China is set to implement harsh restrictions on minors when it comes to playing video games.
According to a report by Reuters, the Chinese government is limiting the amount of time people under the age of 18 can spend playing video games to just three hours per week. With that are specific time restrictions, with youths only being allowed to play from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. This includes gaming of all kinds, from playing on PC to mobile devices.
The decision was announced Monday, and carries enormous ramifications for the gaming industry across the globe.
The move comes as part of what is being seen as a larger power play by the state government to muscle the tech industry in China. Tencent Holdings, the owner of Riot Games and a 40% stakeholder in Epic Games, has openly discussed future uncertainty due to these increasing regulations. Alibaba Group, which also runs China’s largest online marketplace, has seen its CEO disappear from public life after his criticism of the country’s finance sector was followed by new state regulations.
This is a tough blow on multiple fronts for China’s emerging video game development scene. Though China previously lagged behind countries like the United States and Japan, Chinese game development has boomed over the last few years with games such as PUBG Mobile, Genshin Impact, and Pokemon Unite. With these restrictions at home and other major markets pushing back against Chinese software, growth in China’s tech sector could take a hit. This has already been seen with early drops in certain gaming-focused stocks.
For reference, there are around 110 million minors in China that play video games today.— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) August 30, 2021
According to Tencent, players under 16 account for approximately 2.6% of its total player spend, which shows the overall impact won't be too significant, but it's still a notable chunk.
According to Daniel Ahmad, Tencent Holdings previously estimated that players under 16 accounted for less than 3% of its revenue in gaming. That said, Tencent’s CEO is also a member of the rubber stamp National People’s Congress and has cause to downplay the impact of these restrictions for both business and political reasons.
China has been implementing aggressive restrictions on gaming for years now. State media has barred ads related to gaming since 2004 and in-game content has faced the same censorship that movies, television, and books face in the country. A long list of games, including prominent big budget titles, have been banned from China.
Within the last 10 years, China has been increasingly aggressive when it comes to policing the amount of time people spend playing games. This originally stemmed from possible health concerns related to an allegedly high rate of near-sightedness in the country, but was later expanded due to anti-addiction measures in 2007 with limits on how much time youths could spend in games. These latest restrictions are accompanied by language referring to gaming as “spiritual opium,” painting gaming as an addictive and potentially deadly activity.
In 2018, studios began implementing restrictions that limited how much time minors could spend in games by recommendation of the government. This was enforced using personal information. This restriction was later made into a law in 2019 which also stated that minors couldn’t play video games between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., limiting play to 90 minutes per day on weekdays and two hours per day on weekends, and adding restrictions to microtransactions.
Earlier this month, Chinese state media said that gaming addiction was still on the rise in the country despite these measures and called for even greater restrictions. This now looks to be justification for these latest changes.
Severely limiting the amount of time minors spend playing could have an impact on the gaming industry as a whole, even as many are likely to pursue workarounds. That hit will be significantly harder for specific games, particularly those that can take a long time to play.
A single game of Dota 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive can easily take over one hour. This would make it so minors are routinely unable to even finish a single game of CSGO or Dota 2 before their playtime runs out.
This will also likely impact China’s strength in esports in the long term. China boasts strong competitors in several major esports titles including Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota 2, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Chinese esports organizations’ strong developmental systems will likely see the country maintain its presence near the top in popular and well-funded games like LoL, but these harsh limits could make scouting mew prospects more difficult and would all but prevent players from turning pro prior to the age of 18.