Has Google Joined the Dark Side?

In today’s Finshots we see why Google is finally putting real money gaming apps on the Play Store

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Have you ever seen an ad for a fantasy sports app?

Like Dream 11—Where do participants form fictitious or virtual teams of real players to make money off of them?

Or online rummy?

A card game where you might kill someone?

Well, if you see these ads and decide to try your luck on the Google Play Store, you might be disappointed. You won’t find the app there. Instead, your search throws up irrelevant results.

No, this is not an accident. This is by design. Google doesn’t want these apps on its platform. It doesn’t want to promote “real money” games. It knows that the potential for addiction is real, and it will immediately stop you from going down that path.

So your only option is to go to the company’s website (like Dream11’s) and follow the instructions here to download the app. It’s not that convenient, and it’s certainly not ubiquitous.

But now, Google is returning to its policies. Starting September 28 this year, Google will list some real-money gaming apps (including fantasy sports and online rummy apps) on the Play Store. The pilot is expected to run for a year, and interested developers must submit documents to make their apps available on the Play Store.

If all goes well, real money gaming apps like online rummy could be a huge hit. In fact, it’s not even unique to India. In 2021, Google expanded the concession to 15 other countries, including the U.S., and yes, real-money apps became popular almost overnight.

But you can turn around and ask – why?

Why is Google changing its stance?

Well, many reasons. But let’s start with the obvious.

“Don’t be evil.”

It’s been Google’s unofficial motto for nearly two decades. In the early days of the company, they formally adopted a catchy phrase in their code of conduct. But in 2018, Google moved the citation to the end of the file, almost relegating it to a subline.

Why? You ask.

Well, because good and evil are amorphous ideas. There are no road signs marked “right” and “wrong” as you navigate this complex world. It’s not always obvious what the right thing is.

For example, consider this — Google hasn’t had a real-money gaming app on its platform for the longest time. However, this only opens new doors for illegal companies to defraud unsuspecting customers. If you search the Play Store for Dream11, a popular real-money fantasy game, you certainly won’t find the app. But you’ll find a bunch of apps that are similar to Dream11 in some ways.

Something like “Playing 11 Dream Prediction” created by some “Droid Devlopers” [sic]. It’s not the same app, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll be misled into downloading an app that does more harm than good.

Additionally, Google’s reluctance to launch real-money gaming apps on the Play Store has had a huge impact elsewhere. People still install these apps by sideloading, bypassing Google entirely. This leaves their devices vulnerable to malware – snippets of code that can surreptitiously spy on your device. It can get really bad very quickly.

In the end, you might argue that there’s nothing particularly evil about real money apps in the first place. There is a difference between a game of chance and a game of skill. Gambling is betting on an uncertain outcome. On the other hand, the game of skill depends on you, your superior knowledge, training, concentration and experience. However, most games contain elements of skill and chance. Therefore, courts have relied on a “skills test” to separate the two. A game is said to have passed the “skill test” if it can be shown that it is primarily a game of skill rather than chance. In 2015, the Supreme Court of India declared online rummy, poker, card games and fantasy sports to be games of skill.

So why is Google holding itself to a higher standard when the court sees no problem with skill-based gaming apps, right?

Well, it’s worth thinking about.

But there’s another reason Google might be considering going this route.

This is a money maker. When you download apps from the Play Store and make in-game transactions, Google gets a cut — usually up to 30 percent. While there aren’t many apps that allow users to spend a fortune, real money apps can easily do that. This is a growing market.

Real money games are worth at least Rs 8,500 crore in India and are growing at nearly 30% per year. Out of India’s 400 million gamers, 40 million play with real money. If Google can further expand the market and take a piece of every time someone makes a transaction, it could be a huge game-changer for them in India.

The only question then is – will this open the floodgates and make real money gaming apps ubiquitous?

How will it affect the average person?

you tell us.

Until then…

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