Ninong Ering, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) has requested the Indian government to ban Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) ahead of its launch. Ering is a former Minister of State for Minority Affairs and is currently a Congress MLA from the Pasighat West constituency in Arunachal Pradesh. In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Home Minister Amit Shah, he said that BGMI threatens the security of India and the privacy of its citizens. He called the announced launch of Battlegrounds Mobile India a "trick" to re-launch PUBG Mobile with minor modifications, done to collect user data from Indian citizens.
Ninong Ering alleged that companies including Krafton, Tencent, and PUBG India Pvt. Ltd were trying to “sidestep” Indian laws and “deceive” the Indian government by launching Battlegrounds Mobile India. He made multiple claims about the game and its developers. The full letter is available here.
Ering pointed out that Tencent has a 15.5% stake in Krafton and may soon have a majority stake and control.
Our research shows Krafton is indeed backed by gaming giant Tencent. According to Reuters, the Chinese gaming and technology giant holds a 15.5% stake in Krafton through an investment company and is the second-largest shareholder. Krafton’s largest shareholder is its founder, Chang Byung-gyu, who holds a 16.4 percent stake as of end-2020.
Ninong Ering’s claims about Tencent acquiring a majority stake in Krafton are a lot more debatable.
A report by the Korea Times published in November 2017 stated that Tencent was interested in fully acquiring Bluehole, the studio that developed PUBG PC. Bluehole would later establish Krafton as a holding company for all its video game properties.
Tencent eventually bought a larger stake at Krafton. According to a source quoted by the Korean Economic Daily in March 2021, Tencent was criticized for its heavy spending to buy a stake in Krafton. As a result, the company has allegedly changed its strategy and started investing in promising startups instead.
Ering also specified that Battlegrounds Mobile India’s Google Play Store package name contained the term ‘pubg.imobile,’ hinting towards BGMI’s possible ties to PUBG Mobile. As previously reported, this decision could have been done for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) reasons.
Ninong Ering stated that despite Krafton allegedly cutting ties with Tencent in India, the Chinese company is still the publisher and distributor of PUBG Mobile outside India. He also added,
“Krafton’s Indian employees, including its senior management team, are former Tencent employees who were miraculously all hired by Krafton in December last year and working on BGMI.”
In November 2020, Kumar Krishnan Iyer and Hyunil Sohn were registered as the directors of PUBG India Pvt. Ltd. The latter is the Head Of Corporate Development at Krafton / PUBG Corporation.
Additionally, the South Korean company did hire several executives over the last few months and has set up a local subsidiary in the country. A few of the hires were indeed Tencent alumni.
In December 2021, Krafton appointed Aneesh Aravind as the country manager for India. He previously served Tencent as the business head for South Asia for one year, and as the general manager in India for more than two years. He has also worked with KPMG, Tata Consultancy Services, Fujifilm, and Infosys in the past.
All four members appointed by Krafton had indeed previously worked at similar posts in Tencent.
According to their LinkedIn profiles,
Former CEO of YOOZOO Games India, Anuj Tandon, joined Krafton in February 2021. He was appointed as Krafton’s head of corporate development for India, the Middle East, and North Africa (MENA).
Krafton’s recent 164 Crore ($22.4 Million USD) investment in Indian esports tournament organizer, NODWIN Gaming was also cited as a security concern by Ninong Ering since the Indian tournament organizer “offers its services in Pakistan and has a team and administrators there.” Additionally, he also alleged that Nodwin Gaming works closely with Tencent and is reportedly expected to host the new game on its servers.
NODWIN Gaming* has hosted/continues to host multiple tournaments catering to gamers in Pakistan including the Dew Arena Pak and the Valorant Jazba Cup. However this is not evidently indicative of security concerns, and the specific details of this claim were not shared by the MLA.
NODWIN Gaming has also previously worked with Tencent in 2019 for the PUBG Mobile India Series (PMIS) Grand Finals to handle all live streams and content programming for the event. Tencent also collaborated with NODWIN Gaming in 2019 for both the PMCO Spring Split India and the PMCO Fall Split South Asia. So it is clear that they have had a working relationship in the past. NODWIN Gaming also continues to host Valorant tournaments. Valorant is an FPS title from Riot Games, a North American studio that is fully owned by Tencent.
However, neither NODWIN Gaming nor Krafton have stated that the former will be hosting the servers within the country.
When Krafton took over the publishing duties for PUBG mobile in India, it signed a deal with Microsoft to Use Microsoft Azure for PUBG, PUBG Mobile Data Storage and Security. As of now, the only information about the BGMI server that has been officially communicated is that it will be based in India and Singapore, with the Microsoft Azure cloud platform being applied to protect the players' data.
Furthermore, the Arunachal Pradesh MLA alleged that BGMI is just PUBG Mobile relaunched under a different name by Krafton. He goes on to say,
“The gameplay, features, and other aspects will be the same. Krafton has also added maps from PUBG in the re-launched game and the weapons will also be the same with just new names.”
Krafton has not officially revealed any information about Battlegrounds Mobile India's gameplay, weapons, maps, or any other features. Data miners and leakers have also not been able to publish any information on BGMI’s features. So these allegations are either speculative in nature or are based on confidential data obtained by the former minister.
Tencent and Krafton are interlinked with each other owing to the former’s large investment. Tencent also reportedly holds about 10.9 percent shares in the holding company of Dream11 Fantasy Pvt Ltd, Flipkart (a reported 5% stake), and an undisclosed stake in the holding company of Byju’s. A cursory glance of these companies' privacy policies did not show any specific language regarding international data transfers, although they do broadly cover data sharing policies with third parties and commercial partners.
Ninong Ering emphasized that there were other risks aside from potential breaches of privacy and cybersecurity. According to him, risks such as addiction, harm, and deaths that have been seen in PUBG before will probably return with its relaunch.
Although the World Health Organization classified video game addiction as a mental disorder, it is a highly contested claim. The American Psychiatric Association has stated there is not "sufficient evidence" to consider video game addiction as a "unique mental disorder." And despite popular and political suggestions to the contrary, "there is insufficient scientific evidence to support a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior," according to the American Psychological Association.
BGMI has stated that there will also be restrictions in place which limit the blood and gore in the game. According to the game’s terms of service, spending restrictions and playtime restrictions will also be implemented for minors.
PUBG Mobile and 117 other apps were blocked in 2020 by the Indian government deeming these apps to be prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India. All of the apps that were banned were made by Chinese developers. The new game by Korean studio Krafton is allegedly being launched with privacy and data security being top priorities.
The studio has stated that it will be working with partners to ensure player data is protected and secured at each state and all privacy rights will be respected. The announcement revealed that “all data collection and storage will be in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in India and for players here.”
According to IGN India’s sources, as long as Battlegrounds Mobile India adheres to the rules in regards to data and privacy, it is unlikely that it would encounter any issues with its release.
NODWIN Gaming and Krafton did not respond to AFK Gaming's requests for comments at the time of publishing.
Disclosure: NODWIN Gaming is a minority investor in and a client of AFK Gaming.
Edit note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Anuj Tandon was CEO of YOOZOO Games. This has been corrected to state that he was CEO of YOOZOO Games India.