Gaming industry needs transparent, clearer rules: Octro

Card game from Indian online gaming platform Octro
(Image credit: Octro)

The worst year for the world may be the best year for the gaming platforms.

To beat the tedium of being holed up within their homes, many people sought the diversion that online gaming platforms provided.

Like elsewhere, in India, too the gaming industry thrived, and it got further impetus with the ban on a few popular Chinese gaming apps including PUBG Mobile.

Yet, it was not all easy going for the industry as some State governments thought it fit to ban online gaming platforms in their respective States on the grounds that they (online games) encouraged gambling and, in cases, have also led to suicides. 

This ban in one State, and kosher in another, is what is worrying the industry. "We desire clearer and transparent laws that do not have room for ambiguity," says Manav Sethi, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Octro Inc, in an exclusive chat with TechRadar India.

He adds predictable regulatory regime will help the companies to know where they stand and also help in scalable investments in the gaming startup industry. "These investments in gaming startups are good for economy at large and for entire internet universe."

Octro promises safe gaming ecosystem

Octro's words of commitment

"We are committed to building a safe ecosystem and addressing challenges like irresponsible gaming and fraud".

Octro is of course the largest mobile gaming company in India with games like Teen Patti, Indian Rummy and Tambola being amongst the top ten apps across Apple iOS, Google Play, and Windows Phone 8 platforms.    

Manav Sethi said companies like his are interested in creating an ecosystem that is safe and secure at multiple levels. "We have some stringent guidelines in place at Octro," he said.

But the general feeling in India is through online gaming, innocent people, mainly youngsters, are being cheated. And in a few case, they are also alleged to have been pushed to suicide.

There are many public interest litigations in many Indian courts against online games claiming that "they cause behavioural and mental changes,  prevent other hobbies, lead to poor academic performance, lethargic nature leading to weight gain. Gaming addiction can slow down brain growth and negatively affects eyesight and also results in insomnia."

But Manav countered that by saying: "We are committed to building a safe ecosystem and addressing challenges like irresponsible gaming and fraud." He asserted that legalised online gaming set-up will help encourage improve a reliable revenue channel for governments.

Greys in laws governing gaming platforms

Manav alluded to the greys in the legal framework in India for the gaming industry.

The Indian online gaming industry is projected to become a one billion dollar industry by 2021. It is also becoming an important source of social engagement and revenue generation.

As India is a mobile-first country, more than 90% of online gamers play games on their phones. In 2019, around 5.6 billion mobile gaming apps were downloaded in India – the highest in the world and representing nearly 13% of gaming apps globally.

But the legality of fantasy sports and online card games in India is dependent on whether the game qualifies as a 'game of skill' or a 'game of chance'. Games of chance fall under the ambit of gambling and are thereby restricted by State gambling laws. However, games involving considerable and substantial degree of skill (mathematically, more than 50%) fall outside the scope of gambling laws and hence are legal in India.

But this 'games of skill' argument is what has made courts to allow horse racing and card games such as rummy and poker so far. But when some State governments are banning them in one place, and allowing in other places, there is bound to be confusion. In any case, the geographical restriction for online games is not effective. 

That is what companies like Octro are fighting against.

Manav Sethi, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Octro Inc

Manav Sethi, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Octro Inc (Image credit: Octro)

Manav and his company feel that banning the array of opportunities that skill-based games bring to the country is not right. "There is a need to formulate or introduce robust regulations for licensing regime to make sure transparent online activities are monitored," he said. 

Luckily for Octro and other gaming companies, Niti Aayog, Indian government's policy think-tank, has recommended the setting up of a single self-regulatory body for online fantasy sports in India. Its draft report seems to suggest bringing in uniformity in terms of operating standards.

Octro has 200+ million users

It is games like Tambola that Octro hopes to take it across the globe and make it popular worldwide.

Manav Sethi

Octro is enhancing its technology infrastructure, as Manav said, to provide fastest real time scalable game engine and capturing data in high definition. Our aim is to make the game experience better, he added.

With almost 200+ million users, Octro is among the top echelons of the gaming industry in India. Its Teen Patti is a big draw, and has over 150 million users. Rummy is another card game in its stable that has over 35 million user base (both social and real money variations).

Manav said that Octro’s Tambola app is another popular game. It has seen over 50 per cent growth in user base. It has had over a million plus installs.

Soccer battles is another Octro game that is gaining traction now.

It is games like these that Manav hopes to take it across the globe and make it popular worldwide.

"We want to create more global IPs that can be taken to 200 markets and can be localised in 20 languages," he added.

Among others, Octro is funded by Sequoia Capital that invested $15 million in 2014. Octro's revenue stream is third-party advertisers and in-app products sales, the company is streamlining it further to improve its bottom-line. 

Manav said our endeavour is to innovate with new games and also improve our existing games and features and provide the best and safest experience to our users.

Balakumar K
Senior Editor

Over three decades as a journalist covering current affairs, politics, sports and now technology. Former Editor of News Today, writer of humour columns across publications and a hardcore cricket and cinema enthusiast. He writes about technology trends and suggest movies and shows to watch on OTT platforms.