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Game Politics

China Clamps Down on Youthful Online Gamers

Interfax is reporting that the People's Republic of China has issued new regulations prohibiting those under 18 from playing online games in which players can kill other players. Such games currently dominate the huge Chinese market for online games.

China's Ministry of Culture (MOC) and Ministry of Information Industry (MII) have also directed online game operators to create "identity authentication systems" to prevent minors from playing violent online games. Such authentication systems would force gamers to first enter their Citizen ID Card numbers before being allowed to play games that permit player versus player combat. No timetable has been given for implementation of the identity card system.

Liu Shifa, head of the MOC's Internet Culture Division, told Interfax, "Minors should not be allowed to play online games that have PK (player killing) content, that allow players to increase the power of their own online game characters by killing other players. Online games that have PK content usually also contain acts of violence and leads to players spending too much time trying to increase the power of their characters. They are harmful to young people."

The Chinese online gaming market generated US $304 million revenue last year. That figure is expected to jump to US $1.34 billion in 2005. Online gaming in China is dominated by massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), many of which offer the option to PK. The three most popular MMORPG's in China are World of Warcraft, The Legend of MIR, and Fantasy Journey to the West, all of which permit PK's.

Interfax reports that nearly 16% of China's 103 million Internet users are under the age of 18. Not surprisingly, game companies are reluctant. More than 20 million Chinese play online games, about half of which favor MMORPG's.

"We don't want to put the authentication system in our games," a game company executive said. "PK game content is an important and attractive part of almost all MMORPGs. This new regulation will have a major impact on China's online gaming market...It will be very difficult for the government to enforce this new regulation...I think they will only be able to enforce this policy at internet cafes, where authentication systems would be linked to police databases. But I think it will be very difficult to enforce this system for people playing online games from home."

But wait, there's more.

Chinese authorities have also mandated online game companies to set up a timing mechanism that would boot players out of their games after a certain time limit. Gamers in China average about 11 hours per week playing online games.

"A lot of operators are not willing to install these timing mechanisms," the executive told Interfax. "Some have already installed them, such as Shanda (Legend of Mir), but we are not going to install it. Even if it is compulsory, many companies will not install it because it is contrary to their interests."

The Chinese government has significantly increased its surveillance of online games since 2004 as part of its effort to create a "healthy" environment for children. As part of that same campaign, regulators have also cracked down on pornographic, violent, gambling, and superstitious content disseminated over the internet and mobile phone networks.



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