China invests $1.8bn in MMOGs - but rules them harmful to minors

Under-18s banned from PKing.

The Chinese government has announced plans to spend 15 billion Yuan (around $1.8 billion) on encouraging the growth of its online game development industry - but strict new rules threaten to restrict access for under 18s.

The investment, aimed primarily at the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, is hoped to lead to the creation of between 10 and 30 online game companies within the next three years, and may help the creation of as many as 100 new titles within half a decade.

Massively multiplayer games are a huge business in China, which currently has over 100 million people online - a number expected to outstrip the USA's online population of 185 million in a short space of time.

Blizzard Entertainment recently launched World of Warcraft in the region, attracting 1.5 million subscribers in a matter of weeks, and other content - both locally developed and coming from other major online gaming nations such as South Korea - has achieved similar levels of success.

It's estimated that the Chinese online gaming market was worth around $500 million last year, a figure which should grow strongly this year and in coming years - and much of the revenue stays in China, thanks to government policies which mean that in order to launch a product in the region, companies must partner with local Chinese operators - such as Blizzard's partnership with local MMOG operator The9 for World of Warcraft.

Ironically, however, one factor which could seriously put the brakes on the development of the Chinese online gaming markets could come from the government itself - which also this week announced plans for strict new measures to restrict the access of young people to many games.

The proposed law would prevent minors from accessing any game which features the killing of other player characters - effectively banning under 18s from a whole range of popular online titles from overtly violent games such as Counter-Strike to less obvious ones like World of Warcraft.

Although it will be difficult to enforce the new regulations, the Chinese ministries of culture and information are working on legislation which will enforce industrial age checking standards on the creators of videogame content.

The law isn't designed so much to prevent players from developing violent tendencies as to prevent them from spending too much time online - although a few highly publicised cases of gamers killing each other over things that happened in virtual worlds were undoubtedly on the minds of legislators drafting the proposals.

"Minors should not be allowed to play online games that have player killing content," according to the Ministry of Culture's Internet Culture boss Liu Shifa. "Online games that have PK content usually also contain acts of violence and leads to players spending too much time trying to increase the power of their characters. They are harmful to young people."

It's not just minors who will be affected by the new legislation, though; all players will also be subject to a number of other industrial standards which would be enshrined in the proposed law, such as a compulsory log-off for players after a set number of hours in the game, aimed at preventing them from spending too long in the game world.

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