Tencent makes it harder for China’s minors to bypass anti-addiction game limits by using adults’ accounts

By Josh Ye

For adult accounts the platform suspects of being operated by minors, players will be asked to verify their identities by scanning their faces, Tencent says. Users who fail to verify their identities as adults will be subject to the limits for minors. — SCMP

Bad news for young Chinese gamers hoping to bypass the country’s strict anti-addiction measures by using their parents’ accounts: gaming giant Tencent Holdings has announced new measures aimed at making this more difficult.

For adult accounts the platform suspects of being operated by minors, players will be asked to verify their identities by scanning their faces when they log in to games or top up their accounts by more than 400 yuan (RM241) for in-game payment purposes, Tencent said in a statement on WeChat on Wednesday.

Tencent did not explain how it would detect such accounts, and declined to comment beyond its statement.

Chinese regulators have criticised the unhealthy impact of excessive playing of video games on the young and pushed hard for stricter measures to control the issue in recent years.

National guidelines introduced last year limit players 18 years old or younger to playing games between 8am and 10pm, with no more than 1.5 hours each day, or three hours on holidays. They can also spend no more than 400 yuan (RM241) each month on in-game purchases.

As the largest gaming company in China and the world by revenue, Tencent has come under particular scrutiny from regulators, who have control over which new games are allowed to be launched in the market.

Despite previous efforts to limit access to underage gamers, the company’s games were among those that failed to check players’ real identities or limit playing time for minors, a report from the China Consumer Association found in May last year.

In addition to concerns about minors gaming excessively, there have also been a growing number of legal disputes over minors spending large amounts of their parents’ or guardians’ money on gaming platforms.

Last month, China’s highest court issued a judicial directive saying it expected courts in China to support refund claims by parents and guardians against online gaming and livestreaming platforms that receive excessive payments from underage users.

Games in China already require players to register their accounts based on their real names and national ID numbers to ensure anti-addiction guidelines are adhered to, and Tencent said in the statement on Wednesday it will match the face scans against the national database.

Users who fail to verify their identities as adults will be subject to the limits for minors, Tencent said, adding that this feature has already been piloted on its two most popular titles – Honour Of Kings and Peacekeeper Elite – and extended to most of its mobile games. All of the company’s mobile games will eventually be covered under the new measures, the company added, without giving a specific time frame.

“In the era of mobile Internet, building a healthy and safe network environment for minors is a systemic challenge faced by the entire society and requires the joint effort of everyone, including companies,” Tencent said in the statement, adding that it will continue to explore ways to comply with regulatory requirements, protect minors regardless of cost and “work with the society to help children grow up healthily”.

One analyst who had spoken to Tencent experts on the issue said he did not think the new restrictions are likely to affect the profitability of Tencent’s games.

“Contrary to popular belief, if you restrict people’s playing time to a specific window, they may engage with your content more efficiently,” said Ding Daoshi, director of research at Beijing-based internet consultancy Sootoo. “To put it more bluntly, for people who have a lot of time, their ability to pay is probably not that strong. Those who are able to pay tend to be people who have limited time.” – South China Morning Post

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