Game Over

Gaming Industry

Is it “Game” Over?

Why in the news?
The online gaming industry reels in disbelief as the GST council deals a crushing blow with a 28% tax on the full face value of bets. A setback for a booming industry.

What are the reforms?

  • In a significant move, the 50th Meeting of the GST Council has set the stage for a major transformation in the taxation of online gaming, casinos, and horse racing activities.

  • Regardless of the element of skill or chance involved, these sectors will now be subject to a hefty 28% GST levy. This decision marks a clear intention to bring online gaming into the tax framework and ensure compliance with GST laws.

  • Under the current Goods and Services Tax (GST) structure, gaming companies pay an 18 percent GST on platform fees, resulting in a deduction of Rs 1.8 for every Rs 10 commission earned.

  • However, with the new GST rules, users will have to pay a higher rate of 28 percent on the entire face value of the stake or consideration paid, not just the platform fee. 

  • This change will significantly impact the platform fee, increasing it approximately 15.6 times. As a result, users will now have to pay Rs 28 for every Rs 100 spent on online games.

What is Online Gaming all about?

  • Online gaming, a thriving industry, encompasses games that require an internet connection for gameplay. With a rising demand for diverse game options such as poker, rummy, and AI-based augmented reality games, the sector is experiencing exponential growth.

  • India, boasting over 180 million players across 200 platforms, holds the title of being the largest fantasy sports market globally. 

  • Notably, there has been a significant increase in the popularity of online rummy. The Indian government classifies these games into two main categories to establish clear distinctions.

The categories are as follows:

  1. Games of chance: These games rely heavily on random outcomes and do not require any specific prior knowledge or skill. Examples include dice games and number selection. In India, such games are generally considered illegal.

  2. Games of skill: Games of skill involve gameplay that relies on the player's knowledge, expertise, and strategic decision-making. These games require analytical thinking, logical reasoning, and sometimes preliminary practice to excel. Many Indian states recognize and classify these games as legal forms of entertainment.

Gaming Industry in India

According to Invest India:

  • India has established itself as a dominant force in the gaming industry, particularly in the mobile gaming sector. The country holds the distinction of being the world's largest market for mobile game app downloads.

  • The revenue generated from online gaming in India witnessed an impressive growth of 39% in 2022, reaching 1.6 billion USD. Projections indicate a further growth of 20% by the fiscal year 2025, with the sector expected to reach a value of 231 billion INR.

  • India's fantasy sports market stands as the largest globally, boasting a user base of 180 million. This sector has experienced substantial growth, attracting a significant number of users.

  • The number of online gamers in India has soared to 421 million in 2022 and is predicted to reach 442 million by 2023, highlighting the immense popularity and potential of the gaming industry in the country.

  • The Indian gaming industry has successfully secured substantial funding, with a total of 2.8 billion USD raised from both domestic and global investors over the past five years. Funding for gaming companies has witnessed an impressive surge of 380% since 2019, and a 23% increase from 2020.

  • India has also achieved the distinction of producing three gaming unicorns, namely Game 24X7, Dream11, and Mobile Premier League. These companies have attained a valuation of over 1 billion USD, signifying their exceptional growth and success in the gaming market.

Overall, the gaming industry in India continues to exhibit rapid growth, attracting significant investments, and establishing itself as a global player in the digital entertainment sector.

According to the World Economic Forum:

  • India's gaming industry is booming, with a valuation of $930 million, making it the world's top gaming market. The country has over 560 million internet users and is projected to reach a valuation of $3.8 billion by 2024. 

  • The rise of affordable smartphones, widespread 4G internet, and low data tariffs contribute to the industry's success. Notably, PUBG Mobile attracted 34 million daily players in India. Increased disposable incomes and the adoption of digital payments further boost the gaming sector's growth.

Core issues with the gaming sector in India

The online gaming industry faces challenges due to:

  1. Absence of regulatory oversight and clear legislation.
  2. Variances in regulations across states.
  3. Social issues like gambling addiction and associated consequences.

To address these challenges, comprehensive legislation and collaborative efforts are needed to regulate the industry, protect users, and promote responsible gaming practices.

Why is the tax decision a cause of concern ?

The heavy tax burden imposed on the emerging gaming sector can have significant and multifaceted impacts:

  1. Impact on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): High tax rates in the online gaming sector can deter foreign investors from allocating their capital to Indian gaming companies. Investors seek jurisdictions with favorable tax environments to maximize their returns. A 28% tax rate may discourage FDI inflows into the sector, leading to reduced investments, limited access to international expertise, and restricted opportunities for technology transfer.

  2. Startup Ecosystem Disruption: Startups in the online gaming sector play a vital role in driving innovation, creating jobs, and contributing to economic growth. However, a heavy tax burden can significantly impact the startup ecosystem. Startups often operate on limited budgets, and a 28% tax rate can drain their resources, making it difficult for them to scale, attract investment, and compete with global players. This can hamper the growth and development of the sector, negatively impacting India's startup ecosystem and its ability to foster innovative and disruptive technologies.

  3. Reduced Growth and Expansion: The heavy tax burden can impede the growth trajectory of gaming sector companies. High tax payments consume a significant portion of their revenue, leaving less capital available for investment in critical areas such as research and development, infrastructure, marketing, and talent acquisition. As a result, their ability to expand operations, enter new markets, and introduce innovative products or services becomes constrained.

  4. Decreased Competitiveness: Excessive taxation can make the sector less competitive on both domestic and international fronts. Higher taxes increase the cost of production, which can lead to higher prices for goods and services. This puts emerging businesses at a disadvantage when competing with companies from countries that have lower tax burdens. As a result, they may struggle to attract customers and market share, impacting their overall competitiveness.

  5. Disincentive for Entrepreneurship: Heavy tax burdens can deter individuals from venturing into entrepreneurship and starting their own businesses. The financial risk associated with high taxes can discourage potential entrepreneurs from taking the leap, leading to a limited pool of innovative startups and hindering economic dynamism. This can stifle innovation, creativity, and the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.

  6. Compliance Challenges and Tax Evasion Risks: A burdensome tax regime can create challenges for emerging gaming businesses in complying with complex tax regulations. The cost and effort required to ensure compliance may divert resources away from core business activities. Additionally, the high tax burden may incentivize some businesses to engage in tax evasion practices, leading to an erosion of government revenue and undermining the integrity of the tax system.

  7. Brain Drain and Talent Retention Challenges: A heavy tax burden can contribute to talent retention challenges and brain drain within the emerging private sector. Skilled professionals and entrepreneurs may be enticed to relocate to countries with more favorable tax environments, where they can retain a higher portion of their earnings. This talent drain can result in a loss of expertise, innovation, and economic potential for the domestic economy.

  8. Disincentive for Risk-Taking and Innovation: Heavy tax burdens create disincentives for risk-taking and innovation within the emerging industry. Gaming companies may be discouraged from pursuing new ideas, developing cutting-edge products or services, or investing in research and development initiatives due to the potential financial burden of taxes. This can stifle innovation, limit product diversification, and hinder the sector's ability to adapt to changing market demands.

  9. Negative Impact on Economic Growth: India has set ambitious goals to achieve a 5 trillion dollar economy. The online gaming sector has the potential to contribute significantly to this target through its rapid growth and job creation potential. However, a high tax rate can hinder the sector's growth, leading to missed revenue opportunities, limited employment generation, and reduced contributions to the economy. This could hamper India's overall economic growth aspirations.

Importance of Private Sector in driving India’s economy 

The private sector holds significant importance in propelling the Indian economy forward. Here are key reasons highlighting its significance:

  1. Economic Growth Driver: Private businesses, including both small and large enterprises, play a vital role in generating employment, fostering innovation, and driving productivity. Their activities contribute to overall GDP growth and fuel economic progress.

  2. Investment and Capital Formation: The private sector attracts domestic and foreign investments, which are crucial for economic development. By effectively mobilizing and deploying capital, private businesses contribute to investments in infrastructure, technology, and various sectors, stimulating growth and expansion.

  3. Innovation and Technological Advancement: Private sector enterprises are often at the forefront of innovation and technological advancements. Through investment in research and development (R&D) and adoption of new technologies, they drive innovation in products, services, and processes, enhancing competitiveness and overall quality.

  4. Employment Generator: The private sector serves as a significant source of employment, creating job opportunities across various sectors. Its ability to generate employment contributes to poverty reduction, social mobility, and the overall well-being of individuals and communities.

  5. Revenue Generation and Tax Contribution: Private businesses contribute to government revenue through direct and indirect taxes. This revenue supports public infrastructure development, social welfare programs, and the functioning of essential services, ensuring the well-being of the society.

  6. Market Competitiveness and Efficiency: The private sector fosters competition, driving efficiency and innovation. By continuously striving for excellence, private businesses improve product quality, offer competitive prices, and provide consumers with a wider range of choices.

  7. Foreign Exchange Earner: Private sector enterprises, particularly in manufacturing, IT, and services, contribute to India's foreign exchange earnings through exports. These exports bolster foreign currency reserves, improve the country's balance of payments, and strengthen economic stability.

  8. Entrepreneurship and Risk-Taking: The private sector encourages entrepreneurship by providing opportunities for individuals to start and grow their businesses. Entrepreneurs drive innovation, take calculated risks, and contribute to economic dynamism, leading to job creation and economic growth.

In summary, the private sector's role in driving the Indian economy is essential. Its contributions in terms of economic growth, investments, innovation, employment generation, revenue generation, market competitiveness, foreign exchange earnings, and fostering entrepreneurship make it a vital component of India's economic landscape.

Way forward

To address the adverse impact of the recent tax rate changes on the online gaming sector, a possible solution is to consider the following measures:

  1. Re-evaluate Tax Rate: The government can review the tax rate imposed on the online gaming sector and consider reducing it to a more competitive level. A lower tax rate would incentivize investment, attract foreign capital, and encourage the growth of the industry. This can help create a favorable environment for startups and stimulate economic activity within the sector.

  2. Foster Regulatory Clarity: Providing clear and consistent regulations for the online gaming sector can enhance investor confidence and encourage participation from both domestic and international players. 

  3. Promote Collaboration and Industry Engagement: Regular dialogue and consultations can help identify industry-specific challenges, explore solutions, and create a more conducive environment for growth. By engaging with industry players, the government can gain valuable insights and align policies with the sector's needs.

  4. Support Skill Development and Infrastructure: Investing in skill development programs and infrastructure to support the online gaming sector can enhance its competitiveness. By focusing on training and upskilling programs, the government can nurture a skilled workforce capable of meeting the industry's demands. Additionally, ensuring robust digital infrastructure, including reliable internet connectivity and technology infrastructure, can facilitate the growth of online gaming businesses and attract investment.

Implementing these measures can help alleviate the tax burden on the online gaming sector, stimulate investment and innovation, foster a vibrant startup ecosystem, and contribute to India's economic growth objectives. By creating an enabling environment for the industry, the government can unlock the full potential of the online gaming sector while driving economic development and job creation.