The world’s largest gaming company wants to make people spend less time playing its games.
Tencent says it’s implementing the “ strictest” identity system in all of its games, forcing gamers to prove who they really are before they can play -- and allowing them to limit playtime for children.
But gamers are skeptical that the system will work -- and say they’ll continue to find ways around the system.
It started almost a year ago, when Tencent first asked players to provide their IDs before they could play their marquee title, Honor of Kings (known as Arena of Valor in the West).
That came after state media blasted the game for getting teenagers hooked, as if it was a “ digital drug”. In response, Tencent introduced the ID system to identify underage gamers and limit their playtime: One hour a day for kids under 12, and two hours for those aged between 12 to 18.
Tencent says the system is effective. In a WeChat post on Tuesday, saying gaming by underage players is down over 52% from the peak last year.
But others have pointed out many loopholes in Tencent's system. For instance, Chinese media reported that a made-up ID number could get players past the check. And if you couldn’t think of one manually? There were generators that’d spit out fake ID numbers on command.
And if you wanted something that looked a little more legit, there were services that helped teenagers to register accounts under the name of an adult -- for a fee. They were said to cost between US$4 to US$10.
Tencent’s new system -- which will be rolled out across all of its games, not just Honor of Kings -- is meant to close those loopholes. It’s said to use the country’s strictest identity database, which used to be used for critical areas like finance, credit and government affairs.
They said it's already been deployed in Beijing, and is on schedule to be rolled out to other provinces in the following year.
But Chinese netizens are skeptical as to how effective this new system will be.
One Weibo comment said, “What’s new if the game is still just checking gamers’ IDs? This is just old wine in a new bottle.”
Netizens said that many grade school gamers have been using their grandparents’ IDs to bypass the in-game ID check. A Weibo user joked, “Later when they do data analyses, they’ll realize a bunch of senior citizens play the game.”
Worse yet, some merchants sell stolen ID numbers online. Pointing to this phenomenon, a famous gaming blogger joked on Weibo, “It seems like we adults are likely subject to the anti-addiction scheme soon.”
According to state media, sales of Honor of Kings accounts rose dramatically after Tencent unveiled the new upgrade, with one merchant receiving more than 5,000 orders over three days.
The reporter spoke with a merchant who refused to give away how he got these accounts, but assured reporter that they have no playtime limits. The only downside is that the buyer won’t be able to make in-game purchases.
Tencent has already tried to take this to a new level with facial recognition in Honor of Kings to verify player identity. They said they’re testing it in Beijing and Shenzhen in September, but has offered few other details about when it will actually roll out.
Some gamers say facial recognition is vital for the company’s anti-addiction system.
“Without facial recognition, it’s not going to work… If you have a look online, ID numbers are available everywhere,” one wrote on Weibo.
The pressure is intensifying on Tencent to get it right. Just last month, the Ministry of Education attributed myopia among the country’s youth to video games, which caused a huge drop in Tencent’s share price.