Aaditya Sawant, a popular YouTuber with 4.8 million subscribers, was playing and livestreaming the battle royale gameearlier this month when a fan pinged him, seeking to be his team member. The fan had paid him over Rs 6,000 in two hours through afeature called ”, in which viewers pay streamers to get their comments pinned or highlighted.
Almost every day, Aaditya, 23, one of the most popular PUBG players in India who goes by the name Dynamo, is flooded with such requests, and he politely declined. ‘I can only give you the ID and password to join the game like others. It will be unfair otherwise – everyone will just pay to play (in my team),’ said Sawant, who has been streaming games since 2010 but has tasted success with PUBG Mobile in last couple of years.
Another fan paid Aaditya, a business management dropout living in Mumbai, Rs 10,000 through Super Chats, the upper daily limit allowed by YouTube. Aaditya’s stream lasted nearly three hours, and his followers would have paid him Rs 18,000-20,000 during this time, as he sought to be the last man standing in the blockbuster game. All of them got a shout-out.
This is the realm of livestreaming and PUBG, or PlayersUnknown’s BattleGrounds, which, according to one estimate, has 10-15 million daily active users and 30-40 million monthly users in India. The fight-for-survival game has acquired the status of a cultural phenomenon the world over. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned it in January when a mother complained about her son’s high mobile use, and MS Dhoni andwere pictured playing it before Team India’s flight to England for the World Cup.
PUBG has faced bans and scrutiny over its addictive nature and impact on mental health. Despite the concerns, its popularity continues to rocket and gamers are spending huge sums to dress up their characters, buy accessories and even informally bet in peer groups.
Last month, PUBG released a royale pass for its latest season with three tiers priced in the range of Rs 800 to over Rs 3,000. The game raked in over Rs 50 crore in less than a week, according to two sources in the payments and gaming industry. The pass allows players to upgrade their ranks and get ‘skins’, cosmetic themes to personalise their weapons, equipment and avatars.
With the help of pass sales, PUBG, published by Chinese internet giant Tencent, is expected to earn Rs 200 crore to Rs 300 crore in India, according to two industry sources. Tencent, which is an influential investor in India’s startup ecosystem, is targeting revenues of over Rs 700 crore every year from the country by selling these packs.
The game has a wide audience: women of different groups play PUBG, and it’s a shared activity between friends and even living rooms of many families. It has also spread across the country, with large number of players coming from smaller towns.
For instance, Paridhi Khullar, 21, from Indore, handles digital marketing for movies and events during the day, and in the evening, she’s Rav3n on a virtual PUBG island, battling for resources and weapons to be the sole survivor. Like Aaditya, she also livestreams the action.
‘Super Chat helped me a lot as monetisation (for streamers) in India is really low,’ she said.
Paridhi makes about Rs 50,000 a month by streaming the game. About 80% of this comes from YouTube’s Super Chats, the rest is sponsorship money from brands like OnePlus. YouTube generally takes 30% of the income earned through its feature.
The success of star players, whose streams get over 1 million views, has spurred over 40-50 YouTube channels, some in regional languages like Telegu and Punjabi. Several teams are also being formed around the star players, which compete in tournaments arranged across the country, where prize for winning team goes up to Rs 50 lakh. The latest PUBG Mobile India Tour competition, with total prize pool of Rs 1.5 crore, is not being held in biggest metros like Mumbai, Bengaluru or Delhi but in Jaipur, Guwahati, Vishakhapatnam and Pune underlining its popularity across the country.
‘PUBG, like music and comic books, is a part of the pop culture with players in big and small towns and across genders. Interestingly, many game purchases are for vanity,’ said Manish Agarwal, CEO of Nazara Games, underlining how this different from spending on real money games like sports fantasy and card games like rummy in India, which are the only ones who have monetised at scale in India till now.
PUBG Corp, which is owned by South Korean gaming developer Krafton, did not respond to TOI’s email queries. Tencent declined to comment for this report.
According to experts tracking the gaming market, PUBG has expanded beyond the niche market in India, where earlier only games like Candy Crush and Ludo saw mass adoption. Other games which have been successful in terms of monetisation are real money franchisees like sports fantasy startup Dream11 and card games like RummyCircle and Teen Patti. PUBG’s giant appeal could help the Indian gaming market mature.
‘PUBG has helped the hardcoremarket in India to grow exponentially in all 3 metrics – users, usage and monetisation. The market has grown 2-3X after PUBG, with over an hour of daily usage. For the first time in India, we are seeing sizable in-app purchase revenues from a single game,’ said Sanjot Malhi, who looks after consumer, media and gaming at venture capital firmIndia. ‘What it’s done is truly unique, and it’s a bellwether of what’s to come for Indian gaming and esports.’