The Chinese government is phasing out after-school game nights, a new bulletin confirms. China’s National Press and Publication Administration signed a public directive on Monday limiting online game activity to only three hours a week for minors; services are restricted to 8 PM to 9 PM on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Anything that requires an Internet connection to play qualifies for the memorandum.
Those intending to take part are decreed by law to adhere to a nationwide identity verification system for easy monitoring; players must register with their real name to prevent underage users from circumventing the ordinance by creating multiple accounts or using a different birthday. Game companies operating in China are obligated to participate and routinely send updates; those proven non-compliant may face prosecution. On the other hand, minors found guilty of breaking the law are subject to regulatory measures like in-game bans and similar penalties. Game companies are expected to dish out punitive action whenever necessary. The notice is effective starting September 1.
Public officials are cracking down on online gaming in a bid to protect minors from the hazards of extended playtime, namely anxiety and video game addiction, mental illness, stunted psychological growth, lack of physical exercise, and compromised learning opportunities. Studies have shown that underage players are needlessly distracted, have a hard time concentrating on school activities, and are less socialized in general, making for equally inattentive adults with unproductive timetables. Parents in China are reportedly just as concerned, having been surveyed by the National Press and Publication Administration only months prior. Quarantine measures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic only contributed to the problem. The above circumstances led to the memo’s conception, with officials hoping for positive results toward the end of the year.
The notice isn’t entirely cohesive, however; it fails to specify the scope of the law and whether or not foreign game companies are exempt, given the memo is being implemented by a Chinese lawmaking body in China and should therefore have no appropriate jurisdiction in other countries. For instance, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare — a predominantly online experience — owes a sizable chunk of its customers to Chinese players of all ages, but it was made by a California developer (Infinity Ward) and distributed worldwide by Activision.
If the notice indeed only applies to games created in China, then underage players already have an obvious loophole they can exploit; console and PC games created by overseas entities are not subject to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regulation and can still be played online with little worry of legal retaliation. Call of Duty Online, the franchise’s mobile game equivalent, is one-hundred percent China-made, however, and may still be bound by the same requirements.
Local companies like Tencent have already published statements announcing full compliance, while others (like NetEase) have already manifested a record low in terms of shares. With less activity and a smaller percentage of users proliferating online servers, numbers are expected to drop in the coming weeks. Despite the obvious loss of profit, businesses are ready to assist government officials in cultivating a healthier gaming experience for minors. Tencent is already using the CCP’s ID verification system to limit online gameplay on Honor of Kings, a multiplayer battle arena inspired by League of Legends. The company writes: “Tencent expressed its strong support and will make every effort to implement the relevant requirements of the Notice as soon as possible.” Tencent Games also developed the mobile game version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds by PUBG Corporation as well as Call of Duty Online and Ring of Elysium.