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Deciphering games of skill: An MPL story

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This is a guest post by Dibyojyoti Mainak, Consultant General Counsel of esports and online skill gaming company Mobile Premier League (MPL).

Operating an online games of skill platform for esports and digital sports gaming (hereafter DSG) in India can be interesting. The archaic laws, undefined legal parameters, multiple state specific legislations, conflicting judicial interpretations, and lack of competent regulatory supervision make it extremely challenging for anyone to operate an online skill gaming portal.

-Scoring11 Fantasy Sport Games

Under Indian law, games (online or otherwise) involving transaction of money (for entry; and if successful, as reward or prize) are potentially hit by anti-gambling laws (which are in most states, a century old) if it appears that these are ‘games of chance’. These laws have not been updated and the legislature could not have (at least, arguably) intended to make such provisions applicable to online platforms as they exist today.

The Indian online gaming space clearly highlights an area of concern where law fails to keep up with the developments in technology. This at a time, when esports and DSG is making waves internationally (esports were a part of the Asian Games 2018). India’s tech talent pool is renowned worldwide and yet, potential criminal action is a strong deterrent against any entrepreneur looking to innovate in this rapidly growing space.

Anti-gambling laws classify games as ‘games of skill’ and ‘games of chance’. These laws, as interpreted by various courts, outlaw games of chance; and make an exception for games of skill which involve substantial degree of skill over chance, or where skill plays a predominant role in the outcome of the game.

In this background, let me explain the systems put in place by MPL (Mobile Premier League), one of the leading online esports and skill gaming platforms in the country, to ensure that the 20+ online skill games, including games like fruit chop, Runner No. 1, Super Team, pool and carrom offered on MPL’s platform qualify as games involving substantial degree of skill over chance.

Games of skill, as noted by courts, are those where the success of the players depends on their knowledge, training, experience, practice, attention, familiarity with rules and strategies, and consequently their overall performance.

Adopting these parameters to an online platform we, at MPL, have put in place certain systems which help us show that all the games offered are games of skill. Good hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, reaction time (all of which can be improved by practicing) play a vital role in determining the success of a player on the MPL platform. One can generally observe that their score is improving over time as they keep practicing and their hand-eye coordination, muscle memory and reaction time keep getting better.

To demonstrate this mathematically, let us take an example of a specific game on the MPL platform – If we: (i) take a random sample set of 100 new users who have played the game more than 100 times; (ii) retrieve their scores of their first 100 games and sort them in the order of time; (iii) group the scores on counts of five and take their average (to remove the noise in the scores); (iv) plot the values (which is a set of 20 showing the average score in every five attempts) on a graph; and (v) a logarithmic scale is used on the game score axis (to make the difference in scores visible), we get the following graph:

Sample graph of 100 users gradually improving their performance in a MPL game

A line is plotted on the graph through the mean of the game scores of all the sample set users. This line shows a positive slope, which shows that the average game score of a new user has been continuously improving as the user makes more attempts at the game. As the games are predominantly based on skills like hand-eye coordination, muscle memory and reaction time of the user, the positive slope on the graph indicates that the user is improving these skills over time which is demonstrated by their increasing scores.

Put another way (a negative definition), a game of skill is one where it is possible to deliberately lose/play badly. In a game of chance, where luck is predominant, it is possible to win despite the player trying his best to lose. In other words, there is no bad way of playing at slot machines and you might win despite trying your best to lose, but there is a way to play badly at a racing game and lose. We call this the ‘Choose to Lose’ standard of skill gaming.

We, at MPL, use methods like these to constantly ensure that the games offered on our platform are games of skill under Indian law. We constantly repeat such calculations for every game, with different sample sets to ensure that we are always in compliance with the law.

We hope and trust (for the benefit of the Indian gaming community – which is one of the largest online gaming communities in the world) that the legislature enacts suitable new laws, with well-defined parameters for classification of games of skill, keeping in mind technological developments and evolution. Better and efficient legislation will encourage more players to enter this space of online gaming in India – which will not only help India emerge as a hub for the online gaming and esports industry but also help the large player community by improving their gaming experience.  

Till such that happens though, we hope self-regulation holds the key in this emerging industry and more platforms become part of a larger conversation and help us and the industry refine our understanding of what constitutes ‘skill’.

The views expressed in this article are that of the author alone and are not necessarily endorsed by this website.