SHANGHAI, Aug 30 – China has banned under-18s from playing video games for more than three hours a week, a strict social intervention it says was needed to end a growing addiction to what it once referred to as “spiritual opium”. .
The new rules, released 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 real estate, after years of meteoric growth.
The restrictions, which apply to all devices, including phones, are a blow to a global gambling industry that caters to tens of millions of young gamers in the world’s most lucrative market.
They limit those under 18 to play for one hour a day – from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. – only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, according to state news agency Xinhua. They can also play for an hour at the same time on holidays.
The rules by the National Press and Publishing Administration (NPPA) regulator coincide with a broader crackdown by Beijing on Chinese tech giants, such as Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings.
The campaign to prevent what state media described as the “wild growth” of some companies has wiped out tens of billions of dollars of stock traded at home and abroad.
“Teenagers are the future of our motherland,” Xinhua quoted an unnamed NPPA spokesperson as saying. “The protection of the physical and mental health of minors is related to the vital interests of the people and the training of the young generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”
Gaming companies will not be allowed to provide services to minors in any form outside of stipulated hours and will need to ensure they have real-name verification systems in place, the regulator said, which oversees the country’s video game market.
Previously, China limited how long those under 18 could play video games to 1.5 hours on any day and three hours on public holidays under 2019 rules.
The new rules quickly became one of the most discussed topics on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. Some users expressed support for the measures while others said they were surprised at the strictness of the rules.
“It’s so fierce I’m completely speechless,” said a comment that received more than 700 likes.
Others expressed doubts about the enforceability of the restrictions. “They’ll just use their parent’s IDs, how can they control that?” one asked.
Skipped game shares
China’s gaming market will generate around $45.6 billion in revenue in 2021, ahead of the United States, according to analytics firm Newzoo.
The crackdown reverberated around the world.
Shares of Amsterdam-listed technology investment firm Prosus, which has a 29% stake in Chinese social media and video game group Tencent, fell 1.45%, while European games stocks online video Ubisoft and Embracer Group each fell more than 2%.
Shares of Chinese gaming stocks fell in pre-market trading in the United States, with NetEase falling more than 6% and mobile game publisher Bilibili falling 3%.
About 62.5 percent of Chinese minors often play online games and 13.2 percent of underage mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on working days, according to state media.
Gaming companies have been on edge in recent weeks as state media criticized youth gambling addiction, reporting a regulatory crackdown.
State media described online gaming as ‘spiritual opiate’ this month and cited Tencent’s ‘honor of kings’ in an article that called for more industry restrictions, slashing shares of the world’s largest gaming company by revenue.
Tencent then announced new measures to reduce the time and money children spend on games, starting with Honor of Kings. Its chairman also said he was working with regulators to explore ways to limit the total time miners spend gaming for all titles in the industry.
Regulator NPPA told Xinhua it will increase the frequency and intensity of inspections for online gambling companies to ensure they have time limits and anti-addiction systems in place.
He also said parents and teachers play a key role in tackling gambling addiction.