In yet another crackdown, the Chinese government on August 30 issued new rules limiting the amount of time minors can spend on online gaming to three hours per week in an effort to combat addiction. As per Chinese law, anyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor.
Over the past few months, China has launched investigations into and reprimanded large tech companies like Alibaba, Tencent, Didi, and ByteDance, passed one of the world’s strictest data privacy laws, barred for-profit tutoring, cracked down on celebrity fandom, and introduced pioneering regulations on recommendation algorithms. These regulations not only have repercussions within China but throughout the world because they will shape how other countries approach the same issues.
What are the new restrictions on online gaming announced by China?
- An hour each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: Online gaming companies can allow minors to play games between 20:00 and 21:00 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and statutory holidays. At all other times, these companies should not provide games to minors in any form.
- Real-name registration must be ensured: Companies must strictly implement real-name registration and login requirements for online gamers by ensuring that users register with their real names and government-issued identification documents.
- Government must increase supervision of online gaming companies: Relevant government departments should strengthen the supervision and inspection of online game enterprises in implementing the provisions of online game services, real-name registration and login, standardised payment, etc. They should also increase the frequency and intensity of inspection, and hold violating companies strictly accountable.
How will these rules be enforced?
Connection to government’s anti-addiction verification system: The new rules require gaming companies to connect their games with the anti-addiction verification system of the National Press and Publication Administration and use this system to cross-check and prevent minors from spending more time than allowed.
Facial recognition systems: Back in July, Tencent rolled out a facial recognition function system that prevented children from using adult logins to get around the government curfew. Anyone playing for a certain length of time had to do a facial scan to prove that they are an adult. The same system is likely to be used for enforcing the new rules as well.
It is the responsibility of gaming companies: A spokesperson for the government told state-run Xinhua News Agency that the gaming companies have the primary responsibility to ensure that the new rules are followed. “They must always adhere to putting social benefits first, actively respond to social concerns, take the initiative to assume social responsibility, and resolutely implement the requirements of anti-addiction work,” he said.
Families and schools must step up supervision: The government noted that families, schools, and other aspects of society must create an environment conducive to the healthy growth of minors and they must perform the duties of guardianship of minors in accordance with the law, strengthen the education of minors’ online literacy, and urge minors to use real identity verification when they use online games, and strictly implement time restrictions when minors play online games. “Online game addiction is a social problem, and anti-addiction work is a systematic project, which requires the joint efforts of all aspects of society,” the spokesperson said.
Why is China restricting online gaming for minors?
To protect the mental and physical health of minors: In issuing the new rules, the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) said that the excessive use and addiction to online games by minors has recently become a prominent issue that has had a negative impact on normal life, learning, and healthy growth of these minors and that this has been strongly condemned by many in the society, especially the majority of parents. The new rules will resolutely prevent minors from over-indulging in online games and effectively protect their physical and mental health, the government added.
Minors have weak self-control: “Minors are still in the stage of physical and mental development, with relatively weak self-control ability, and are prone to excessive use of online games and even dependence. Therefore, they have always been the focus of online game management and anti-addiction work,” a spokesperson told state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Not the first time: It is not China’s first measure targetted at online gaming. Back in 2019, the government issued rules limiting gaming time for minors to no more than 90 minutes each day and 3 hours on statutory holidays. Users were also barred from spending more than $60 each month on video games. Earlier in April, the government ordered online gaming companies to ensure that children are not allowed to play past 10 pm on school days. In early August, the share prices of many gaming companies fell sharply after a state media outlet called their products “spiritual opium,” signalling tighter regulation.
- Minors are very small user base: Two of the largest gaming companies, Tencent and Bilibili, told South China Morning Post that minors accounted for a very small percentage of their user base and revenue. Tencent said that players under 16 accounted for just 2.6 per cent of its gross gaming receipts in China and Bilibili said that minors contributed only 1 per cent of the company’s gaming revenue.
- Share prices fall, but not by much: Although the share prices of gaming companies fell after the announcement of the new rules, the impact appears to be limited because minors are not a significant revenue-generating customer base for these companies.
- Minor impact on US companies: “The impact on U.S. game makers from the government’s decision is expected to be somewhat limited, given their indirect exposure to the Chinese market. Beijing treats videogames as publications and imposes its censorship rules on videogames before they can be sold in China,” Wall Street Journal reported.
Reactions of Chinese teens collected by Reuters:
- “This group of grandfathers and uncles who make these rules and regulations, have you ever played games? Do you understand that the best age for e-sports players is in their teens?”
- “Sexual consent at 14, at 16 you can go out to work but you have to be 18 to play games. This is really a joke.”
- “This is a family education issue, not a gaming issue,” said a 17-year-old gamer.
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