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August 4, 2021

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Tencent to limit minors’ gaming amid ‘spiritual opium’ outcry

China’s biggest gaming company, Tencent Holdings, said yesterday it will limit gaming time for minors and ban children under age 12 from making in-game purchases after a state media article called games “spiritual opium.”

Tencent’s pledge to curb gaming for minors came hours after the company’s stock plunged as much as 11 percent following a critique published by the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper affiliated with the official Xinhua news agency.

According to a survey by the publication of nearly 2,000 high school students in Luzhou, Sichuan Province, 54 percent of them spend one to two hours daily on games, and Tencent’s Honor of Kings is the most popular.

The report cited social science academics as saying that indulging in gaming would have adverse psychological effects on minors and named Tencent and NetEase as the two biggest companies with a dominant market share.

The prevalence of smartphones and the convenience of mobile Internet access has made it harder to limit minors from playing games. 

“‘Spiritual opium’ has grown into an industry worth hundreds of billions,” the newspaper said, adding that no industry should be allowed to develop in a manner that will “destroy a generation.” The online article was removed an hour later.

In response, Tencent said in a statement yesterday that it will limit gaming time for minors to one hour a day, and two hours a day during holidays. Children under age 12 will also be prohibited from making purchases within the game, the company said.

Under Chinese law, users under age 18 can play online games for a maximum of 1 1/2 hours a day, and three hours during holidays.

Tencent also called for the industry to control gaming time for minors and discuss the possibility of banning those younger than 12 from playing games.

The critique of the gaming industry sparked a selloff of stocks in Chinese gaming firms, including NetEase.

Tencent fell 6.11 percent and NetEase sank 7.77 percent against a dip of 0.16 percent in the Hang Seng Index yesterday.

According to the Game Publishing Committee of the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association, the gaming market grew 7.89 percent to 150.5 billion yuan (US$23.26 billion) in the first half this year, with a user base of 667 million.

Mobile data consultancy Questmobile estimates the smartphone games user base to have reached 548 million by June, with average time spent per month over 20 hours. Over 13 percent of paying gamers were aged under 18, it added.


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