By April Ma
Parents of gaming-addicted adolescents soon should be assured that their children will not be playing compulsively into the wee hours of the night until daybreak, as a new draft law will impose a curfew on online gaming for minors.
In a drive to curb what it calls “excessive gaming,” China’s Cyberspace Administration has published online protection guidelines for minors, stipulating that gaming companies adopt a real-name registration system. This will allow systems to identify adolescents and disable their accounts from midnight to 8 a.m.
The companies will also be required to develop software to limit the number of hours adolescent users can play each day and forbid them from accessing certain violent or inappropriate game functions or scenes that includes depictions of sex, suicide, and even alcohol and tobacco consumption.
The Cyberspace Administration has solicited public feedback on the draft rules twice starting in October, and they have been submitted to the National People’s Congress for approval. When the rules will come into effect is unknown.
Analysts say how the law plays out and its effect on the industry depends largely on how strictly the personal identification backed registration requirements, which grants each user a single account, are enforced.
“There have been similar efforts to stem gaming addiction in the past, such as restricting the number of active hours for an account each day,” said Clark Guo, a gaming analyst at consultancy iResearch.
“But if regulators cannot nail down an effective real-name registration system, any hurdle could be easily circumvented. Underage children could simply register with their parents’ IDs, or switch to a second and third account when one expires.”
The gaming industry is on edge as it waits to see if the real-name registration requirement will kick in once the regulations come into effect.
“Strictly enforcing ID-based registration for internet games would be a sharp jab to gaming companies, dampening player’ enthusiasm,” said Gu Haoyi, vice president of Beijing-based gaming developer Canwell Games.
A spokesperson from NetEase, one of the largest developers and operators in China, said the company was looking into possible ways to deal with and implement the new guidelines.
Many large game developers such as Tencent Holdings Ltd., Changyou.com Ltd. and NetEase Inc. have provided parental supervision programs, which allow guardians to monitor or even disable their children’s accounts through short message notifications.
However, the procedures parents must follow to obtain oversight of their children’s account activities are extensive, and such initiatives have had little effect on curbing gaming addiction.
Though parents have applauded the draft guidelines, saying they are long overdue, many remain skeptical as to whether they will pan out.
“I remember when I was in high school, the owners of the mom-and-pop internet cafes would lend us their IDs to help us get across anti-addiction systems,” recalls one parent using the alias “Yirenfen” on Chinese social-media site Weibo. “Of course, even if it were put into action, it still won’t prevent kids from indulging in offline games after lights-out,” he added.
Tencent, China’s largest video game developer and publisher, responded to the guidelines by promising to strictly abide by the rules and regulations should they come into effect. However, the company noted that the laws are still subject to adjustments as they are in the review stages.
While Guo said that their impact shouldn’t be overestimated, as late-night hours are no longer the most distinct hours of heavy gaming with the rise of mobile devices, companies still believe this portends unfavorable conditions for the industry.
“The draft laws represent a trend of tightening regulations for the industry, and translate into a loss of users and is bad news for us,” Gu said.