India blocked a popular battle-royale format game from Krafton Inc, a South Korean company backed by China’s Tencent, using a law it has invoked since 2020 to ban Chinese apps on national security concerns, a source said.
Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) was removed from Alphabet Inc’s Google Play Store and Apple Inc’s App Store as of Thursday evening in India.
The removal of BGMI, which had more than 100 million users in India, comes after India’s 2020 ban of another Krafton title, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).
The PUBG crackdown was part of New Delhi’s ban of more than 100 mobile apps of Chinese origins, following a months-long border standoff between the nuclear-armed rivals.
The ban has expanded since to cover more than 300 apps, including popular gaming app ‘Free Fire’, owned by Singapore’s technology group Sea Ltd.
Tencent held a 13.5% stake in Krafton as of end-March through an investment vehicle, according to Krafton’s regulatory filing.
Krafton shares slumped more than 9% on the news on Friday, later paring losses to trade down 4.5% as of afternoon trade in Seoul. The company said in May India accounted for a high single digit percentage of its revenue in the first quarter of this year.
A Google spokesperson said it blocked the game following a government directive, while India’s IT ministry and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
In Seoul, a Krafton spokesperson said the developer was talking to relevant authorities and companies to figure out the exact situation regarding the suspension in the two major app stores in India.
“The government does not intervene in which apps can function and which cannot. They intervene in digital security and privacy concerns, and BGMI complies with all guidelines. MeitY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) has also noted that PUBG and BGMI are different games,” Krafton’s India CEO Sean Hyunil Sohn told news portal TechCrunch earlier this week.
India invoked a section of its IT law to impose the ban, the source, who had direct knowledge but declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters.
Section 69A of India’s IT law allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security, among other reasons. Orders issued under the section are generally confidential in nature.
Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and non-profit Prahar had repeatedly asked the government to investigate “China influence” of BGMI, Prahar president Abhay Mishra said. SJM is the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an influential Hindu nationalist group close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party.
“In the so-called new avatar, the BGMI was no different from erstwhile PUBG with Tencent still controlling it in the background,” Mishra said.
The ban elicited strong online reactions from popular gamers in India on Twitter and YouTube.
“I hope our government understands that thousands of esports athletes and content creators and their life is dependent on BGMI,” tweeted Abhijeet Andhare, a Twitter user with more than 92,000 followers.