PUBG Mobile is without a doubt, the biggest game in India right now. With an estimated user base of around 50 million players, India is supposedly Tencent's largest market for PUBG Mobile outside of China. At launch, PUBG Mobile was a barebones affair, with just a single map. Over time, the game has taken a life of its own, with bespoke updates and tie-ups with the likes of BAPE and Resident Evil 2 and has become its own beast, quite different from PUBG on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Aside from zombie modes, unique cosmetic items, and getting new maps first, PUBG Mobile now has something the other versions lack — Prime and Prime Plus subscriptions. Prime and Prime Plus subscriptions for PUBG Mobile grant users access to a host of extras. These include the ability to rent new gear for a period of seven or 30 days or buy them outright, as well as gain discounts on a host of items.
The biggest draw is the Unknown Cash or UC that you get. In PUBG Mobile, UC is tough to come by and either subscription gives you a steady supply of it. Although there's a catch. You will have to login daily to claim it.
Now, logging in for rewards is an established practice in gaming. Be it free-to-play titles like Clash of Clans or big budget AAA games like Monster Hunter World, login rewards exist to keep players coming back. They're sometimes referred to as retention bonuses, giving players a reason to return to a game ever so often.
However, PUBG Mobile doesn't have a retention problem. Rather, it's issue is quite the opposite. It has an addiction problem.
In the last few months, PUBG Mobile has been banned in Gujarat schools, seen several individuals being arrested for playing it in cities like Rajkot, and has allegedly been responsible for the suicide of a Mumbai youth.
Furthermore, an 11-year-old boy has taken Tencent to court in Mumbai claiming that the game promotes violence and cyber-bullying.
In light of all of this, Tencent stated weeks ago that it would be considering a "reasonable solution" for "responsible gaming". This resulted in a new Health Reminder feature that limited playtime based on user age, locking players out of the game.
After a tremendous amount of backlash over its inclusion from its Indian audience, it was removed in just two days with the Chinese company saying it was added erroneously.
Industry sources tell Gadgets 360 that this apparent “error" was in actuality, an effort from the company to regulate play time given calls for banning it outright in the country. Tencent did not respond to our request for comment.
That said, with the addition of Prime and Prime Plus subscriptions that have been designed to keep players coming back, it seems that Tencent isn't sincere about its attempts to regulate player time. That's not even counting the numerous challenges, events, and Royale Pass in-game purchase, all of which give users a reason to come back anyway.
Before PUBG Mobile Prime and Prime Plus subscriptions were added, PUBG Mobile addiction was a concern. To the point where it was name checked by PM Modi in an interaction with students and parents.
You'd think the game designers, product managers, and producers at Tencent would be a little more cognisant of what's needed for the Indian market, aside from adding rickshaws and kurta pyjama skins.
By adding Prime and Prime Plus subscriptions which incentivise logging in daily, the lack of sensitivity or even self-preservation from Tencent is evident. In fact, it opens up the doors for regulation too. More so when you consider that PUBG Mobile's addictive loop of shooting and looting has ensnared even those who aren't children or students.
It's as if PUBG Mobile is being run to make as much money as possible in as short a timespan all while not keeping in mind the possible repercussions on its audience, society, and even the games industry as a whole.
One could argue that with a base of 200 million players globally, and few revenue opportunity options in its home base of China, where regulations and restrictions are aplenty, this move is necessary from a business standpoint. But when playing PUBG Mobile can get you arrested, Tencent would do well to realise it has a massive problem on its hands, own up to it, and try to fix what it has wrought instead of trying to profit from it in such a manner.
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