China announced Monday that it is banning minors from playing video games during the school week and can only play for an hour on Fridays, weekends and holidays. The new rule comes from China’s video game regulator, the National Press and Publication Administration, which did not respond to requests for comment. The policy took effect Wednesday.
China has established extensive rules about minors and playing video games in the past after blaming games for causing nearsightedness and addiction in youth. In 2019, the government announced that gamers younger than age 18 had to stop playing between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. and only game for 90 minutes on weekdays.
In 2018, Beijing stopped approving video games for publication for nearly nine months, hurting the bottom line for massive Chinese companies like NetEase and Tencent. The Chinese government plans to enforce the ban by requiring minors to register to games with their real names and requiring gaming companies to ask for real names.
Some game companies have already begun to use a real name-based registration system to limit playtime, such as Tencent asking for real names with its wildly successful mobile hit “Honor of Kings.” Tencent said in a statement on its official WeChat account that it firmly supports the new rule and will make every effort to follow it. It said that the company had been implementing ways to keep minors from being addicted to games since 2017.
“While China’s government has been positive on video games recently and has promoted segments such as esports and cloud gaming as key growth areas, gaming addiction among minors is viewed as a negative output of the popularity of video games in society,” said Lisa Cosmas Hanson, president at research company Niko Partners. China’s esports scene has grown considerably over the years, and players in esports train for hours a day at a young age, Niko said.
It is possible for children to get around the ban if they were to use the accounts of adults, Niko pointed out. The government is asking for family cooperation to prevent that tactic. The overall impact of the new ban is still unclear as the government expands upon previous restrictions. Minors in China are already banned from spending more than 400 yuan (about $62) a month on games.
Tencent said in an earnings call that players younger than 16 account for only 2.6% of total spending from customers. Last week, South Korea announced that it would end a law that kept people younger than 16 from playing games between midnight and 6 a.m. Parents and guardians can instead arrange times for children to play.
Console gaming in China was banned for more than a decade, up until 2015. Even today, most gamers in China gravitate toward PC and mobile gaming, with companies like Nintendo and Sony slowly making inroads in often-minuscule console sales.