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Chinese gaming company limits access for minors

August 3, 2021

Tencent, a giant gaming company in China, has seen billions wiped off its market value. The tumble followed the publication of a critical article in state-affiliated media.

A group of people walk past a Tencent sign outside the company's headquarters in Shenzhen
Tencent is China's biggest firm in the social media and gaming industryImage: NOEL CELIS/AFP

China's largest gaming company Tencent announced new access restrictions for children on Tuesday after a state media called gaming "spiritual opium."

The company said it would limit gaming time for children under 12 to just one hour a day and two hours a day during holidays. It also said children would not be allowed to make purchases in-game anymore.

It also called on the industry to ban minors outright from gaming.

The move came after a critical article in the state-affiliated Economic Information Daily triggered a 10% collapse in Tencent's shares as investors feared a clampdown by Chinese authorities. The shock wiped $60 billion (€50.4 billion) from the company's market capitalization.

What did the article say?

The article mentioned Tencent's wildly popular game "Honor of Kings" in the article criticizing the amount of time minors spend playing games. It cited a student saying some people play the game for up to eight hours a day.

According to Chinese law, people under the age of 18 may only spend a maximum of one and a half hours a day playing video games and three hours during holidays.

A woman is standing on a platform facing a large crowd of people waving Chinese communist flags, in front of her a marching band is playing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party
China has been trying to reign in the power of its billionaire class in recent monthsImage: Cai Yang/XinHua/dpa/picture alliance

"'Spiritual opium' has grown into an industry worth hundreds of billions,'' the newspaper said, using the historically loaded term for the addictive narcotic.

Tencent did not comment on whether the article was the reason for the curbing of young players' access.

The newspaper removed the article from its website before reuploading it with some of the more critical parts, including the term "spiritual opium," left out.

Why did investors sell their shares?

Investors were spooked by what they saw as a signal from the Chinese government regarding a crackdown on the gaming industry. Other companies besides Tencent also saw their stock prices fall.

The fears were not unfounded considering China's recent targeting of e-commerce and online education with regulations to prevent anti-competitive behavior.

China's crackdown could 'target anything'

Last month a band of popular education companies was ordered to stop profiting from the private tuition of millions of Chinese students, wiping out billions in market value for several giant companies.

China analyst Fraser Howie told DW that Tencent's tumble in the stock market showed Beijing is still struggling to message markets on regulatory matters, despite promising to do better.

"They simply don't know how to do this," Howie said. "They've gotten away with for a long time being clumsy and people giving them the benefit of the doubt, and now it's really starting to be exposed."

Steven Beardsley contributed reporting to this article.

ab/sms (AP, Reuters)