Google has recently announced to prolong the duration of a year-long pilot project (“Project”) involving permitting India-based real money game apps, to be available on Google’s Play Store. The project was originally scheduled to end by September 2023, however, the new deadline for the project is now set for January 2024.
The project was initiated to explore potential updates to Google’s policy regarding real money games, contests, and tournament apps. The Project allowed these apps to be available on the Google Play Store from September 28, 2022 and was initially set to conclude on September 28, 2023. The extension to January 2024, provides more time for Google to evaluate the impact of allowing these types of apps and consider any potential policy changes or adjustments related to real money gaming in India. This Project is likely a response to the evolving regulatory landscape surrounding online gaming and gambling in India, which has seen increased scrutiny and efforts to regulate various forms of online gaming, including real money games and fantasy sports.
As part of the Project, Google has restricted the distribution of online real-money games to India exclusively. Furthermore, the company specified that these apps must not utilize Google’s in-app billing system or be listed as paid apps on the app store. This unique arrangement explains why Google currently refrains from imposing fees on these apps, an exception from its usual practice with other applications on the Play Store. Prior to the introduction of this Project, Google had maintained a stringent policy disallowing the inclusion of real-money games on its Play Store platform.
The regulatory landscape for the online gaming industry in India has indeed witnessed significant changes, as the amendment to the Information Technology (Intermediary Rules and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules in 2021 may be recalled, which proposes the establishment of self-regulatory bodies (“SRB/s”). The decision on whether a real-money game, which involves the exchange of money, is allowed to operate in India or not will be determined by the SRBs. As regards this, Google has expressed its intention to facilitate the distribution of all online real money games verified by SRBs on Google Play, provided they adhere to the platform’s policies. As the company closely monitors developments related to the SRB framework for verifying permissible online real-money games in India, it is extending a grace period to existing apps under the pilot project. These apps will be allowed to continue their presence on Google Play until January 15, 2024, as long as they continue to comply with the terms of the Project. This move signifies Google’s commitment to align with evolving regulatory measures and to ensure a smooth transition for the online gaming ecosystem in India.