At the end of 2019, the State Press and Publication Administration of China issued the notice on preventing minors from indulging in online games (hereinafter referred to as “the notice”). Starting from 2020, Chinese online game companies have received an ultimatum of the notice: “within two months from the date of implementation of this notice, online game companies must require all users to complete real-name registration and stop providing game services to users who have not completed.”
This means that the protection of minors in Chinese online games is finally on the right track. The protection of minors in video games is no longer limited to industry self-discipline and supervision by public opinion. In addition to parents’ reports and media calls, the Chinese government can always hand over a relatively balanced answer paper.
What’s with the notice?
In fact, many of the contents of the notice are industry norms that Chinese players are already familiar with, most of which come from China’s largest video game companies, such as Tencent. However, after the publishing of the notice, specific conventions such as real-name identity authentication, restrictions on minors’ daily playtime, and setting a maximum recharge limit for minors are no longer confined to discussion or direction, but become rules written in laws and regulations:
- It is not allowed to provide game services to new users who have not registered under their real names in any form. Stop providing game services to users who have not completed their real-name registration.
- From 22:00 to 8: 00 the next day, online game enterprises are not allowed to provide game services for minors in any form.
- (minors play online games) the accumulative total of statutory holidays shall not exceed 3 hours per day, and the accumulative total of other times shall not exceed 1.5 hours per day.
- For users over the age of 8 and under the age of 16, the single recharge amount shall not exceed 50 yuan, and the cumulative monthly recharge amount shall not exceed 200 yuan; for users over the age of 16 and under the age of 18, the single recharge amount shall not exceed 100 yuan, the cumulative monthly recharge amount shall not exceed 400 yuan.
The regulation is similar to that of the industry’s existing settings, which shows that the Chinese government has consulted a lot of opinions and made decisions that are generally acceptable to enterprises. But more crucially, the enforceable written regulations, on the one hand avoid constant attempts by enterprises themselves in the protection of minors, and on the other hand they also give fair discretion and no longer specifically regulate large game companies, but to enable large and small companies to develop side by side under a unified and relatively stable framework.
In terms of game content that players and developers are generally most concerned about, “notice” does not actually involve too much, but only refers to relatively broad opinions such as “age tips”. The notice requires “relevant industry organizations” to explore relevant age tips, and may further keep up with them according to the results of the exploration. In a sense, this is also a good thing, leaving enough preparation time for enterprises and industries to avoid rough one-size-fits-all and “layman leadership”.
With regard to the setting of tips of appropriate age, and guiding parents, schools and other social forces from all walks of life to join the work of protecting minors in online games. The “notice” clearly points out the way forward, and it is generally believed that this is also the latest direction for enterprises to explore method of protecting minors in the future.
Why is the Chinese government stucked between parents and enterprises?
In China, more than a decade ago, gamers and the game industry experienced a relatively gloomy period: family education played a limited role in managing minors, and parents could only report to the government when their children were addicted to games; the government exerted pressure on enterprises mainly by guiding public opinion, and the media often published exaggerated game hazards, resulting in a misunderstanding of games in Chinese society, but the specific norms of games were absent for a long time. Enterprises, on the other hand, have refused to implement the means of juvenile protection for a long time, and have been making simple and impractical protecting products for more than a decade, only being perfunctory to the society.
Even if there are a few rules, they are usually useless or even harmful. As early as the beginning of the 21st century, teenagers’ addiction to Internet cafes has been an noticeable issue for many parents in China. At this time, the regulations on minors and Internet cafes, as well as the response of minors after the introduction of the regulations, illustrate the contradiction between Chinese supervision and teenagers. At that time, everything was similar to what it is today: the media exaggerated the harm of Internet cafes, parents were very scared and angry, the authorities quickly banned minors from entering Internet cafes, and Internet bar owners quickly responded to the government’s call.
And the result is embarrassing: it was true that the number of children swaggering into Internet cafes has dropped sharply, but it was still common for children to use fake ID cards, besides children who simply went to their classmates’ homes to surf the Internet were still a headache for their parents. Various facts show that: people could always find new ways to counter the policies, and simply preventing teenagers from playing games could not solve the problem. This is true not only in China but also in other places.
The government and game companies are also aware of children’s cunning and their determination to play games. They will not be stopped by rules in paper, and even some children are willing to put a considerable amount of energy into countering the rules. But parents do not think so, and even if they see this fact, they are more willing to blame the game for being too seductive and the government’s regulations for being too weak. To put it simply, parents almost all over the world do not want to believe that sometime, there are serious problems in their education.
As a result, the struggle is still going on to this day, and the effect is equally embarrassing.
Escalating control measures
During the Covid-19 epidemic, sales of mobile devices such as tablets soared, and visits to online courses skyrocketed to replace school education. Reports show that during the epidemic, it is not uncommon for families to have parent-child conflicts because their children play games for too long. These reports point the causes of parent-child conflicts to the imperfection of the protection of minors’ games.
Although Notification and major game companies have imposed strong restrictions on the duration and consumption of minors, teenagers can successfully circumvent the restrictions by logging in as parents, the commentary said. Commentators believe that in order to avoid such loopholes, game login should be forced to use face recognition.
However, the truth may not be as good as imagined. When minors log in to the game as parents, we should note that there are at least three problems: loopholes in login restrictions, minors breaking through loopholes themselves, and parents’ lack of supervision over their children.
If we think that all loopholes can be closed by gradually strengthening and upgrading the login restrictions, it would be illogical: even if you have to face recognition to log in to the game, minors can still pass face recognition with the help of that person as long as they find an identity of other adults. At this time, the absence of parental guardianship will be more powerless – after all, under such a login mechanism, minors will ask nothing from their parents, making it more difficult to be included in the scope of parental protection.
Let’s go back to the starting point where the game limits the login of minors. Real-name authentication requires the cooperation of the public security department, so at first, the anti-addiction system of most game companies could not even force users to use their real names. At this time, anti-addiction is generally faced with the problem of “identity acquisition.”
Let’s take the launch of Tencent’s “growth Guardian platform” in February 2017 as an example. This system, which aimed to help parents manage their children’s playtime and consumption, had a bright vision, but the initial effect was limited.
The management of minors needs to find minors, but at that time, the game account is a very low-cost online asset, and once minors are exposed, they will be restricted. As long as they want to play more games, they will register as adults. The “growth Guardian platform” hopes that parents will take the initiative to use it and help their children manage their playtime. However, the practice has proved that parents who can really learn information technology and use tools to manage their children’s playtime, in fact, they seldom face the problem that their children are addicted to games. On the other hand, those parents who most need their children to get rid of addiction are the least knowledgeable about information technology and the least likely to use anti-addiction tools.
The network is not a real society, therefore, without the guarantee of the public security department, the game company has no way to judge whether the user is an adult. In the first stage of the game against addiction, game companies had the awareness to block underage users but failed all the same.
Compulsory real-name registration is imperative. Game companies must issue “access cards” to all game population and force their accounts to register under their real names, so that “unlicensed young people” can no longer have any space. This is the second stage of game addiction prevention. In September 2018, starting with Arena of Valor, China’s largest mobile game, the “Public Security authoritative data platform enhanced Real name Verification” began to verify the real names of all users, allowing adults to “play with a license”. Minors are subject to strict restrictions on play.
From then on, the online game population has files. With the release of the “notice”, the restrictions on playing by minors are no longer facing controversy, it seems that the prevention of addiction has played a phased role.
However, there are still the most determined children who steal adult information to play games. This situation is quite a lot in reality. As a precaution, they have already registered their accounts with their adult identity, which leads them to muddle through in the real-name verification and successfully get a pass that only belongs to adults.
Of course, game companies are not ignorant of the phenomenon, nor can they turn a blind eye to it, because parents are still angry. In fact, at the beginning of the second phase, large domestic game companies began to make great efforts to analyze account behavior. For example, Tencent simply hired thousands of game customer service to check whether the account owner and user match those “licensed accounts” whose behavior tracks are suspected of minors. After gradually getting ready for the technology, the big companies gradually gave up these stupid methods, and the third stage of the game came into being.
As a result, under the appeal of the media, Tencent Games chose a new technology to prevent addiction, expanding the sampling scope of face recognition in the login and payment links of the game, so as to prevent children from playing with adult identity information. There is no doubt that this is not what you want to see.
What else will Chinese games do?
Obviously, face recognition technology also requires game companies to connect with the public security system, which not only brings a heavy network burden to China’s public security system but also costs game companies a lot of extra costs. In terms of network security, many people worry that the game covers too many people, and the frequent use of face information may bring more destabilizing factors to China.
But Chinese parents still insist on strengthening management. Most parents are not alert to the abuse of face recognition and are even more hostile to video games they are not familiar with. Although a small number of players in China have been exposed to video games for no different time than in developed countries, most Chinese have been exposed to video games for less than 10 years, which means that many parents have a great bias against games.
To make matters worse, Chinese law requires very low parental responsibility. in China, many parents pay less attention to their children, or the way they educate their children is unscientific. In North America, many of their actions would result in them being deprived of custody or even sent to prison, but in China, parents generally do not have such troubles. Therefore, the protection of minors in China has always been the responsibility of the government and society, but parents have not paid much for it.
We believe that this problem can only be solved when China’s economy continues to develop, most parents are well educated and Chinese laws are more perfect. Until then, Chinese game companies had to face the strictest game regulation in the world and struggle to survive in China.