PUBG arrests: Fortnite rival seizes India
12 April 2019
At first glance, it's just another video game. But the battlefields of PlayerUnknown (PUBG) - Fortnite's rival who stormed India - are now arresting people as authorities try to repress a game they believe is becoming a danger to those who play it. Supreet Aneja is trying to figure out why he's so addicted.
"Is he a PUBG player?" Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laughed when a worried mother said her son was obsessed with online gambling at a student event in the capital Delhi a few months ago.
His question was a laugh for the crowd: after all, everyone heard about PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), an online multiplayer game that has made headlines across the country in recent months.
But some people don't laugh. Gambling has been banned in some Indian cities such as Rajkot, where 16 people were arrested last week. The reason?
"This leads to a violent attitude among young people," explains the prohibition notice.
At the same time, officials in the western state of Goa, who called for the adoption of a law to crack down on PUBG, called it a "demon in every house" after a series of alarming stories.
In particular, they reported on an 18-year-old boy in the city of Mumbai who committed suicide a few weeks ago because he could not get a smartphone compatible with popular gaming, while others reported cases of intimidation, theft and self-mutilation.
But are their concerns justified - or is it just hysteria?
How popular is the game in India?
Incredibly. The mobile version has had more than 100 million downloads so far.
Lokesh Suji, director of the Indian Federation of Electronic Sports, said that low prices for smartphones and data have fuelled the game's popularity.
"Fortnite, a competing game, could not be launched on Android, unlike PUBG, which is an important factor," he added.
The numbers may sound impressive, but remember that India is a massive smartphone market, with 830 million users expected by 2012.
The country is among the top five markets for mobile gaming and more than 40% of users spend an hour every hour playing games on their phones.
However, it is not only the numbers downloaded that download the game, but the time they spend on it. A recent survey revealed that PUBG enthusiasts in India spend about eight hours a day in sport.
"I miss classes to play several times in the game," student Himanshu Kumar told the BBC, adding that he had found the game more addictive than other similar products.
So why do Indians like PUBG?
Game experts believe that its voice chat feature, which allows players to chat with their team while playing, helps them stand out.
"This feature makes PUBG more interactive than many other games, since you can really make friends while playing," noted Mr. Kumar.
For Gunjit Gandhi, another frequent PUBG player, the game is incredibly user-friendly and accessible for mobiles.
"I've never seen such realistic graphics and chat functionality on a mobile game before. Such features are normally found in computer games, which require more time and effort," he said.
The enthusiasm generated by the game could also generate more interest in India's emerging e-sport industry.
"PUBG is one of the reasons why we have seen an increase in the power of the game that has helped our sector to develop," said Mr. Suji, who heads the E-Sports Federation of India..