Age gates essential for video game industry

By Li Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/15 18:43:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Chinese Tech giant Tencent announced last week it had shut down its test version of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), one of their most popular and profitable mobile games worldwide, in the Chinese mainland. After the shutdown, Tencent shifted its PUBG Mobile users in the region to a new public beta version: Game for Peace.

Game for Peace is very similar to PUBG Mobile, both in terms of game design and the characters people play. When players logged on to the new platform, they could even access their old PUBG data. However, significant differences exist. When a character is shot, green sparks are displayed instead of blood, and when a player loses, instead of dying they wave goodbye to their opponent and vanish. 

On Sina Weibo, comments regarding the changes ranged from "weird" to "hilarious."

The changes in visual effects are understandable as Chinese authorities began implementing regulations in the video game industry that include prohibiting pools of blood and dead bodies. 

Since PUBG Mobile has transitioned into Game for Peace, the game has become less violent, which has allowed Tencent to not only secure an official government license but also win support from the People's Liberation Army Air Force - J-20 and J-10 fighters and the Y-20 transport plane appear in the game.

The new game has also introduced a 16+ system, that prohibits minors under 16 from registering for the game. For players between the ages of 16 and 18, they are limited to two hours of playtime a day. 

Despite the changes, this 16+ system has been accepted by the majority of the game's Chinese players.

The changes were aimed at protecting children and teenagers, and mark an important step toward the establishment of video game age ratings in the mainland. 

Such a system is essential for the continued development of the mainland video game industry. 

One question developers often face is how to balance legitimacy and entertainment? Age restrictions could be the solution. These restrictions can help combat piracy while ensuring the mainland game industry becomes more diversified and entertaining.

Compared to one-size-fits-all regulation, age ratings protect minors while ensuring that all age groups have something to enjoy. 

With a rating system in place, game developers will be prohibited from using erotic and violent content to entice minors, allowing parents to worry less about the video games their children play. With games restricted to certain age groups, older players will have access to games that they won't find boring or childish. This is sure to boost China's video games industry.

Although the mainland currently lacks a perfect age rating system, Tencent has taken the lead in recent years to protect minors. 

Its latest attempt, the 16+ system, is indeed a move that shoulders social responsibility and helps accelerate the establishment of an age rating system in the mainland. Although some netizens may laugh at the visual effects, Game for Peace is so far the company's best effort as it meets the requirements of authorities and continues to entertain players. 

Would it be better if the mainland had an age rating system for games? According to Asian game-market analytics company Niko Partners, the Chinese mainland occupies roughly 25 percent of the world's mobile game market. Domestic revenue generated from the mobile gaming industry reached $15.63 billion in 2018. With so many players, it is difficult to imagine how a one-size-fits-all regulation could satisfy everyone. 

With Tencent leading the charge, other gaming companies should also consider launching a similar 16+ system to help push forward age restrictions. After all, green sparks and waving goodbye are only expedient measures. Implementing transparent and specified standards would be the best way to guarantee the healthy development of the gaming industry in the mainland.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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