The Indian government on July 28 asked Apple and Google to remove Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) from their app stores, a year after it launched in the country. Our research shows that the popular battle royale game published by South Korean company Krafton is no longer available for download. The request follows multiple allegations against the game being a rebranded version of PUBG Mobile, which was banned in September 2020 for national security reasons. These concerns were recently raised in the Indian Parliament, with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) stating that BGMI is a different app from PUBG Mobile, suggesting that it is not a national security issue. It’s unclear what changed to make MeitY pull the app.
While the government has not issued a statement to confirm that the game is permanently banned, Reuters reported that MeitY’s title was drawn using Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, the same law used to ban 321 mobile apps since June 2020. BGMI is the 57th game drawn as a result of this regulation. The bans primarily target mobile apps from China, citing national security risks in particular. BGMI’s shutdown comes just 5 months after the ban of Garena Free Fire, until then the most popular battle royale game in India.
Krafton launched BGMI after PUBG Mobile was banned
MeitY originally banned PUBG Mobile in September 2020 due to national security and privacy issues that followed, but not necessarily as a result of border tensions with China. While PUBG IP is owned by Krafton, PUBG Mobile was developed and published in India by Chinese gaming giant Tencent. At the time of its ban, PUBG Mobile was the #1 game in India in terms of both revenue and downloads and was a major driver of the growth of mobile gaming in the country. The ban had a profound impact on the battle royale segment and the broader gaming ecosystem, with unmet demand being satisfied by Garena Free Fire over time.
Krafton announced in November 2020 that it would bring its core battle royale experience back to India, with BGMI launching in July 2021. Krafton made a full commitment to the Indian market by launching the title self-published and local servers to store user data securely and in-country and announced it will invest over $100 million in the Indian gambling, e-sports and , entertainment and IT industries, which has happened. Given the popularity of battle royale games in the country, the game saw very high adoption at launch with 40 million pre-launch registrations and 16 million daily active users for the first 10 days.
BGMI had over 100 million downloads in its first year
BGMI was a huge success for Krafton and the title was on track to hit the 200 million download mark that PUBG Mobile had reached prior to its ban in September 2020. The title had quickly become the #2 highest-grossing mobile game in India and its 2022 earnings should surpass PUBG Mobile’s peak year. BGMI has also grown to become the leading esports title in India, with Krafton investing heavily in the space to build the Battlegrounds Mobile India Pro Series, an official league for Indian teams with a $260,000 prize pool.
According to Niko’s Asia Esports Tracker, BGMI is the #1 title by prize pool in India, with its total prize pool accounting for 35% of total prize pool revenue for all local and regional esports tournaments in 2022. The game has also received massive support from streamers, esports organizations and teams with high participation in major events. The BGMI Masters Series LAN event was also the first tournament to be televised live on Indian television, drawing 12.3 million viewers.
How this is affecting the Indian mobile gaming market
If BGMI does not return to the app stores, we believe it could have a significant impact on the near-term growth rate of the Indian mobile gaming market and esports ecosystem. Battle royale is the most popular mobile game genre by player spend in India, according to Sensor Tower data, accounting for over 1/3 of total mobile game spend in 2021. BGMI and Free Fire accounted for over 95% of total mobile battle royale spend in 2021 and H1 2022, but both titles were removed from app stores this year. However, Niko’s research shows that Free Fire MAX, a high-end version of Free Fire by Garena, is still available on Google Play. It’s unclear how MAX still works on Google Play, but the MAX version wasn’t specifically included in the blacklist that banned Free Fire.
There will also be negative impacts on the broader BGMI ecosystem, particularly in the esports and live streaming space. Daily players will now be looking for a new title to play, and we expect most will move to Free Fire MAX, assuming the title keeps going. Call of Duty: Mobile (Activision Blizzard) could also benefit given its strong position in the market as an established shooter game with a battle royale mode that consistently ranks in the top ten gaming revenue charts. Apex Legends Mobile (Electronic Arts), New State (Krafton – title was formerly PUBG New State) and Farlight 84 (Lilith Games) are key battle royale games that could also benefit, but we’re finding that these titles aren’t doing so established ones like Call of Duty Mobile and Free Fire MAX.