Gaming ideal advertising medium for sports and live events now: Roland Landers, AIGF

Roland Landers, CEO, and Dhruv Garg, Tech & Policy Lawyer and Legal Advisor, All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) talk about the Madras High Court verdict overturning the rummy and poker ban, the implication of 28% GST on the gaming fraternity, the gaming trends of 2023 and a lot more.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyDec 15, 2023 8:03 AM
Gaming ideal advertising medium for sports and live events now: Roland Landers, AIGF
Roland Landers says, "AIGF has been trying to bring online skill gaming, particularly the pay-to-play side of skill gaming, to the Centre’s attention." (Representative Image: Javier Martínez via Unsplash)

With gaming emerging as the best medium for advertising and sponsorship, at least as far as sport and live events are concerned, it’s a win-win situation for media houses and gaming companies, says Roland Landers, chief executive officer, All India Gaming Federation (AIGF).

While media houses are able to send different packages to different sets of advertisers based on their requirements and objectives, gaming companies are getting to address and reach the right audience, Landers tells Storyboard18.

Storyboard18 also talked to Dhruv Garg, tech & policy lawyer, and legal advisor to AIGF, who says revenue from casual gaming or AAA gaming for games made in India will increase in the coming years.

Both of them also touched upon the recently formed Game Bureau.

Edited excerpts:

The Madras High Court has overturned the ban on rummy and poker. Along with A23, Games24x7, Games Kraft and Junglee Rummy, AIGF welcomed the judgment. How would this judgment impact the gaming fraternity?

Landers: There have been a series of high court verdicts which said that even if games are played for money, it won’t amount to betting and gambling.

In fact, we have seen many states attempting amendments to the law, trying to equate pay-to-play skill gaming with gambling.

Now, with the latest verdict, the stakeholders – whether they are investors, gamers, gaming platforms, or networks -- are convinced that they are in the right business.

AIGF has been trying to bring online skill gaming, particularly the pay-to-play side of skill gaming, to the Centre’s attention.

Garg: I think the high court has basically said that online games of skill are different from games of chance.

Very recently, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have struck down laws prohibiting online gaming. There are legal challenges in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana on the same issue.

Starting October 1, 28 percent GST was imposed on the real-money gaming industry. How has it impacted the gaming industry so far? How has GST impacted investments, especially from international players?

Landers: When we look at the Indian online gaming ecosystem, it is being self-regulated by AIGF, the apex industry body.

Clarity was sought on two matters. One was on a proper regulatory structure that oversees the self-regulatory process. The second was on taxation, both direct and indirect.

As far as direct taxation is concerned, we were able to work with the tax department and come to a consensus. As far as indirect tax is concerned, there is clarity on the way it needs to be done.

The increase in indirect taxation is going to be much higher. And 18 percent was paid on the gross gaming revenue (GGR). Under the new regime, it is paid on the initial deposit.

The impact is that the tax to the government will be much higher. Now, there is clarity. People who would want to open new businesses know for a fact that this is the way indirect taxation is going to happen, this is the valuation and this is the rate.

This will help them to better prepare their business plans. AIGF has more than 100 members. Some at the lower end of the spectrum have been impacted. Some companies have changed their business models, and have changed their focus areas.

I think, from a high-level perspective, we feel it is a positive as far as clarity is concerned. We are also hopeful that there is going to be a review in probably six months. In the initial period, the investor community was a little confused. Right now, it looks as if the stakeholders have settled down. We are yet to know see the overall impact because it is still early days.

Garg: While the industry would have liked the continuation of 18 percent of GGR, which was a strong push by AIGF, we have to look out for the positives. There is now certainty. Previously, there were three things that were uncertain – TDS, regulation and GST.

The TDS issue was solved early this year. As far as regulation is concerned, the rules that were implemented early this year were super helpful. And eventually, we're moving towards a federal regulation.

The last piece, where investors were a little hesitant, was the whole GST issue. Within the next year or so, there will be a lot more investment coming into the sector again. Investments had dried up in the last year or year and a half.

Recently, AIGF and Neokred Technologies unveiled the Game Bureau to elevate online gaming security. How has the online gaming security scenario been in India? How would the Game Bureau uphold the security concerns of the online gaming industry?

Landers: The industry is self-regulated by the AIGF, through what we call the ‘Skill Games Charter’. The charter is quite comprehensive and covers most aspects of the business from a perspective of player protection and responsible gaming. More or less, it has held the industry so far.

All the stakeholders, mainly the gaming operators, have to adhere to the ‘Skill Games Charter’. It ensures responsible gaming.

We have now further strengthened the cause. One of the areas that was important and that was not fully addressed was to have a system that identified fraudulent gamers. AIGF is acting as a Game Bureau, along with Neokred, which would identify such gamers.

Right now, there is no such system, and frauds who use somebody else's UPI or commit such other frauds escape scot-free.

If I am, let's say debarred from one platform, I would easily go to another and start playing. But this bureau is going to create a comprehensive pool where those people would be identified and then the info would be shared with all gaming companies.

Garg: I think bigger companies do substantial amount of work on security and safety. Although smaller companies do that work, they face that crunch when it comes to doing the kind of work that someone like MPL (Mobile Premier League), Zupee or others would be able to do. So I think there was a demand from the industry for the longest time to have a central database.

So this is the first step in that direction that the AIGF has taken with Neokred. We're working on how we can make it very robust while making sure that we have a central database to ensure that concerns like data protection and privacy are addressed.

Could you explain the role of programmatic media buying in online gaming?

Garg: Let's say a match is coming up or there are some shows. You go to the channel either directly or through an agency and you buy certain slots and pay certain money. What is happening with programmatic media buying is there is real-time bidding.

For example, if there's an India-Pakistan match and I see there are a lot of viewers there, the channels for that match may open real-time bidding. So if I have the resources, I can actually bid against someone else and get that spot.

Similarly, there is a lot more targeted advertising. Traditionally, the way we used to do it in most cases was that if it's coming on a particular channel and if I give my ad, that same ad is shown throughout India. But now, what is happening, especially with OTTs and digital platforms is that it has become a lot more granular.

The gaming industry, being one of the biggest advertisers, has been experimenting with this for the past few years. But, it's still early stages. We will see a lot more of this happening in the years to come.

Landers: Gaming has emerged at the forefront of advertising and sponsorship, at least as far as sport and live events are concerned. Media houses are able to send different packages to different sets of advertisers based on their requirements and objectives. For the gaming companies, it works well because they are getting to address and reach the right audience.

The important thing for gaming is the acquisition of customers followed by their retention.

From that perspective, these kinds of programmatic techniques and technology that have come into play are benefiting greatly. And most of the big gaming companies have been using it effectively.

What were the gaming trends you witnessed this year? What are your predictions for 2024?

Landers: From an AIGF perspective, what we are seeing from a very macro level is that there are game developers. We are seeing a lot of innovation in the game development side, which is a good thing.

Some people are continuing to attempt what India lacks right now, which is the creation of a AAA-rated game (As per Wikipedia, it is used to classify video games produced and distributed by a mid-sized or major publisher, which typically have higher development and marketing budgets than other tiers of games.) Now, these games generate revenues, which is equivalent to the India gaming revenue. Attempts are being made and very soon we should have them.

It's a great opportunity for us to develop, and then we can expand it. Within the skill gaming industry, there is a lot of innovation. There are also things happening in Web3 space and the overall entertainment side of things.

I think these are a couple of things that we see. For 2024, the growth trajectory that the industry has shown will continue. In fact we will be collating some numbers for the FICCI Frames report for the industry. Overall, the India revenue, which is currently is about $3.1 billion, will increase.

The number of those adopting gaming as a preferred destination for entertainment, is going to go up. We had envisaged about 500 billion by 2025. I think that should be accomplished.

Garg: I think, in 2024-2025, given the increased tax burden on the pay-to-play industry, we will see casual gaming increasing in India. The FICCI report is already showing that. But it is still substantially small, like more than 70 percent of the revenue still comes from the pay-to-play or real money gaming sector.

While we believe it will continue to be substantial and over 50 percent for at least the next decade, we think that revenue from casual gaming or AAA gaming for games made in India will increase in the coming years.

First Published on Dec 15, 2023 7:50 AM

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