90 Minutes a Day, Until 10 p.m.: China Sets Rules for Young Gamers

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Javier C. Hernández and Albee Zhang

c.2019 The New York Times Company

 

BEIJING — No playing video games after 10 p.m. No more than 90 minutes of gaming on weekdays. Want add-ons like virtual weapons and costumes? Keep it to $57 a month.

The Chinese government has released new rules aimed at curbing video game addiction among young people, a problem that top officials believe is to blame for a rise in nearsightedness and poor academic performance across a broad swath of society.

The regulations, announced by the National Press and Publication Administration on Tuesday, ban users younger than 18 from playing games between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. They are not permitted to play more than 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours on weekends and holidays.

The limits are the government’s latest attempt to rein in China’s online gaming industry, one of the world’s largest, which generates more than $33 billion in annual revenue and draws hundreds of millions of users.

Under President Xi Jinping, officials in China have taken a more forceful approach in regulating large technology companies and pushing them to help spread cultural values advanced by the ruling Communist Party.

Video games have become a popular target. The state-run media has likened some games to “poison,” and the government has blocked sales of some titles on the grounds that they are too violent.

Xi spoke publicly last year about the scourge of poor eyesight among children, putting more pressure on officials to act.

The National Press and Publication Administration said that minors would be required to use real names and identification numbers when they log on to play. The rules also limit how much young people can spend on purchases made through apps, like virtual weapons, clothes and pets. Those purchases are now capped at $28 to $57 a month, depending on age.

Chinese officials said the regulations were meant to combat addiction.

“These problems affect the physical and mental health of minors, as well as their normal learning and living,” the National Press and Publication Administration said in a statement that was published by Xinhua, the official news agency.

Analysts said the regulations were largely anticipated by the industry and unlikely to hurt revenue. Many of the biggest technology companies, including Tencent and NetEase, have already imposed limits on younger users.

Young gamers are also likely to find ways around the regulations, such as using a parent’s phone and identification number.

“There are always going to be loopholes,” said Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst at Niko Partners, a research and consulting firm.

But Ahmad added that China is now one of the most heavily regulated video game markets in the world, and that technology companies in the country and abroad would be forced to more closely follow the government’s policy announcements.

“I think compared to the West, it’s very extreme,” he said. “Publishers and developers need to be very aware of the content of the games they are developing for the market.”

In a sign of the growing global importance of the Chinese gaming market, Activision Blizzard, a U.S. company, recently suspended an e-sports player who had voiced support for antigovernment demonstrations in Hong Kong during a live broadcast, a move that was seen as a concession to Beijing.

The rules were greeted skeptically by some parents and gamers.

Yang Bingben, 35, the owner of an industrial technology firm in eastern China, said he worried that many children would still find ways to play video games. For example, he noted that his 7-year-old son often played games that do not require an internet connection and were difficult to regulate.

“We have to develop new things to replace games,” he said. “Our minds should be focused on building more stadiums, football courts and basketball courts.”