Monday , August 8 2022

Responsible Gaming Is The Need Of The Hour

Gaining popularity as a preferred source of entertainment in India, online gaming is disrupting the conventional ones. Buoyed by the rapid growth in users, the country accounted for 916 million online game downloads in May 2022 which is 19.2 per cent of total worldwide downloads of games, as per the data by Sensor Tower. Fuelled by improved internet accessibility, greater smartphone penetration, affordable data plans, and the introduction of new gaming genres, its popularity has been off the charts.

Studies show that games can help in enhancing strategic thinking, fostering relationships, and developing creativity. Immersive games that require problem-solving can enhance memory and build perseverance to achieve goals. Similarly, multiplayer online games can build resilience, and improve adaptability, and multi-tasking skills. A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that playing video games allows players to express creativity while offering an opportunity to unwind, relax and meet people.

Overall, online gaming is an engaging and interactive form of entertainment. However, the problem arises only when it exceeds the limits of moderation. Sometimes some vulnerable players exceed limits, resulting in irresponsible behaviour. Educating these vulnerable players and emphasising the importance of playing responsibly becomes imperative.

Responsible gaming is a concept that begins with providing a safe and trusted experience to players. It entails protecting players by allowing them to minimise or stop indulging in gameplay beyond their means or for excessive periods. Messages and programs like self-exclusion, limiting money and time spent on gaming are a few strategies used around the world to protect people from any unpleasant consequences of online gaming.

Encompassing several policies and requirements that apply to gaming stakeholders, responsible gaming elements ensure the highest standards of quality that cultivate healthy gaming habits and encourage appropriate gaming behaviour. Understanding the importance of maintaining responsible gaming practices, the E-Gaming Federation (EGF) has created a self-regulatory framework in the form of a code of conduct to provide a safe user experience.

The Federation’s flagship ‘Responsible Play’ model requires multiple features that help protect vulnerable players, protect player data, increase transparency, and minimising fraud and maintain responsible marketing that complies with relevant codes. Some of the key EGF-certified online gaming platforms in India have already designed and implemented innovative initiatives such as imposing KYC, SSL level encryption, RNG certification, risk-flagging mechanisms, daily and monthly restrictions, self-exclusion, etc. to promote responsible gaming.

However, for this to become effective, the industry needs a regulated environment. Whilst self-regulation is a great first step, it is constrained by the fact that it is voluntary and self-regulatory organisations (SROs) lack teeth to enforce requirements on rouge or fly-by-night operators. For the players and industry-at-large, the need of the hour is to recognise the significance of responsible gaming and develop a well-structured regulatory framework. This will help impose diverse responsible gaming tools to improve engagement and protect players while ensuring safe and fair play.

Having said this, it is also important to understand that, in the end, responsible gaming also comes down to the individual and their gaming behaviour. Just like other self-care guidelines such as ‘Drive Responsibly,’ “Conscious consumption” etc, responsible gaming is also up to each gamer. For players, playing responsibly involves maintaining a reasonable and secure level by self-imposed limits on daily/monthly budget and time spent on gaming, self-excluding from playing for a selected exclusion length, playing games for entertainment, and not as a way to make money, reducing the risks by keeping reality checks, maintaining a balance between game time and other activities, not chasing losses, etc.

While building a responsible gaming culture supported by a regulatory framework is a priority, the online gaming industry is also concerned about issues like the potential tax rise. The industry sees this as something that can have a direct and substantial impact on responsible gaming behaviour. Currently, a tax rate of 18% is levied on Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) which is in line with global best practices. However, the group of ministers (GoM) reviewing the GST slabs proposed a hike in the tax rate to 28%. Whilst this constitutes an increase of 55 % in taxation, what is more worrying is that there has been speculation that the GoM might also consider imposing GST on the total pool (prize money pooled + platform commission), rather than on GGR, as per some media reports.

Charging 28% on the entire pool will lead to a nearly 1000% increase in taxation and will prove disastrous for the industry. This will have an enormous effect on responsible and safe gaming as legitimate gaming platforms will find it difficult to continue operations. Gamers will find it unattractive to continue playing on legitimate platforms and will move to illicit market operators and get exposed to unscrupulous operators (predominantly offshore).

As online gaming becomes more popular, a cautious and systematic approach to the sunrise sector becomes crucial. Responsible gameplay is a key priority across the industry and greater legal clarity with a favourable tax policy will help the sector achieve more entertaining and safer gaming experiences for everyone, everywhere.

The article is written by Sameer Barde, CEO, E-Gaming Federation.

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