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Mobile gaming

China tech giant Tencent to warn parents when children spend too much money on games such as Honour of Kings

World’s top grossing games publisher to notify account holders when underage players spend over US$77 a day

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 1:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 11:02pm

Tencent Holdings, the world's top grossing games publisher, will alert parents when their children spend excessively on games amid growing global concern over the mental health impact of the industry.

Tencent said on Wednesday it will notify payment account owners whenever an underaged QQ account user spends more than 500 yuan (US$77) a day on its games, including the widely popular title Honour of Kings.

Using a dedicated customer service team of 200 people, Tencent will identify users under 18 years of age based on information from the real-name registration process, or by judging from their online behaviour.

Payment account holders will be reached through WeChat, Tencent’s messaging app, or via the phone number provided during the account registration process.

The alert service is currently in trial operation and the company said it pledges to modify and improve its rules on game spending levels, identification of underage users, and methods of contacting account holders.

“We hope to further guide the underage to form habits of moderate recreation and rational spending with this service,” Tencent said in a statement.

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The new alert service comes days after the World Health Organisation, an agency under the United Nations, classified so-called gaming disorder as a mental health condition.

WHO said the classification will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and better prepared to identify the risks.

However, the agency and other experts noted that less than 3 per cent of all gamers are affected by the condition, the Associated Press reported.

“I do not think it will hurt the game operators or the industry when WHO classifies gaming disorders as a type of mental health condition,” said Turian Tan, an analyst at IDC China.

“The classification offers standardisation on how to define the [condition], which has always been under discussion.”

Tan added that Tencent and NetEase were promoting their “functional games” this year, which are designed for education and other purposes besides pure entertainment. “They are expanding their game genres and building positive images,” he said.

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Games have become a lightning rod for criticism amid growing concerns over gaming addiction among the country’s youth.

Last July People’s Daily compared Tencent’s blockbuster game Honour of Kings to “poison”, a move which wiped US$17.5 billion off Hong Kong-listed Tencent’s market value in one day on speculation the central government would intervene and curtail the industry.

Following the criticism, Tencent CEO Pony Ma Huateng said the company would set a daily time limit of one hour for players under the age of 12, and they would not be able to log into the game after 9pm.

In 2017 an 11-year-old girl spent 100,000 yuan (US$14,700) of her parent’s money on equipment for her game roles in Honour of Kings, China’s most popular game with more than 200 million players.

Ma was on the defensive again during the country’s annual political gathering in March after a member of the top political advisory body proposed a classification system for video games, calling them the new “opium” because an obsession with them was affecting the younger generation.

The Tencent chief announced that the company would introduce so-called digital contracts that would allow parents and children to negotiate time limits for playing Honour of Kings.

The terms in the contracts can be written to link playing time to tasks such as completing housework and study, thus encouraging positive behaviour in children by rewarding them, Ma said in March.