China is banning children from playing online games for more than three hours a week, the harshest restriction so far on the game industry as Chinese regulators continue cracking down on the technology sector.
Minors in China can only play games between 8pm and 9pm on Fridays, weekends and on public holidays starting from Wednesday, a notice from the General Administration of Press and Publication states.
It means that for most weeks of the year, gaming will be permitted for only three hours a week, down from a previous restriction set in 2019 that allowed minors to play games for an hour and a half per day and three hours on public holidays.
The new regulation will affect some of China’s largest technology companies, including gaming giant Tencent, whose Honour of Kings online multiplayer game is hugely popular globally, as well as gaming company NetEase.
Tencent’s stock price closed down 0.6 per cent at 465.80 Hong Kong dollars on Monday ahead of the regulator’s announcement. Its market capitalisation of $573 billion is down more than $300 billion from its February peak, a decline equal to more than the total value of Nike Inc or Pfizer Inc.
New York-listed NetEase’s stock was down about 9 per cent at the market’s open.
The gaming restrictions are part of an ongoing crackdown on technology companies, amid concerns that technology firms – many of which provide ubiquitous messaging, payments and gaming services – may have an outsized influence on society.
Earlier in August, Tencent said it would limit gaming time for minors to an hour a day and two hours during holidays, as well as ban children under the age of 12 from making in-game purchases.
The company issued the curbs after a state-affiliated newspaper criticised the gaming industry and called games “spiritual opium".
Regulators said in Monday’s notice that they would strengthen supervision and increase the frequency of inspections of online game companies to ensure they follow the regulations closely.
Chinese authorities in recent months have targeted e-commerce and online education, and have implemented new regulations to curb anti-competitive behaviour after years of rapid growth in the technology sector.
In July, authorities banned companies that provide tutoring in core school subjects from making a profit, wiping out billions in market value from online education companies such as TAL Education and Gaotu Techedu.
– Additional reporting by Associated Press