Chinese lawmakers are considering a draft revision to the current Minor Protection Law that will strengthen the protection of minors both online and in the real world. The draft contains two new chapters on ‘Network Protection’ and ‘Government Protection’ and increases the number of items covered from 72 to 130. The Minor Protection Law was first introduced in 1991 and has since been revised both in 2006 and 2013, making the current revision the third to this law. This blog post will focus on the revisions under the ‘Network Protection’ chapter impacting the online games industry.
The Network Protection chapter has been introduced to protect more than 170 million internet users under age 18 who go online via smartphones, tablets and computers. Whilst most of the protections focus on online data management to protect the privacy and security of minors online, other revisions cover anti-addiction systems and age rating systems in online games, and would have a direct impact on game operators in China.
The revision calls for online platforms and game operators to be required to introduce time management, authority management and consumption management systems for minors. The full details of how these systems will work in the gaming space are to be decided by China’s gaming regulator, the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP). These systems are currently known as anti-addiction systems, and are not new to the games industry. China first mandated that anti-addiction systems be used for online games in July 2007 with online game operators required to identify minors through a real name registrations, and then limit the amount of time they could play online.
This helped curb game addiction among minors in PC games but did not refer to mobile games; in fact, in 2014 the gaming regulator stated that they were not a requirement in mobile games. China’s mobile games industry has grown significantly since then and is now larger than the PC games industry. This has prompted a response from lawmakers, the media and parents who are pushing for anti-addiction systems to be included in mobile games too. Tencent responded to this pressure by rolling out its first anti-addiction and real name registrations for Honor of Kings, a 5v5 MOBA for smartphones, in July 2017.
Tencent took further steps in September 2018 after a notice from China’s Ministry of Education recommended that game companies combat mobile gaming addiction among minors. The company has committed to rolling out its anti-addiction and real name registration system to all games by the end of 2019, and many other game operators are following suit. Via the draft revision, the SAPP would require all game operators to implement anti-addiction systems and will implement time and spending restrictions.
Age Rating System
There will also be an age restriction and compliance component. This would work similar to an age rating board such as the ESRB or PEGI, but with the additional mandate to restrict minors from playing games if the age rating is too high for their age. China has previously experimented with age rating systems but none have continued. China’s Ministry of Education also pushed for an age rating system in an August 2018 notice.
Earlier this year, The People’s Daily worked with over 20 game companies to create a new age rating system that could be implemented for both PC and Mobile games. The proposal created four ratings categories: 6+, 12+, 16+ and 18+ with the proposal stating that players under six should not play games unaccompanied. It’s unclear if the SAPP will use this exact system, but we note that this is the most robust age rating system in China to date and more than 50 games have been rated using this system.
Tencent currently includes both an anti-addiction system for minors and a digital age lock for players who are not 16 in the game Peacekeeper Elite. Players who are 15 or younger cannot register for the game, and those 16 and 18 can register but are subject to daily time limits.
Implementation of these systems for PC and mobile games is an inevitable development and an important step for China’s games industry, allowing for games to target different age demographics and become more diversified. However, spending by minors constitutes a tiny proportion of overall spending and we do not expect these new systems to have a material impact on game operator earnings.