan government's draft Bill on gaming has created heatburn among operators, who see it as an unfair attempt to favour only one section of the business - fantasy sports.
On Saturday, even the esports fraternity objected to the draft Rajasthan Bill that clubs pure skill games like esports with fantasy games where the 'chance' element cannot be completely ignored.
In this climate of tumult, MeitY has shown timely interest to regulate matters. Insiders say that the Prime Minister's Office has been diligently observing the online gaming scene and wants to introduce some kind of order in a business that has immense possibilities.
SWIMMING AMONG SHARKS
The participation of top ministries, especially Home, I&B and Sports, is a sure sign that the central government is keen to introduce fairplay and remove the legal ambiguities.
Interestingly, NITI Aayog had taken an initiative two years ago but operators objected to the fact that the commission's draft was heavily skewed towards fantasy and ignored other online pay-to-play games. That draft subsequently went to the cold storage.
The GST issue notwithstanding, this palpable preference towards fantasy sports (read: cricket) seems to be a bone of contention as it is seen to be ruining competition in a burgeoning gaming business.
"Government support in creating a fair and stable regulation that recognises all games of skills and not just a format can unlock the massive potential we have been sitting on for the last few years and this is a one in million years opportunity," said Saumya Singh Rathore of Winzo.
WALK THE TALK?
Tuesday's post-lunch meeting is scheduled for two hours. It will start with a context setting speech by MeitY secretary Alkesh Kumar Sharma. Participants will be all ears to what Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MoS, MeitY, says. His ministry may finally lead the team that will formulate a unique strategy and gameplan for all to follow.
In an updated schedule released by MeitY on Monday, the talk to be given by Rameesh Kailasam, the CEO of Indiatech.org, has been dropped. Sources say, participants objected to a standalone speech by Kailasam. Now the interaction with industry stakeholders will span 65 minutes and several owners are expecting a fair chance to put forth their views. Major gaming bodies like the All India Gaming Federation and E-Gaming Federation are also expected to speak.
"I hope that the ministry officials conduct widest possible consultation with all stakeholders from the industry without excluding representatives from any game or vertical. The Central government should give an assurance to all stakeholders that it will come up with a fair and balanced regulatory framework in a timebound manner," said Jay Sayta, a technology and gaming lawyer.
While most top operators are adopting a wait-and-watch policy, it is not hard to guess what the majority of the industry will want.
If the Central government sticks to its mantra of backing innovative start-ups and promoting fairplay in business, then the online gaming industry in India could become a happier place where growth will be directly proportional to tolerance, competition and legally fair operations.