The Government of China has launched an open crusade against online games, a hobby that they accuse of having become an addiction among young people. This Monday, the Beijing authorities have announced that they will prohibit minors from dedicating more than three hours a week to this activity, described in early August by a state media as “spiritual opium.” With this decision, video games They are once again in the crosshairs of Beijing regulators, who point out as the strongest argument for restraining them the harmful effect they are causing on those who will be the driving force of society in the not too distant future.
The State Administration of Press and Publications, the regulatory body for print and digital publications in China, has specified in a statement that internet video game companies may only allow minors under 18 to access their content from 8 to 9 at night on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Likewise, it has communicated that it will increase the frequency of inspections of these companies in order to verify that strategies against gambling addiction are being effectively implemented. The companies They will also be strictly prohibited from providing any other type of service to minors outside these hours and must verify the real identity of the users, to prevent the same person from registering different accounts under a pseudonym.
The text also emphasizes that the supervisors of this guideline will work together with families, schools and other actors in society in charge of training the new generations. In this regard, the official Xinhua news agency has echoed the statements of a spokesperson for the institution: “Adolescents are the future of our homeland. Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is one of the vital priorities of our people. “
The Asian giant had already limited in 2019 the total time that minors could access online video games to 90 minutes a day and three hours during the holiday season. According to statistics published by official media, 62.5% of Chinese children and adolescents play online with a frequency higher than that stipulated so far, and up to 13.2% of these users did so ―at least to date― more than two hours a day on school activity days.
With more than 665 million gamers, China is the largest video game market in the world, a sector that, in the current situation of the pandemic outbreak, has only grown. It is estimated that its sales in 2021 will be around 41,700 million euros, a prediction that, predictably, will be affected if, in effect, the regulations achieve the impact that the authorities expect. According to a report published in mid-August by the German portal Statista, it is expected that by 2025 – also assuming that the trend of the last decade would continue – turnover will increase to reach 60.3 billion. The same source points out that mobile video games account for 84% of sales in the Chinese market, proof that the control work will not be limited to the confined space of the home and that it will require, in addition to parental supervision, of other adults.
Following the announcement, the shares of the Dutch technology investment company Prosus NV, with a 29% stake in Tencent, fell 1.45% on the Euronext Amsterdam stock exchange, while those of the European video game companies Ubisoft and Embracer have fallen by 2% on the same floor. Before the opening of Monday’s session of the Wall Street stock market, shares of Chinese firms NetEase and Bilibili had already fallen more than 6% and 3%, respectively. The new measures also coincide with the recent restrictions that the Government has imposed on several of its technological giants, such as Alibaba or Didi, all within the framework of a new campaign to control key sectors of the national economy.
In the middle of the month, the newspaper Economic Information Daily, under the umbrella of Xinhua, published an article in which it criticized the video game industry and crossed out Honor of kings, a Tencent mobile game, about “spiritual opium”. Despite the fact that such a qualifier was later withdrawn from the text without any explanation, the economic blow was already inevitable: the shares of Tencent and NetEase fell more than 10% in the first operations of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
As a result of the debate that this phenomenon of dependence on games has sparked within society, Tencent, owner of the WeChat “super app”, had already begun to reduce the time that minors can play video games before the government opted for this new tightening of nuts. “Since 2017, Tencent has explored and applied new technologies and functions for the protection of minors (…) We will continue to do so. Tencent rigorously complies with and actively implements the requirements of the Chinese authorities, ”the company said in a statement following inflammatory comments from Economic Information Daily.
In July, the firm announced that it would begin using facial recognition technology to identify minors who play video games at night, and threatened to expel those who violate the rule from the platform. This initiative, known as the Midnight Patrol, aims to prevent children and adolescents from using their elders’ mobile devices to bypass the ban. To do this, check the photos that users upload when registering with the country’s social security system.
The consequences of the current policy in the short or medium term for Tencent, NetEase and other heavyweights of the union might not be so alarming if Bloomberg’s predictions come true, with players under 16 years old representing only 2.6% of the total. of Tencent’s spending in the first half of this year, while children under 12 accounted for just 0.3%.
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