Opinion: How Call of Duty: Mobile Avoided Being Banned in India

On Sept. 1, PUBG MOBILE along with 117 other apps with ties to Chinese companies were banned by the Indian government. The only reason the popular battle royale game was banned was because it was being published by Tencent Games. Many wondered why Call of Duty: Mobile, developed by Tencent’s in house game development studio, TiMi Studios, wasn’t banned as well. The short answer is that the game is published by Activision throughout the world except in Southeast Asia and China. The longer answer is a bit more complex.

Since Call of Duty: Mobile was first announced back in March 2019, Activision has been listed as the publisher of note, but there has been a bit of confusion whether Tencent published the game in other regions, such as India. If you look at Indian coverage of the game when it was released at the end of 2019 and in early 2020, you’ll note that Indian games and esports journalists have consistently written that Tencent is the publisher. That is why, when PUBG MOBILE was banned many were surprised that Call of Duty: Mobile was not included alongside it.

It didn’t help that, prior to a July 20 update to the page, even Wikipedia listed Tencent as a publisher of the game. An update in July to Call of Duty: Mobile’s Wikipedia page removed Tencent as a publisher, leaving only Activision and Garena (now referred to as SEA LTD.), who publishes a special version of the game in Southeast Asian countries. Obviously this is just a coincidence based on changing and evolving information, but the conspiracy theorist in me marveled at the timing of these changes.  

With all this in mind, let’s explore some theories on what Activision may have done prior to PUBG MOBILE getting banned to distance itself from Tencent.

Theory #1: Activision Breaks up With Tencent:

In late June India banned 59 apps on iOS and Android devices including several games such as Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and Clash of Kings. Several unsubstantiated (and likely erroneous) reports suggested that Activision, seeing the evolving animosity between China and India, quietly severed its ties with Tencent and completely took over development of the game. This story has its origins in a report on GamingOnPhone, which has never been corroborated by Tencent, TiMi Studios, or Activision. 

This theory is highly unlikely for one simple reason: Activision still has a publishing deal in place with Tencent for mainland China, and there’s no way it sacrificed that deal to remedy the situation in India. Tencent has already applied for and received approval from China to publish the game.

Theory #2: Activision Severed Ties With Tencent Over PUBG MOBILE

Another theory, which has connective tissue to the first theory because its origin is from the same GamingOnPhone report, is that Activision was unhappy with Tencent because key features in Call of Duty: Mobile were showing up in PUBG MOBILE. For this reason, some reports claim, Activision cut its ties with Tencent and TiMi Studios and took over development. The reason why this theory is unlikely beyond that fact that there’s no corroborating evidence whatsoever, is the selfsame reason it was dubious in my first theory: Tencent and Activision have a lucrative deal in the works to bring Call of Duty: Mobile to mainland China. The National Press and Publication Administration, which greenlights video games in China, gave Tencent approval to publish the game on Aug. 6.  

There are a lot of other reasons why this particular theory doesn’t hold water, but further proof of a continuing relationship between Activision and Tencent can be found on Garena’s and Activison’s web pages for Call of Duty Mobile, where both Tencent and TiMi Studios are, as of this writing, still listed as “partners.”

Theory #3: Activision Obfuscated its Ties With Tencent In Call of Duty: Mobile

This theory is more likely, as it is rooted in reality. Prior to the Season 9 update release on Aug. 16, the Indian version of Call of Duty: Mobile featured a loading screen with both Tencent and TiMi Studios displayed, as evidence in the screenshot below:

Following the August update the loading screen looked like this:

Did Activision try to hide the fact that a Chinese company develops the game? Was this done because removing those names also keeps it from being hassled in the future in other regions throughout the world that are unhappy with the Chinese government, such as the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom? We can’t definitively say for sure, but we’ve tried to give everyone involved in Call of Duty: Mobile an opportunity to comment.

The Esports Observer reached out to TiMi Studios, Tencent Holdings, and Activision for comment and confirmation on this story.

Representatives for TiMi Studios in the United States and China declined to comment.

Tencent Holdings did not respond to a request for comment. An Activision rep. directed us to its third-party PR agency in charge of Call of Duty: Mobile, who has not yet responded to multiple requests for comment.






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