China Imposing Limits on Online Play Sessions

China is one of the fastest growing markets for online games, but like in other parts of Asia many online gamers in China are very much addicted to online games. Recognizing this, the country's government is working with publishers to set up an anti-addiction program that would limit the length a person could play online. Gamers who go beyond 3 hours will find their characters quickly losing abilities.

It's perhaps a bit ironic that at the same time the Chinese government decides it wants to invest heavily in the fast growing online gaming market, it also is concerned about the addiction plaguing many of the gamers fueling that sector of the economy.

Discouraging long gaming sessions

According to China's Interfax press agency, Chinese government officials have just unveiled a plan that would attempt to limit online play sessions to three consecutive hours. The way the system, developed with the help of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), would work is that a person who plays past the time limit would suddenly find that his character's abilities have diminished.

The character's in-game abilities would be cut in half after the three-hour mark and reduced to the lowest possible level after five hours of play. If a person keeps playing past the five-hour mark, a warning will pop up every 15 minutes saying, "You have entered unhealthy game time, please go offline immediately to rest. If you do not your health will be damaged and the benefits you can win will be cut to zero."

After three hours the system also will make it much more difficult for the player to discover new treasures or other items in the online game. Furthermore, a person must be logged off of the game for at least five hours before logging back in and returning to play, otherwise the game will not reset and the character will remain hampered by low ability levels.

"This timing mechanism can prevent young people from becoming addicted to online games," Xiaowei Kou, deputy director of the GAPP, said during a Beijing press conference.

Development of the system is currently scheduled to be completed by the end of this year and is expected to go into effect sometime in 2006. The majority of China's online publishers have already agreed to participate in what they're calling the "Beijing Accord." That's to be expected, though, since online games in China are not allowed to be operated without GAPP's approval.

So far Shanda, NetEase, The9, Optisp, Kingsoft, SINA and Sohu are signed up for the program. The companies said that although they are likely sacrificing revenues in the short-term, it's worth it to help create a more healthy environment for Internet users, especially those already battling online gaming addictions. A number of the most popular online games will be affected by the anti-addiction system, including the recent hit World of Warcraft, which has over 1.5 million paid Chinese subscribers.

Online addictions are serious

Addictions to online games are unfortunately quite common in parts of Asia. There have been numerous stories about players ruining their lives because they simply can't stop playing a particular game. They'll sit in an Internet cafe for hours and hours, with extreme marathon cases even leading to illness and death. In fact, to help combat this epidemic one of the first government licensed clinics was recently opened in China. According to Dr. Tao Ran, the clinic's director, approximately 2.5 million people suffer from an online addiction in China out of an estimated 25 million Chinese who play online.

The online games market in China continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. According to investment bank CSFB, this year alone the market is expected to increase 65 percent. If this continues, in 2006 China could very well be the leader in the global online gaming market. That being said, you do have to wonder what the reaction to GAPP's imposed limits will be by Chinese online gamers, the same ones who are enabling the market to expand at the incredible pace it has.