China became the first country to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder in 2008.
China's young gamers face time limits playing 'King of Glory'
All-night gaming marathons will soon end for some Chinese kids.
Internet giant Tencent began limiting daily playing times on its smartphone smash hit "King of Glory" on Tuesday to "ensure children's healthy development".
Young players will be restricted to one or two hours on the mobile online multiplayer battle game, which boasts 80 million daily users, as concerns grow in China that long periods online are posing a serious threat to the country's youth.
Parents and teachers have complained that children were becoming addicted to the multiplayer online battle game, which, according to the company, has more than 200 million users, mostly in China.
Tencent said that King of Glory was "supposed to bring joy ... but excessive gaming brings joy to neither players nor their parents".
The fantasy role-playing game based on Chinese historical characters is the world's top-grossing game by worldwide iOS + Google Play revenue in May, according to mobile data intelligence firm App Annie's latest monthly index. The game made an estimated first-quarter revenue of around 6 billion yuan (Dh 3.2bn), according to Xinhua state news agency.
Some 24 million young people in China are estimated to be internet addicts.
State media reported in April that a 17-year-old gamer in southern Guangdong province suffered a type of stroke after spending 40 consecutive hours playing King of Glory.
Editorials in the People's Daily have called on gaming platforms like Tencent to be aware not only of the markets, but also of their "responsibilities" to society.
The Communist Party mouthpiece suggested that King of Glory may be "'entrapping' life" instead of "entertaining the public".
"Smartphones are ubiquitous and the mobile gaming market is exploding," one editorial said, "but cell phones cannot be reduced to 'black cybercafes' or even 'grenades'."
More than half of the users of King of Glory are below 24 years of age, including more than a quarter below 19 years, according to Chinese mobile data firm Jiguang.
Users 12 years of age and younger are now limited to one hour of play a day, and will not be permitted to sign in after 9pm, Tencent said over the weekend. The move goes into effect on Tuesday.
Users between 12 and 18 years of age are limited to two hours per day.
Shares in Tencent slumped 4.13 per cent on Tuesday — its biggest single-day drop since February 2016.
"The limits on the game King of Glory is part of the reason for the [shares slump] today," Sam Chi Yung, a Hong Kong-based senior strategist for South China Research, said.
"This will affect Tencent's earnings eventually as players would buy equipment and stuff when they played the game."
According to the company, which called its new controls the "three broad axes", those who play beyond the allotted time period will be "forced to go offline".
Tencent will also place caps on the amount of money that underage users can spend on the platform, so as to rein in "minors' irrational consumption".
Additional measures implemented earlier this year include a real-name authentication system and software that enables parents to place electronic locks on the game.
Users on the Weibo social network, however, were sceptical that avid gamers would be deterred.
"What's the point," one commenter said. "Most elementary schoolers are already using their parents' accounts."
"Those little devils will just steal their parents' ID cards to register," another chimed in. "And soon there will be a Big Black market for adult-age accounts!"
China, which became the first country to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder in 2008, introduced draft legislation this February that would ban minors from playing online games between midnight and 8am.
But in the current absence of "clear regulations to guard against mobile gaming addiction", Tencent said, "we have decided to take the lead … and dispel parents' concerns."
"We also call on parents to spend more time with their children, to allow them to feel more the warmth of growing up."
In recent years, some Chinese parents began sending their children to intensive internet addiction "rehabilitation" centres known for their military-style tactics.
The draft regulation aimed to curtail the more extreme methods employed at these centres, such as electroshock therapy and beatings.