China’s biggest video game company crushes the rumor-fueled dreams of teen gamers and denies it will allow more screen time 

Young Chinese gamers play on their mobile phones outside a shopping mall.
In 2017, young Chinese players practiced outside a shopping mall where a battle match of Tencent video game Arena of Valor was held.
Zhang Peng—LightRocket via Getty Images

Tencent, the world’s largest gaming company, extinguished the hopes of China’s young gamers this week when it denied rumors it was increasing the allowable screen time for minors.

Under a Chinese law introduced last August, children under the age of 18 are only allowed one hour to play video games from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. They can also play for one hour during national holidays. 

But for reasons that remain unclear, gossip spread on Chinese social media that Tencent, China’s most popular gaming company, would extend screen time for under-18s to one hour per day during the summer months, according to the Nikkei.

In a Monday blog post, Tencent wrote: “You heard that gamers can play every day during the summer holiday? There might be a bit of a misunderstanding… It’s better to breathe some fresh air instead of getting addicted to playing video games.”

As early as 2017, Tencent began limiting minors’ game time for its wildly popular flagship mobile game Honor of Kings, after a spate of complaints from parents and teachers that young people were becoming addicted to the game. 

Aside from government-wide rules cracking down on video game play, Tencent specifically banned children under 12 from spending money on its games, and even introduced facial recognition verification to combat minors using adult accounts to play games outside of the stipulated hours. The company said on Monday that it would continue to use these systems to catch kids trying to work around the rules. 

Beijing justified its tough screen time limits as necessary to combat a genuine social problem: Chinese minors’ video gaming addictions. Out of China’s 720 million gamers, around 110 million are under 18 years old, Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at gaming research firm Niko Partners, told Fortune last September. A 2021 survey from a cloud services firm showed that Chinese gamers played more hours of video games every week—averaging 12.4 hours per week—than any other country in the world.

Chinese state media has described video gaming as “spiritual opium,” while the country’s regulator in charge of overseeing the video games market said that protecting the “physical and mental health of minors is related to the people’s vital interests.” 

But Beijing has appeared to ease its clampdown on video game makers by green-lighting 172 game titles since April, after an eight-month freeze on video game approvals. Beijing’s video game regulator must approve video games before the game makers can release or monetize them in China. That has buoyed China tech stocks and alleviated investor fears, leading them to believe that the worst is now over for gaming companies. 

On Tuesday, Beijing allowed 67 new games to go to market in its third batch of approvals granted this year. Last month, the agency green-lit 60 new video game titles, and in April, it approved 45 games. The growing number of games allowed by the agency indicates that there’s some sort of “return to [a] regular monthly cadence” to video game approvals in the country, Ahmad tweeted on Tuesday. 

After Tuesday’s round of approvals, Hong Kong gaming-related internet stocks went up, like video platform Bilibili, which rose 3.52% and gaming giant NetEase, which gained 1.83%.

Tencent, however, was not approved for any new video game titles. Its rival NetEase also hasn’t seen any of its games approved this year. 

Still, Tencent, NetEase, and China’s internet companies are “set to benefit from more visibility on gaming approvals,” Thomas Chong, an analyst at investment bank Jefferies, wrote in a Tuesday note. 

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