As the largest annual video game expo in China, ChinaJoy is where gamers of all stripes converge every summer to check out developments by studios from across the country, as they anticipate releases of the next great video game. On Tuesday, one day after this year’s iteration of ChinaJoy ended, the share price of Tencent, the world’s largest video game company, dived more than 10% in early morning trading.
The trigger was an article published in the investigation section of state media outlet Economic Information Daily, in which the author blasted online games as “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs.” The article was taken offline, its splashiest words were scrubbed, and a new, softer version of the original article was posted in its place later that evening. Not even a full day has passed since all this took place, but predictions of where video games are heading in China are pouring forth from all corners of the country, from state-backed commentators to industry groups.
While gamers took to Weibo to air their dissatisfaction about the harsh words published by EID, state-affiliated figures have chimed in to clear the air. The editor-in-chief of state-run tabloid Global Times, Hu Xijin, wrote on Weibo that EID’s article does not reflect the central government’s stance on the matter. “China needs a group of fast-growing and innovative high-tech companies, and I can hardly imagine that the state will take the simple approach of putting an end to online games,” he wrote. The sentiment was echoed by a “regulatory source” who spoke to the South China Morning Post.
For now, the matter of how video games will be regulated is framed as an issue relating to the protection of minors, specifically children under the age of 12. On Wednesday, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, published an article calling for comprehensive protection of minors on the internet, saying that new regulations function as a “firewall” for underage netizens and protect them from “online games and livestreams that are inundated with vulgarity and violence that endangers the physical and mental health of minors. The op-ed’s author also pointed to online bullying and scams where children are the targets, but did not name any companies or platforms in particular.
Tencent is already reframing its internal policies to align with the overall statements that are circulating in state media. In a post on Tencent Games’ official WeChat feed, the company outlined seven new measures that will be implemented in its hit mobile game, Honor of Kings. These steps include slashing screen time for minors from 1.5 hours to 1 hour on weekdays, and from 3 hours to 2 hours during holidays. Gamers under the age of 12 will not be able to make any in-game purchases.
NetEase, another major video game company whose stock has been hit hard, said it will launch a rectification campaign this summer. This includes screening its existing content on platforms and underage consumer behavior.
On Tuesday night, China’s state-backed Game Publishers Association Publications Committee, said in an interview with the newspaper 21st Century Business Herald that new regulations that are designed to monitor underage gamers will be targeted. The committee said that video games can create social good and that online games are not “fierce floods or savage beasts” that should be feared. It also emphasized that existing rules are largely effective.
China already has the strictest rules for video games. Aside from time limits imposed upon some players, everyone must register with their real names and undergo an identity verification process that may include facial recognition. These regulations may become just a little tighter as new regulations are drafted in the near future.