China has banned young people under the age of 18 from playing video games for more than three hours a week, a strict social intervention the country says was necessary to stem a growing addiction to what it once described as “spiritual opium.”
The new rules, released 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 runaway growth.
The restrictions, which apply to all devices, including phones, are a blow to a global gaming industry that targets tens of millions of young players in the world’s most lucrative market.
According to the state news agency Xinhua, young people under the age of 18 are only allowed to play for one hour a day – 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On holidays, they can also play for an hour at a time.
The regulator’s rules from the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) coincide with Beijing’s broader approach to Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings.
The campaign to prevent the state media from calling the “wild growth” of some companies has wiped out tens of billions of dollars from stocks traded domestically 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 vital interests of the people and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”
Gaming companies are not allowed to provide services to minors in any form outside of established hours and must ensure that they have real verification systems in place, said the regulator, which oversees the country’s video game market.
Previously, China had limited the length of time that young people under the age of 18 could play video games to 1.5 hours each day and three hours on public holidays under the 2019 rules.
The new rules quickly became one of the hottest topics on Weibo, China’s response to Twitter. Some users expressed support for the measures, while others said they were surprised at the drastic rules.
“This is so intense I’m completely speechless,” said a comment that received more than 700 likes.
Others questioned whether the restrictions could be enforced. “They will just use their parents’ credentials, how can they check?” asked one.
Gaming shares zapped
According to analytics firm Newzoo, the Chinese gaming market is expected to generate an estimated $45.6 billion in revenue by 2021, ahead of the United States.
The crackdown reverberated around the world.
Shares of Amsterdam-listed technology investment company Prosus, which has a 29% stake in Chinese social media and video game group Tencent, fell 1.45%, while European online video game shares Ubisoft and Embracer Group fell more than 2% each.
Shares of Chinese gambling stocks fell during pre-market trading in the United States, with NetEase falling more than 6% and mobile game publisher Bilibili falling 3%.
About 62.5% of Chinese minors often play online games and 13.2% 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 on edge in recent weeks as state media criticized gaming addiction among young people, signaling a regulatory crackdown.
A state media outlet this month described online games as “spiritual opium” and quoted Tencent’s “Honor of Kings” in an article calling for more reining in the industry, battering shares in the world’s largest gaming company for revenue.
Tencent later announced new measures to reduce the time and money children spend on games, starting with Honor of Kings. The president also said it is working with regulators to explore ways to limit the total amount of time minors spend gaming across all titles in the industry.
The NPPA regulator told Xinhua it would increase the frequency and intensity of inspections for online gaming companies to ensure they implement time limits and anti-addiction systems.
It also said that parents and teachers played a key role in curbing video game addiction.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)