After TikTok, is PUBG next? Tencent fears ban as India cracks down on Chinese apps

PUBG: Mobile is developed by a Chinese multinational firm

PUBG banned in Nepal citing negative impact on children

The sudden ban of 59 apps with Chinese links by the Ministry of Information Technology on June 29 has worried Chinese technology companies, which have large userbases in India.

TikTok, one of the most popular apps in the country with reportedly over 200 million users, is owned by ByteDance, which had a $1 billion expansion plan in India. However, concerns over Indian user data being transmitted out of the country led to TikTok, along with other Chinese apps, being banned.

Likewise, Tencent, makers of the popular mobile game PUBG: Mobile, fears the game—which had over 100 million installs by the end of 2019—could be next.

According to a Reuters report, Tencent was “disappointed” by the ban on Chinese apps, which included its own messaging app WeChat, and feared that PUBG: Mobile would be next.

There is debate over whether PUBG can be considered a Chinese app, however. The game was originally designed by Irish developer Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene, of DayZ: Battle Royale fame. Its PC version was designed by a firm that is a subsidiary of a South Korean company named Bluehole. While PUBG was initially known as a PC game, it was ported to mobile by Chinese firm Tencent.

However, PUBG: Mobile did not receive regulatory approval to be monetised in China, prompting its developers to create a more “patriotic” game that could rake in revenues. PUBG: Mobile went on to release worldwide as a free-to-play game, garnering over 600 million downloads.

As the world’s largest videogame company, Tencent also has shareholders from around the world. Prosus, which owns the single largest stake in the company at 31 per cent, is a portfolio manager that comes under the South African e-commerce group Naspers. Hua Teng Ma, who founded Tencent, has an 8.43 per cent stake.

The remainder is split up among investors like the Vanguard Group and BlackRock Fund Advisors with 60.3 per cent of shares being free-float.

Whether PUBG: Mobile can be banned as a “Chinese” app is thus debatable. However, calls to ban PUBG in India have been around much before border tensions between India and China sparked in 2020. On March 14, 2019, a ban on PUBG was initiated in Gujarat, leading to players being arrested across the state. The ban was later lifted after social media outcry.