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China bans live-streaming of unauthorised video games, tightening regulations days after resuming game licenses

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China's broadcasting regulator has banned online platforms from live-streaming video games without approval, adding another restriction to the industry just days after ending an eight-month freeze on new game licenses amid increased regulatory scrutiny.

The National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) said that online platforms including variety shows, live-streaming sites and short video services are barred from broadcasting games that are not approved by regulators, according to an announcement on its website on Friday.

Live-streamed video game shows need to get approval from the NRTA at launch, and online platforms will need authorisation to stream shows based on foreign games and competitions, according to the regulator.

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"The rise of social issues such as the chaos in live streaming and game addiction among teenagers have attracted widespread attention from the public for some time. Effective measures are urgently needed to regulate [the issues] strictly," the NRTA said.

The new rules also stress that online streaming platforms should have a "minor protection mode" to prevent teenagers from video game addiction and bar them from spending money on streaming hosts. Selling virtual gifts is a popular form of content monetisation for live-streaming hosts in China.

NRTA's new rules come days after Chinese regulators resumed video game approvals after an eight-month freeze, which was part of China's efforts to step up control of gaming content and fight game addiction among young people.

The National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), which is in charge of licensing video games in China, published a list of 45 approved titles on Monday. The new batch of approvals did not cover any games from Tencent Holdings or NetEase, the country's two biggest video game developers, and the list was significantly shorter than the last one in July 2021, which included 87 titles.

Tencent, which runs the world's biggest gaming business by revenue, announced on Wednesday that it will shut down a "game booster" service that helps Chinese gamers play unapproved titles from overseas and speeds up connections by skirting restrictions imposed by the Great Firewall. Referring to it as an "adjustment in business operation strategy" on its website, Tencent said the service will now only work on domestic games.

The move comes a week after the Shenzhen-based tech giant said it would shut down Penguin Esports in June, which analysts say is meant to reduce costs after the company's plan to merge Douyu and Huya was scuttled by antitrust regulators last year.

Similar to other forms of content such as books, films and television shows, video games in China must be screened and censored by regulators. Games approved for sale in the country show up on the list from the NPPA, which is typically issued monthly outside of the prolonged suspensions in 2018 and 2021.

Pressure on the industry was also amplified last year when President Xi Jinping called out video game addiction during the meeting of the National People's Congress, calling it a social problem that must be addressed.

Last August, the NPPA issued a new regulation restricting gamers under the age of 18 to playing only between 8pm and 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and statutory holidays, marking the country's most stringent measure yet to tackle video game addiction.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.