China’s Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), published draft regulations back in October 2016 that are designed to protect minors (citizens under 18) online. An updated draft of the regulations was published last month and is set to be finalized shortly. These regulations plan to address growing concerns around Internet privacy, cyberbullying and online gaming addiction. These regulations will affect the more than 170 million internet users in China aged 18 or under.
In general, the regulations talk about special policies that online operators must follow to protect minors online. Minors must receive a warning any time their information is tracked by a website online. Minors now also have the right to delete or block personal information from being displayed on any website and platform holders, such as Apple, will need to have minor protection software preinstalled when distributing iPhones. Online game operators will also need to make changes in accordance with these new regulations.
The new regulations state that online game operators must carry out the following:
- Introduce real name identification registration for user accounts
- Take steps to identify minor accounts and store information privately and securely
- Prohibit minors from accessing inappropriate parts of the game such as excessive violence or depictions of sexual content.
- Introduce anti-addiction systems that limit the duration of time minors can continuously play a game
- Block minors from playing online games from 12am (midnight) to 8am
Not all of the regulations above are new, as minors have always been banned from Internet cafés after midnight and from playing online games for too many hours in a row. However, this is the first-time online game operators will be responsible for prohibiting minors from playing after midnight themselves. An online game operator may face a fine of up to 500,00 RMB (~$72,000 USD), along with suspension or termination, if they are unable to register a minor’s identity or take measures limiting playtime for minors.
These new regulations are being put into place to deal with what the Chinese government is calling excessive gaming addiction. There have been countless stories in China of minors becoming addicted to online games and playing them late at night, leading to adverse health effects. The government is hoping that these regulations will stop excessive gaming addiction without the need for parents to send their children to potentially harmful internet addiction camps that have known to use banned methodologies, such as electroshock therapy, to “help” addicted teens. In fact, these new regulations now prohibit organisations from abusing or threatening minors during treatment.
Parents have welcomed these new regulations as a way to curb excessive gaming addiction but many are conscious that loopholes still exist as minors can easily use their parents/another adult’s login details to get around the midnight ban. This is one of the loopholes used in Internet cafés today where minors are currently banned from playing after midnight. Closing this loophole will require both the government and online game operators to co-operate on a much more sophisticated real ID registration system, but online operators may not be so willing to work on a solution like this as it could negatively affect the number of people playing and spending in game, many of whom are under 18.
This isn’t the first-time regulations like this have been imposed around the world. South Korea’s government passed a “shutdown law” in May 2011 that prohibits minors under the age of 16 from playing games between midnight and 6am. Whilst effective at first, the law caused underage games to steal or use their parent’s IDs in order to circumvent the ban. Many parents worry that minors in China will do the same thing here and many also worry that these regulations do not cover offline games and console games, which can be just as addictive.
Major gaming operators are seeing these concerns from parents and are beginning to respond in kind to build trust. Under the guidance of the Ministry of Culture, Tencent has created a parental control platform that will allow parents to monitor their children in online games. The platform is still in a BETA state but it hopes to provide peace of mind to parents who don’t know how to put limits on their children’s gaming habits. The service currently includes real name authentication, real time reminders, spend settings, time limits and password protections. Along with the new regulations from the CAC, this move from Tencent should put parent’s minds at ease.
China’s government has always acted with paternal responsibility towards its citizens and this regulation is one of many that aims to protect minors from excessive gaming addiction. These new regulations go a step further towards eradicating the problem but there is still a long way to go in terms of providing a complete and safe solution with zero loopholes. The draft regulation has been submitted to the National People’s Congress for approval and is set to go into effect shorty. Niko Partners has tracked the regulatory changes in China’s online games market for over 15 years – to learn more about the market and our services, please email Daniel@nikopartners.com.