WinZO has challenged Google’s recent Playstore policy (Play Store – Pilot for DFS & Rummy) in the Delhi High Court for the selective inclusion of only Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Rummy on the Google Play Store, leaving out a large segment of skill gaming platforms and indie developers. WinZO seeks restraint against Google from implementing the arbitrary classification which will impact the reputation of WinZo’s business. WinZO is among many other industry players, such as MPL and Zupee, among others, who have called the policy arbitrary, unfair and restrictive. It believes that Google’s policy can lead to distortions in the competitive Indian gaming ecosystem by resulting in unparalleled access to the 2.5 billion monthly active users across 190 countries where the Google Play Store is available. This will result in benefiting only a handful of players who are already in monopoly for over a decade. The update is not only seen as anti-competitive but also as a death-knell to innovation.
Every other app store of the country including the Apple Store, Vivo, Oppo, MI Store allows all skill gaming products that are protected uniformly under the Constitution of India. Google, however, till date, did not allow any game with a pay to play format on the Google Play Store. It is noteworthy that Google Playstore is the largest app distribution platform owning 97 per cent market share in India, which is an Android-centric market. On 7 September 2022, Google announced an update in its longstanding policy, and decided to allow Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Rummy products on the Playstore in a year-long pilot starting 28 September 2022. After the announcement by Google, the E-Gaming Federation CEO Sameer Barde, previously known as ‘The Online Rummy Federation’, had gone on record to state that this move “help legitimate skill gaming operators grow while eliminating unscrupulous fly-by-night operators” – almost implying that companies excluded in the pilot are not legitimised.
Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) director general Joy Bhattacharya went on record to make the differentiation to state that Google Playstore is allowing games “recognised by the Supreme Court of India as regular business activities.” Many players who are not included in this ‘pilot’ stated that this selective inclusion would be seen as almost a legitimization of only a select format over constitutionally protected and recognised games of skill such as chess, carrom, Cricket among many other games. While Google would facilitate seamless hassle free installation of DFS and Rummy products from its Playstore without any warning, other skill gaming apps distributed through their websites, would be showing a dire and false warning citing “this type of file may harm your device” when a user would try to download any other pay to play game which is forcefully excluded from this pilot. This is going to be the death of fair market practices and extremely discriminatory for innovative developers working on projects outside DFS and Rummy.
Casual gaming segment and multi-gaming platforms which host other games of skill such as chess, pool, racing, among others cater to 85 per cent of game downloads and user base. Countries such as United Kingdoms, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and 45 states of the United States of America differentiate between popular games of skill like chess, carrom, virtual racing games, virtual combat games, which do not require any licenses, and DFS and poker, whose offering necessarily requires licenses in these countries. In India, the Regulation of Online Skill Games Act, Nagaland, 2015, similarly defines games of skill on the basis of tests laid down by the Supreme Court, and provides an indicative list of such games, such as virtual sports including virtual soccer, virtual cricket, virtual pool, solitaire, chess, and sudoku.
In the KR Lakshmanan vs State of Tamil Nadu (which most of the Rummy Companies cite for legality), the Supreme Court inferred Rummy as being a game of skill, and explicitly drew an analogy to other games of skill, like chess and golf.
Reacting to Google’s Updated policies and challenge to the same, WinZO Games co founder Saumya Singh Rathore, said, “Google Play, as a market leader, has a duty to act in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner. There does not seem to be a reason for selecting only DFS and Rummy. There is no engagement with industry to find out the dynamics. There is no evaluation of the impact that is likely to result from such a clearly discriminatory and arbitrary classification. Above all, we fail to understand as to how Google is being permitted to select that within a set of legal/legitimate businesses, only two will be onboarded and the others, excluded.”
He added, “This policy will not only reduce the marketing cost for players in monopoly to 1/4th of their earlier spends but also create a false perception of legitimation of DFS and Rummy over all other games such as carrom, chess, quiz, and so on. In the fast evolving sunrise sector, gaming, a level playing field is key to innovation and success. Year-long pilot is detrimental to thousands of companies and can lead to irreversible market distortion of a fast moving gaming tech industry, leading to death of many players as the strong gets stronger.”
So, WinZO seeks an injunction restraining Google from implementing its revised Playstore policy. And a ruling that Google must change its policy to allow all apps offering games of skill on its Playstore and not just a select few. WinZO argues that Google’s policy is arbitrary and restrictive, that it unfairly favours only two types of games: DFS and Rummy, is unfair competition, and wrongfully interferes with WinZO’s business causing business and commercial injury. Moreover, the policy casts doubt over Google’s stated position as an intermediary, who are obliged to law to maintain platform neutrality.