Nightmare for young gamers as China toughens rules

China has forbidden under-18 children from playing video games for more than three hours a week, a stringent social intervention that it says it needs to pull the plug on a growing addiction to what it describes as “spiritual opium.”

The new rules, published yesterday, are part of a major shift by Beijing to strengthen control over its society and key sectors of its economy, including tech, education and property, after years of runaway growth.

The restrictions, which apply to any devices including phones, are a body blow to a global gaming industry that caters to tens of millions of young players in the world’s most lucrative market.

They limit under-18s to playing for one hour a day – 8pm to 9pm – on only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, according to the Xinhua News Agency. They can also play for an hour, at the same time, on public holidays.

The rules from the National Press and Publication Administration regulator coincide with a broader clampdown by Beijing against China’s tech giants, such as Alibaba and Tencent.

The campaign to prevent what state media has described as the “savage growth” of some companies has wiped tens of billions of dollars off shares traded at home and abroad.

“Teenagers are the future of our motherland,” Xinhua quoted an unnamed NPPA spokesperson as saying. “Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the people’s vital interests, and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”

Gaming companies will be barred from providing services to minors in any form outside the stipulated hours and must ensure they have put real-name verification systems in place, said the regulator, which oversees the country’s video games market.

Previously, China had limited the length of time under-18s could play video games to 1.5 hours on any day and three hours on holidays under 2019 rules.

The new rules swiftly became one of the most discussed topics on Weibo. Some users expressed support for the measures while others said they were surprised at how drastic the rules were.

“This is so fierce that I’m utterly speechless,” said one comment. Others expressed doubt that the restrictions could be enforced. “They will just use their parents’ logins, how can they control it?” asked one.

The crackdown reverberated around the world.

Shares of Chinese gaming stocks slid in US premarket trading with NetEase falling over 6 percent and mobile game publisher Bilibili dropping 3 percent.

About 62.5 percent of Chinese minors often play games online, 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.

Jeffrey Hau Yung-sai, growth officer of Nexten Esports, said the new restrictions would not affect gamers in Hong Kong.

“This is because Hong Kong has a separate server from the mainland,” he said, adding the rules should only be imposed on the mainland version of games.

But e-sports activities in Hong Kong may be affected as it could prove more difficult to find sponsors, particularly those from the mainland.

“Esports players need to be 17 years old or above, while the golden age for players are around 16. This means that professional players might lose two years in their career,” Hau added. He said it may take a few more months for the impact to be determined.

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