China has announced a drastic cut to children's online gaming time to just three hours a week during term time, the latest move in a broad crackdown on tech giants in the world's biggest gaming market.
Gamers under 18 will only be allowed to play online between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, state news agency Xinhua said, in what it described as a bid to curb addiction in the gaming-crazy nation.
Gamers are required to use their ID cards when registering to play online, to ensure minors don't lie about their age.
On school holidays, children will be allowed to play a little longer, with the allocated time set at 60 minutes per day.
"Gaming addiction has affected studies and normal life... and many parents have become miserable," the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) said in a statement.
The new rules, published on Monday, are part of a major shift by Beijing to strengthen control over its society and key sectors of its economy, including tech, education and property, after years of runaway growth.
The restrictions, which apply to any devices including phones, are a body blow to a global gaming industry that caters to tens of millions of young players in the world's most lucrative market.
"Teenagers are the future of our motherland," Xinhua quoted an unnamed NPPA spokesperson as saying. "Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the people's vital interests, and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation."
Gaming companies will be barred from providing services to minors in any form outside the stipulated hours and must ensure they have put real-name verification systems in place, said the regulator, which oversees the country's video games market.
An earlier restriction in place since late 2019 banned late-night games and restricted players to just 90 minutes of playtime on weekdays and three hours on weekends and holidays.
The new rules swiftly became one of the most discussed topics on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. Some users expressed support for the measures while others said they were surprised at how drastic the rules were.
Others expressed doubt that the restrictions could be enforced. "They will just use their parents' logins, how can they control it?" asked one.
Gaming seems to be the latest target for regulators, hit by a raft of rules introduced in recent months to weed out the excesses of the culture among Chinese youth, from worsening eyesight to online addiction.
The industry -- which made revenue of 130 billion yuan ($20 billion) in the first half of this year according to the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association -- has been slammed in menacing state media reports in recent days, with one article labeling games as "spiritual opium."
In July Chinese tech giant Tencent rolled out a facial recognition "midnight patrol" function to root out children masquerading as adults to get around a government curfew on underage gamers.
About 62.5% of Chinese minors often play games online, and 13.2% of underage mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on working days, according to state media.
The NPPA regulator told Xinhua it would increase the frequency and intensity of inspections for online gaming companies to ensure they were putting in place time limits and anti-addiction systems.
It also said that parents and teachers played key roles in curbing gaming addiction.