SHANGHAI • China will restrict the number of video games and take steps to curb playing time by minors to address growing rates of childhood visual impairment as the government steps up its crackdown on the world's biggest online gaming market.
A statement posted on the Education Ministry website late on Thursday justified the new curbs as a way to counter worsening near-sightedness among minors, after President Xi Jinping earlier this week called for greater national attention on optical health.
But the move adds to perceptions that there is a broader campaign to rein in China's fast-growing video game sub-culture, after the authorities made clear their concerns over gaming addiction and the violent content of many shoot-em-up titles.
The Education Ministry statement, also endorsed by seven other ministries, said they will "implement regulations and controls" on the number of games that can be played online, limit new releases, explore an age-restriction system for games, and take steps to reduce playing time by minors. No specifics or timeframe was given.
Shares in Tencent, China's games leader, dropped by more than 5 per cent in Hong Kong while Perfect World, a game developer formerly listed on the US Nasdaq, fell as much as 9 per cent in Shenzhen. Several smaller game developers also plunged on the Shenzhen tech-heavy exchange.
Chinese official studies and media reports have warned of growing rates of myopia, and among increasingly younger children. Excessive screen time and strict school study routines are often blamed.
A national vision report in 2015 said around 500 million Chinese - nearly half the population above five years old - suffer visual impairment, 450 million are near-sighted, and rates were rising. It estimated visual impairment issues cost China US$100 billion (S$137 billion) in 2012.
But visual concerns are just the latest reason given for an apparent campaign to put the brakes on digital gaming. The industry was rattled last month when Tencent said it had been ordered to pull the hit game Monster Hunter: World from sale, just days after it debuted. The government's online list of approved new titles has not been updated since May. Previously, the list had been updated regularly.
China is the world's largest gaming market, with an estimated US$37.9 billion in revenue, according to industry tracker Newzoo, but concerns over objectionable content and addiction have fuelled growing scrutiny.