China’s video game crackdown: state-backed industry group plays down regulatory moves as narrow and targeted

  • The China Game Publishers Association Publications Committee said games are not ‘fierce floods or savage beasts’ and that they can benefit society
  • The group’s words countered a news article that called games ‘spiritual opium’, pushing down gaming stocks over fears of a fresh crackdown

China’s state-backed gaming industry association broke its silence on Tuesday night, following a market rout earlier in the day, saying online games are not “fierce floods or savage beasts” and emphasising that Beijing’s regulation of the industry is specific and targeted.

In an interview with the Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald, the China Game Publishers Association Publications Committee (GPC) said video gaming can bring benefits to society and are able to “broadcast positive energy”. The GPC’s words pushed back on an earlier report from the Economic Information Daily , run by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency, that called video games “spiritual opium”, which sent gaming stocks plummeting on Tuesday.

GPC is the gaming arm of China Audio-video and Digital Publishing Association, a group that answers directly to the Chinese Communist Party Central Propaganda Department.

Chinese tech giants Tencent Holdings and NetEase, the country’s two largest gaming companies, were the hardest hit on Tuesday. By Wednesday, Tencent had gained 5 per cent in the morning session in Hong Kong.

The original report from Economic Information Daily fanned fears that the video games industry was the next target of regulators after a crackdown from Beijing on the online private education market sent Chinese technology stocks plummeting. The newspaper deleted the report later in the day, only to republish it in the evening without the controversial “spiritual opium” line.

Tencent’s flagship game “Honor of Kings”

China’s regulations are focused on improving the monitoring of underage players, GPC said in the interview, and they are already strict enough and largely effective. The association said this is because developers are able to put systems in place that help them meet regulatory requirements.

“Leading [gaming] companies have relatively strict screening systems for players and they can immediately take action if any violation is spotted,” the association said.

Gaming addiction has been an ongoing concern of the Chinese government for years. President Xi Jinping even mentioned it this year at a meeting of the National People’s Congress.

GPC said in its interview that it convened a closed-door meeting with the country’s major gaming companies, where it demanded they take additional measures to avoid online gaming addiction among teenagers.

China already has the world’s strictest rules on video games. Players must register with their real names, use facial recognition, and are subject to gameplay time limits. Tencent and NetEase faced the most pressure to implement such systems early.

Tencent recently said that revenue from players under 16 years old accounted for just 3.2 per cent of its total gaming revenue in the first quarter of 2021. Players under 18 years old made up about 6 per cent of gaming revenue, the company said.

However, reports of teenagers circumventing restrictions by using adult accounts or other means have constantly surfaced, putting pressure on regulators and gaming companies to do more to try to close loopholes.

The association, which imposes self-discipline in the gaming industry and talks to China’s regulators on behalf of members, said it has been working to roll out age warnings in video games since the beginning of the year. The system rates games according to their type and content.

To limit access to games deemed inappropriate for certain ages, the system places them in one of three groups: green for those under 8 years old, blue for those under 12, and yellow for those under 16. A trial of the system has so far covered 361 games.

Tencent on Tuesday announced new measures that will ban players under the age of 12 from spending money on video games. The company also said it was further restricting the time underage gamers are allowed to play each day to just one hour per day and two hours on holidays, down from 1.5 hours each day and three hours on holidays.

NetEase, China’s second-largest gaming company, also pledged to create a “green cyberspace” for Chinese teenagers by further limiting gaming time this summer.

Author: Josh Ye, SCMP

You might also like