New regulations aimed at players under 18 went into effect in China starting September 1. These restrictions limit young players to one hour of online gaming from Friday to Sunday and include public holidays. Inevitably, workarounds have already appeared.
Chinese government paper People’s Daily reports that Tencent sued over twenty e-commerce sites and account trading platforms for renting and swapping accounts for the wildly popular free multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game Honor of Kings. China’s most popular mobile game, Honor of Kings is the first video game to ever average one hundred million players a day.
While the new regulations are not law, Tencent created a real-name registration system for Honor of Kings so that it would be compliant with the effort to limit playtime for minors. To get around these restrictions, accounts for rent started appearing on e-commerce sites, prices starting at 33 yuan (just over $5) for two hours of use. By renting an account, the under-18 crowd doesn’t have to enter their real names and can play Honor of Kings without time limits.
As Kotaku’s Sisi Jiang reported, all this seems inevitable:
‘Complying with the new rule isn’t technically difficult because it’s just a matter of writing new [Software Development Kit] codes,’ Zhu told Kotaku. ‘[SDKs are] integrated as part of the login process. What happens is that when new players log in, they are asked to enter their ID number which then verifies their age. Every gamer needs to log in with their real names…[and] every [domestic] game that legally operates in China is required to have that function.’
According to Niko Partners’ [Daniel] Ahmad, parents aren’t barred from giving their unrestricted adult accounts to their children, and there’s a large gray market for adult gaming accounts. If an underage player wanted to, they could circumvent the new restrictions.
This weekend, there were reports of lag issues within Honor of Kings between 8pm and 9pm. The game’s official Weibo account (via Sixth Tone) acknowledged that players had “problems entering matches.” The issues, however, were said to have been fixed.
It’s hard to tell how widespread the use of rental accounts has been, and if it’s still continuing. Even if minors are able to access the game through another person’s account, they still need to be careful not to get caught by other monitoring mechanisms.
This summer, Tencent rolled out a time-sensitive facial recognition system for sixty games, including Honor of Kings. Dubbed “Midnight Patrol,” it aims to prevent tricksy youngsters from posing as grown-ups between 10pm and 8am. “We will conduct a face screening for accounts registered with real names and that have played for a certain period of time at night,” Tencent Games said at the time (via Sixth Tone). “Anyone who refuses or fails the face verification will be treated as a minor, and as outlined in the anti-addiction supervision of Tencent’s game health system, and kicked offline.”
Whenever there are rules, wherever they are, there are always people looking for a workaround—and a way to cash in.