China implements online gaming restrictions for minors

China's new video game curfew limits how long underage players can play.

On Tuesday, Chinese officials announced a slew of online gaming restrictions for players under 18. The country is moving forward with six initiatives aimed at reducing youth video game addiction. Officials believe that children’s health and learning abilities are negatively correlated with the amount of time spent gaming. 

In the eSports world, China is one of the biggest video game markets. The country is expected to generate $33 billion in digital video game revenue alone this year. The implications of the new restrictions will have a broad impact on game developers and platforms. 

China’s announcement is especially significant because of online gaming’s current popularity. In 2018, video game sales totaled nearly $44 billion. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 65 percent of American adults play video games, and 75 percent of U.S. households have at least one gamer. 

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China’s New Restrictions on Online Gaming

The official guidelines released earlier this week include several measures related to the time youth can spend gaming online. Minors now have a curfew and can no longer play between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Additionally, youth can only log up to an hour and a half each day, except on national holidays when the limit is three hours.

The new restrictions also limit spending. Minor’s can only spend $28 or $57 per month on microtransactions depending on their age.

Adult gamers are also subject to a few of the directives. Gamers cannot play anything that depicts “sexual explicitness, goriness, violence and gambling.” Also, all gamers must create online profiles with real names and phone numbers so that government officials can regulate playing time effectively. 

Video Game Addiction Growing Increasingly Prevalent

In China, restrictions on gaming aren’t that surprising given President Xi Jinping’s opinions on the matter. Last year, Jinping attributed some of the blame of the East Asian myopia epidemic to video game addiction. In response, regulators pulled some titles from shelves and issued fewer video game licenses. 

The conversation around healthy video gaming habits is taking place in other parts of the world, as well. The World Health Organization officially added video game addiction to its list of recognized diseases. The agency didn’t specify any benchmarks and, instead, offered a definition: “the inability to stop playing even though it interferes with other areas of one’s life.”

More than two billion people play video games today. The most addictive are massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) that allow players to connect collaboratively or competitively with others all over the world.

The Rise of eSports

The eSports industry continues to grow rapidly. Global revenues exceeded $900 million in 2018, representing almost 40 percent growth over the prior year. Over the next two years, annual revenue is expected to skyrocket to $1.6 billion

The eSports analytics firm, Newzoo, predicts that total viewership will reach 557 million by 2021. General awareness about the space continues to grow as online gaming pushes more into the mainstream. ESPN announced two major broadcasting partnerships last year with Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games for the “Overwatch League” and “League of Legends.”

Last month, Fortnite sent the world into a frenzy when the online MMO battle royale went dark for a short period before re-launching. Six million viewers watched the end of a virtual world that generated $2.4 billion in 2018 alone. The game’s success continues to set the pace for online gaming and serves as a key battleground for the real-world debate around healthy video gaming habits.