India okays 3-month trial of Krafton’s PUBG-inspired BGMI, a year after second ban

The South Korean giant Krafton has secured the approval from the Indian authorities to resume operations of Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), a popular India-focused battle royale mobile game that the firm launched after New Delhi banned the marquee offering PUBG in the South Asian market. BGMI was also later blocked by New Delhi.

Krafton has been engaging with New Delhi in recent weeks and received the approval to push ahead with the resumption of BGMI earlier this month, according to a person familiar with the matter. New Delhi has imposed some restrictions on how the BGMI app operates in India moving forward, according to two people familiar with the matter. Krafton did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s deputy IT minister, said New Delhi has granted BGMI a “trial approval” for three months after Krafton addressed concerns surrounding data security and location of its servers. “We will keep a close watch on other issues of user harm, addiction etc in next 3 months before a final decision is taken,” he said after the publication of story.

PUBG, and its modified avatar BGMI, were the most popular mobile titles in India before their ban. PUBG once boasted over 50 million monthly active users, surpassing all rivals across gaming platforms. The rise in popularity of PUBG also significantly led to the growth of e-sports market in India, also benefiting scores of other platforms including Rooter and Loco that stream those matches.

“We are highly grateful to the Indian authorities for allowing us to resume operations of Battlegrounds Mobile India. We would like to extend our gratitude to our Indian gaming community for their support and patience over the past few months,” Sean Hyunil Sohn, chief executive of Krafton India, said in a statement.

“We are excited to announce that Battlegrounds Mobile India will be available for download soon and we cannot wait to welcome you back to our platform. We believe in the power of gaming to bring people together and create unforgettable experiences. We are committed to delivering exceptional products and services to our users in India and beyond, and we look forward to continuing our journey with you.”

The move comes at a time when New Delhi is contemplating reversing a ban on a number of apps that it once deemed had links to China. Fashion giant Shein is also set to re-enter the Indian market in a partnership with local retail giant Reliance Retail, WSJ reported Thursday.

Amid geopolitical tension between India and China, which escalated in mid-2020 amid deadly skirmishes along the Himalayan border, New Delhi in response banned over 300 apps with links to China. The apps included Shein, PUBG, TikTok and UC Browser. New Delhi never officially classified the banned apps as Chinese.

Roby John, co-founder and chief executive of SuperGaming, a game developer, welcomed BGMI’s comeback to India. “We’re glad it’s coming back, gaming should be without boundaries,” he said. “It’s yet another signal that gaming and esports are the biggest opportunities in India and now, it comes with the recognition of the government as well. Hopefully, this jumpstarts Indian talent for a better and bigger games industry across content creation, esports, and of course, game development.”

Krafton has rushed to cut any perceived affiliation with China — severing ties with publishing giant Tencent and moving to Azure server in India — in recent years and relaunched PUBG with slight modifications and a new name — BGMI — last year. When New Delhi blocked the game yet again, in July 2022, it did not affect consumers who already had the app installed on their devices, according to people familiar with the matter.

“We would like to extend our gratitude to our Indian gaming community for their support and patience over the past few months,” Krafton said Friday.