Tencent Holdings will require all players of its mobile and personal computer games to verify their identities against police databases from next year as part of its attempts to assuage government concern that excessive gaming is hurting the health of the country’s young.
The company last month made it mandatory for players in nine Chinese cities including Beijing to verify their age to log into its popular Honour of Kings mobile game. Under the new plan, Tencent will roll out the mandatory verification to another nine of its most popular games before introducing them for all of its games from next year.
Globally, the World Health Organisation in its disease classification manual stated that compulsively playing video games qualifies as a mental health condition.
“Tencent is making the anti-addiction measures the benchmark for the industry. Other small companies will have to adopt the similar measures,” said William Li, senior analyst at Beijing-based data research company Context Lab. “With the stricter rules, the whole gaming industry will be negatively affected.”
Tencent’s shares fell for the first time in four days, slipping 3.8 per cent to HK$292 as of 3:02pm in Hong Kong trading. The stock has declined 28 per cent this year, compared with the 13 per cent drop in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.
Gaming addiction has been in the public eye, with various government agencies and state media criticising the unhealthy impact that excessive playing of video games is having on the young. But the issue arguably seized public imagination and indignation after a member of China’s top political advisory body called video games the new “opium” at this year’s Two Sessions meetings in March.
To those familiar with China’s history, the charge of peddling opium is an emotive one.
Schoolchildren in China are taught that foreign powers, in a bid to tilt the balance of trade, introduced opium to the masses in the 19th century, damaging the health of millions in a period that the ruling Communist Party has referred to as China’s “century of humiliation.”
Tencent’s approach to handling the issue has also changed, from chairman Pony Ma Huateng urging responsibility from all parties, including parents, to police screen time for the young, to trying to pre-empt legislative or administrative measures by introducing anti-addiction measures to limit play time for vulnerable segments.
A lot is at stake for Tencent to ensure a healthy development of online gaming, which remains its biggest revenue contributor even as the Shenzhen-based company diversifies its businesses.
Ma said in an open letter last week laying out the rationale for a recent restructuring of its business units to better focus resources on developing the industrial internet, which it sees as the future driver for economic growth in the next twenty years. In doing so, it will gradually shift its focus from the consumer internet.
Supporting the digital transformation of China’s economy is in line with the government’s strategic goal of harnessing advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence to secure the country’s future in the next technological and industrial revolution.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month at a Politburo “group study” session about AI that China must develop its own AI technology, saying it was important for economic development, social progress and global geopolitics. This is the first time that the Chinese leader has gathered the Politburo to study the technology and required the country to embrace it.