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“We Need Stricter Enforcement Laws”, Says Deepak Gullapalli, CEO, Head Digital Works
Deepak Gullapalli feels the industry needs stricter enforcement laws which will make sure that illegal gambling activities are under check. In India, online gambling is illegal in all states, however, there are offshore companies that have been marketing and operating in the country without paying a single rupee of tax. So, the gaming industry can really use good enforcement laws that can only come into existence if there is a regulatory body.
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The fact that gaming is projected to reach a valuation of USD 8.6 billion by 2027 is evidence enough that the future holds great things for this sunrise industry. There has been a lot of chatter around the fact that the Indian gaming industry is going to be the hub for global innovation as well. Pundits also believe that these numbers will only go up as the industry moves forward. It is truly an interesting time for the Indian gaming ecosystem.
We spoke to one such entrepreneur who has been a leader and an advocate in the online gaming landscape, Deepak Gullapali, the founder and CEO of Head Digital Works. Founded in 2006, Head Digital Works is a garage start-up that offers a gamut of online gaming services such as A23 and Cricket.com.
We asked Deepak about his views on the rapidly advancing industry and the various emerging trends that he has witnessed. This is what he had to say.
Google started its pilot program allowing real money games such as rummy and fantasy sports on its Google Play Store platform. I want to know your thoughts on this and I wish to understand the impact of this policy by Google.
Google cannot make policies as it’s not a government body. What Google did was part of a larger business decision. Until now they did not allow real money gaming companies to distribute their apps on the play store but now, they realise the potential of this. There is a major commercial angle to it. When the companies spend money on the marketing and distribution of these apps, Google will get its fair share.
This decision is actually great for real money gaming companies as it is way better than what we used to do. Companies will now get opportunities and a proper channel to distribute their apps. It will also improve our unit economics. As I said, it is more of a commercial decision rather than a legal one.
I can’t help but say that as a country we certainly have delayed the process of forming a regulatory body that can govern the online gaming industry. The games have been legal for a long time but a bit of structure will do the industry a whole lot of good in the long run. Do you agree?
Of course. The industry is huge and access to games these days is so easy. A regulatory body is very much needed for this industry today. Not for the reasons of curbing its growth but to filter out illegal and unwanted games that have infiltrated the system.
I feel we need stricter enforcement laws which will make sure that illegal gambling activities are under check. In India, online gambling is illegal in all states. However, there are offshore companies that have been marketing and operating in the country without paying a single rupee of tax. So, the industry can use good enforcement laws that can only come into existence if there is a regulatory body.
Tamil Nadu has passed a law that clubs real money games and gambling activities under one bucket which is detrimental to the ones that are abiding by the law and paying taxes. So, at the end of the day, regulation is still better than a ban.
There is still a lot of confusion regarding gaming as an umbrella term. A lot of the confusion has to do with the cultural definition of gaming rather than the legal one. We still tend to put everything under the gaming bracket, be it esports, real money gaming or fantasy sports. How do you think such a problem can be resolved?
I believe this is not just limited to esports. Today, with the amount of exposure we receive in terms of connectivity, internet, media and content, it is bound to happen that the audience will be diversified. Earlier this exposure used to remain limited to metropolitan cities but things have changed ever since, especially after 4G came into the picture making connectivity less of a problem and more of an enabler. The distinctions are already in place and are very clear. I also believe that the premise of both categories of gaming is different, be it real money or esports. The rules by which they are governed are different.
I want to know from you what trends you have witnessed in the Indian gaming industry after the pandemic.
A lot of opportunities opened up during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic times were really different. It was a time when only one or two games really made an impact. Today, however, the times are different. There are various games have been launched in the country. There is almost a revolution that has taken place in the Indian gaming industry after the pandemic.
This is one area where real change has actually been seen. The pandemic not only taught us lessons both positively and negatively but it has also led to a lot of innovation.
I would like to know your thoughts about the concept of responsible gaming. Gaming addiction is real and there is undoubtedly an element of risk associated with something even as entertaining as real money gaming. What are your views on this?
In an ecosystem where gaming is so easily accessible, responsible gaming is something that really needs to be highlighted. There is always a risk factor associated when it comes to online gaming and hence this should be practised more diligently.
Whether it is a financial cost or the cost of time, there is always a cost associated with gaming. I believe that we need to educate gamers about being aware of these risks and about being responsible when engaging in online games. We need to tell the gamers that they need to play within their limits, be it financial or physiological. We even did a campaign along with Shah Rukh Khan as the brand ambassador and we tried to educate gamers about playing responsibly.
I understand that Head Digital Works has undertaken a lot of CSR activities as well. Could you shed some light on these initiatives?
We have been doing a lot of CSR activities over the last ten years. Being a profitable company, it is mandated by the law to engage in CSR. However, we want to do it diligently and in a way that makes a real impact. We want to spend the money more effectively now that we have the bandwidth as well as the people. We want to give back to the people and to the country. Our organisation is focused towards activities such as providing education and healthcare to underprivileged children.