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Tencent Games cuts screen time for minors again following government guidelines

Tencent Games rolled out an in-house “health system” in 2017 to stem youth gaming addiction. These new rules take that further.

credit: DFIC

On May 15, China’s second most popular video game announced it will once again curtail the usage time of its adolescent players to comply with authorities’ increasingly tight regulations surrounding gaming. Tencent Games’ Honor of Kings, played by around 100 million gamers every day, will cut off all users under 18 after one and a half hours of play per day, both on weekdays and weekends.

The new rules come after the General Administration of Press and Publication, the Chinese government agency that regulates the press, film and television industries, released their anti-game-addiction guidelines, called the Notice on Preventing Minors from Indulging in Online Games, which explicitly stipulates guidelines governing the gaming habits of those under 18.

Previously, Tencent Games limited players up to 13 years old to one hour of play and those under 18 to three, with all adolescent players locked out between 9 pm to 8 am. These rules were released in 2017 as part of the company’s “health system”, which was largely a response to widespread criticism in China about the harmful effect of gaming addiction, but not to specific government policy.

Now, Tencent (HKG: 0700) will lock out minors from 10 pm to 8 am, disallow users under eight years old to spend any money on in-game purchases, limit those under 16 to spending up to RMB 200 (USD 28.11) per month, and limit those between 16 and 18 to RMB 400 (USD 56.22) per month.

(Regarding gaming time, the General Administration sets out a non-tiered limit of one and a half hours for those under 18, which actually raises the amount permitted to those under 13 by 30 minutes, at least for Honor of Kings.)

Tencent claims that it has already deployed the anti-addiction system in the other 50 mobile games, including PUBG Mobile, known as Peacekeeper Elite in the domestic market.

Bypassing Tencent Games’ verification

Since 2017, Tencent Games has required all gamers to verify themselves with ID in its system, which is integrated with databases from local Chinese police departments.

However, Chinese youngsters are looking for ways to bypass the system. Apart from appropriating their parents’ accounts, they also find that there are innumerable accounts available on online marketplaces.

On e-commerce platform Taobao, for example, the keyword search “kings account” brings back hundreds of results. According to a report from local media outlet Redstar, one account vendor said underage users can log on via the accounts they sell and customer service personnel will help the buyer bypass age verification.

In response, Tencent has been stepping up to reinforce the anti-addiction system under mounting pressure from the regulators.

Today, the Shenzhen-based company announced its partnership with Unity, a cross-platform game engine utilized widely by game developers, to upgrade its verification system. According to Tencent, the new anti-addiction development tool has modules for login, screen time, and payments that verify age more strictly.

Last Friday, Tencent announced on its official WeChat account that it would expand an upgraded anti-addiction system to 30 more of its mobile games, including Honor of Kings and massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) Dragon Nest, by the end of this month. On top of this, the company said that it has been testing a new facial recognition function on a small scale to offset the loopholes in the existing real-name registration process. The company promises to apply the new regulations to all games in the first half of this year.