Regulation of on-line games in China

An article in Red Herring reports that Chinese parents are suing Blizzard Entertainment after their son died, allegedly trying to recreate a feat from the “World of Warcraft” game. I suppose youd expect this these days, but whats more interesting are measures the Chinese government are apparently taking to restrict (over?)use of games.

China is a big market for on-line games ($580 million this year, forecast at $1.7bn by 2010: the same source quotes the world-wide market for video games and interactive entertainment at $23.2 billion in 2003 and forecast to reach $33.4 billion in 2008. Another researcher estimates Chinese game revenues at $467 million currently, and $2 billion by 2009.)

However, the Chinese government are apparently worried about the amount of time children are spending playing on-line games. Measures suggested include making the game itself tire – ie after a given period, the game would slow down and the avatar lose power. I suppose if Sony can put rootkits in CDs, then artificial tiredness isnt too hard either. Theres a great field for competitive government regulation here: I can just see the EU deciding how long European players can properly spend on-line, just as they now tell us how big our bananas must be.

So far World of Warcraft has been the only major success in the Chinese market, which suffers from privacy and regulation. The president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) recently called on the Chinese authorities to speed up regulatory approval procedures, arguing that mandatory content reviews by the authorities may take months to complete, whilst pirate copies come out in Shanghai the same day that the original appears in the USA. He also worries about possible quotas and informal limitation of the number of imported games, presumably in favour of locally produced ones.

According to the ESA president, “Price Waterhouse Coopers forecasts that video games will eclipse music as the second most popular form of entertainment by 2008, with worldwide consumer spending on video games hitting $55 billion compared to $34 billion for recorded music.” (These figures are world-wide, not just for China.)

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