OPINION: Burying the trust deficit in gamer profiles

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India has shown great vision in boosting the sports culture in the nation with the introduction of the National Sports Repository System (NSRS), a digital management information system (MIS), that envisages providing a comprehensive digital solution for athletes, coaches, sports scientists, sports training centers, federations, and administrators.

It is an open platform for the sports eco-system where athletes, coaches, and academies can register themselves. On successful registration, a unique number Khelo India ID (KID) is generated, which is used for accessing the NSRS.

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Khelo India: National Programme for Development of Sports, was launched in 2017-18 under the aegis of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Since the goal of Khelo India is to ultimately showcase India as a global sports superpower, it should begin by incorporating esports and fantasy sports into its ambit. 

Global recognition of esports and subsequent inclusion in the 2018 Asian Games favors the curation of an inclusive sports ecosystem in the country in order to effectively prove India’s mettle across sports categories, old and new. Out of the 12 defined verticals of Khelo India, many align well with the online gaming/esports industry, like, sports for women, sports for people with disabilities, promotion of rural and indigenous/ tribal games.

The sunrise industry has claimed priority on issues of women empowerment, inclusivity, and promoting game development in line with India’s culture. Hence, a holistic approach w.r.t Khelo India initiative can enrich the ecosystem with the mega gains that the online gaming industry has been witnessing since the pandemic. 

Currently, the online gaming industry is in the eye of the storm over reports of fraudulent accounts lurking on their platforms and allegations of money laundering and gambling. Game operators find themselves in a tricky position as too many security measures will cause friction for their customers, forcing them to jump ship to competing platforms.

On the other hand, if they don’t have enough security, they will fall short of government regulations or become susceptible to fraud. Incorporating protocols that don’t impede players’ experience while meeting necessary requirements is the need of the hour.

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Extending and strengthening the Khelo India ID (KID) to only allow nationally verified players via a single ID can help develop trust between game operators with the regulatory authorities. It could help detect synthetic account creation and account takeover attempts by requiring institutionally backed identity attributes like Aadhar from the players. KID could aid returning users with optimized authentication through a single set of credentials, rather than separate credentials for each additional gaming service or platform, thus saving on time.

Players who are active on multiple gaming platforms would also experience a seamless onboarding process since they would have covered a one-time ID creation and verification process with the NSRS. Having an autonomous body like a Gaming Commission, be involved with the NSRS at a national level will lessen the compliance burden on operators to ‘over-ask’ sensitive information from players and proceed to reduce administrative costs and overhead.

As online gaming falls under the purview of state legislation (under ‘betting and gambling’ – Entry 34, List II, Seventh Schedule of the Constitution), one of the roles of the Gaming Commission could be to ensure that the states agree on the usage of the KID for player verification and facilitate easy cross-check from the NSRS. The role of a Gaming Commission becomes crucial to highlight the unique and differentiating problems on player management emanating from the online gaming landscape.

KID’s USP would be the uniform checkpoint for players across gaming platforms and across states in the country, thus effectively tackling the trust deficit in the online gaming ecosystem. Post that, individual platforms can set up additional security checks and manage data from the player in order to retain its competitive advantage. The Gaming Commission and NSRS can define the extent and framework in which data points could be collected by gaming firms to set up an accurate player profile.

Regulations like China’s state-run authentication system where players must log in with their real names create issues with retaining player anonymity in the game if desired so by the player. KID could secure anonymity since the ID would only be used for onboarding onto the gaming platform and then the player can set any gaming username which would be linked to the KID at the backend.

However, one of the drawbacks of KID could be that users who are not citizens of the country may not be able to play on popular gaming platforms. 

Merging a national-level ID with NSRS for online gaming would only be a starting point for discussion in the regulatory and industry circles. There is a long road ahead, capturing multiple layers to strengthen player protection, anonymity, data protection, and ensuring that firms are able to keep their competitive advantage while adhering to a common step in their verification system.

However, KID could be an important signal that India could look at extending the features and models already in place to the growing industry rather than creating radically new systems from scratch.

Swati is a public policy consultant based in New Delhi. She has worked with firms like APCO Worldwide and PricewaterhouseCoopers in the past.