Gaming Industry Reacts to New Entertainment Rules in China

Chinese online game companies are falling in line with Xi Jinping’s government mandate to curb negative influences on the country’s youth, vowing to self-police the workarounds kids have found to circumvent regulatory limits on play-time. In August, China banned persons under 18 from playing video games more than three hours each week. More than 200 game firms including Tencent and NetEase say they will comply with regulations announced by China’s National Press and Publication Administration and take steps to ensure the rules are enforced. The NPPA suggested use of facial recognition to accomplish that goal.

Last month the government limited minors game-play to the hours of 8:00-9:00 pm from Friday to Sunday and public holidays. The measure is part of a larger effort to combat video game addiction, which state media has called “opium for the mind,” and redirect children’s attention to studies and family duties.

In China, registration to use the Internet is required, making it easy to identify minors linked to a cellphone plan. Recently, additional identification tools such as real-name authentication and connection to an ID verification system with the NPPA industry association were announced.

The measures are part of an effort to address “cultural trends such as ‘money worship’ and ‘sissy pants’ pop culture” as well as “what Beijing sees as excesses in idolizing celebrities and femininity in new generations of Chinese men,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

On social media, gamers criticized the rules, pointing out the age of sexual consent in China, at 14, is “four years younger than the age at which people can game without limit,” The New York Times points out.

Meanwhile, NetEase has explained that under-18 gamers account for less than 1 percent of company revenue, while Tencent characterized players under 16 contributing only 2.6 percent to gross China game receipts.

According to the NPPA, “sales revenue from China’s domestic gaming market in the first half of 2021 increased 7.9 percent year-over-year to 150 billion yuan, or the equivalent of about $23 billion,” WSJ reports. “The number of users increased 1.4 percent year-over-year to 667 million.” The multiplayer mobile game “Honor of Kings” draws more than 100 million daily players, notes NYT.

Past bans on consoles including Sony’s PlayStation drove a surge to free mobile games, now the most popular games in the country.

State media has called video games “poison” and “spiritual pollution” and accounts of beatings, electroconvulsive therapy and solitary confinement to curb use have proliferated. Yet China has embraced competitive gaming, “building e-sports stadiums and enabling college students to major in the topic,” resulting in a gaming relationship NYT summarizes as “decidedly complex.”