China banned under-18s from playing video games for more than three hours a week, a severe social intervention it said was necessary to pull the plug on a growing addiction to what it once described as “spiritual opium.”
The new rules, published on Monday, are part of a major shift by Beijing to tighten control over its society and key sectors of its economy, including technology, education and property, after years of runaway growth.
The restrictions, which apply to any device, including phones, are a blow to the global gaming industry that serves tens of millions of young players in the world’s most lucrative market.
They limit under-18s to playing one hour a day – 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm – only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. They can also play for an hour at the same time on holidays.
The National Press and Publication Administration’s (NPPA) regulator’s rules coincide with Beijing’s broader crackdown on China’s tech giants such as Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings.
The campaign to prevent what the state media described as the “wild growth” of some companies took tens of billions of dollars from shares traded at home and abroad.
“Adolescents are the future of our homeland,” Xinhua said, quoting an unnamed NPPA spokesperson. “The protection of the physical and mental health of minors is related to the vital interests of the people and the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”
Game companies will be barred from providing services to minors in any way outside of the stipulated hours and must ensure they have implemented real-name verification systems, said the regulator, who oversees the country’s video game market.
Previously, China had limited the amount of time under-18s could play video games to 1.5 hours on any given day and three hours on holidays under the 2019 rules.
The new rules quickly became one of the most discussed topics on Weibo, China’s response to Twitter. Some users expressed support for the measures, while others said they were surprised at how drastic the rules were.
“This is so strong I’m totally speechless,” said a comment that received more than 700 likes.
Others expressed doubts that the restrictions could be applied. “They’re just going to use their parents’ logins, how can they control that?” asked one.
zapped game sharing
The Chinese gaming market will generate estimated revenue of $45.6 billion (about Rs. 3,34,020 crores) in 2021, ahead of the United States, according to analyst firm Newzoo.
The repression reverberated around the world.
Shares in Amsterdam-listed technology investment company Prosus, which holds a 29 percent stake in Chinese social media and video game group Tencent, were down 1.45 percent, while European video game shares Ubisoft and Embracer Group each fell more than 2 percent.
Chinese gambling stocks fell in US pre-market trading, with NetEase down more than 6 percent and mobile game publisher Bilibili down 3 percent.
About 62.5 percent of Chinese minors typically play online, and 13.2 percent of minor mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on weekdays, according to state media.
Gaming companies have been jittery in recent weeks as state media criticized youth gaming addictions, signaling regulatory crackdown.
A state media outlet described online gaming as “spiritual opiates” this month and cited Tencent’s Honor of Kings in an article calling for more restrictions on the industry, destroying the shares of the world’s largest gaming company by revenue.
Tencent later announced new measures to reduce the time and money children spend on games, starting with Honor of Kings. Its president also said he was working with regulators to explore ways to limit the total time minors spend playing games across all industry titles.
The NPPA regulator told Xinhua it would increase the frequency and intensity of inspections for online gaming companies to ensure they are establishing time limits and anti-addiction systems.
He also said that parents and teachers played important roles in reducing gambling addiction.
© Thomson Reuters 2021