China has forbidden under-18s from playing video games for more than three hours a week, a stringent social intervention that it said was needed to pull the plug on a growing addiction.
The new rules, published on Monday by Xinhua state news agency, 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.
On top of that, the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) is planning to implement stricter rules, requiring users to display their real names to register to portals.
The restrictions, which apply to any device 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.
According to a translated notice about the new rules, gamers under 18 will be allowed to play video games one hour a day between 8PM and 9PM, weekends and legal holidays. The agency billed the rules as a way to safeguard children’s physical and mental health.
“Teenagers are the future of our motherland. 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 minors could play video games to 1.5 hours on any day and 3 hours on holidays under 2019 rules.
The new rules swiftly 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 how drastic the rules were.
“This is so fierce that I’m utterly speechless,” said one comment that received over 700 likes.
Others expressed doubt that the restrictions could be enforced. “They will just use their parents’ logins, how can they control it?” asked one.
Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst of Niko Partners, the leading research firm focused on providing specialised market intelligence on the video game industry in Asia, commented on the ban.
“There are over 110 million minors that play video games in China today, and we expect the new limits to lead to a decline in the number of players and a reduction in the amount of time and money spent in game by those under 18.
“However, we do not expect the decline in spend to have a significant material impact on the bottom line of game companies given limits on time and spending have already been in place for minors for the past two years. Therefore, we expect a softer impact on overall growth rates as spending among minors was already low.”