Online gamers in China will have to begin registering with their real names due to new government regulations that took effect on Sunday.
The regulations are China's first on online gaming and are expected to protect minors from Internet addiction and unhealthy content, according to China's state media. But while the regulations call for new restrictions geared for minors, they also require that online game companies begin implementing a real-name registration system for all users, both new and existing.
The regulations state that users must provide their real names, ID number and contact information. Online gaming companies have three months to comply with the real name registration requirement for new users, and six months to comply for existing users. The regulations state that companies must restrict the gaming time of minors, but they do not specify how this monitoring should occur.
The new regulations follow the government's efforts to clean up online games in the country and to control their influence over children. In the past authorities have worked to tone down the violent content in some games while also calling for companies to cut down on how long users can play.
But analysts say the new regulations will have their limits, especially when it comes to implementing a real name registration system. "You can get people to register their information, but you can't confirm that the person sitting behind the computer is really that person," said Cao Di, an analyst with iResearch. "The registration won't be 100 percent effective, but it is a step."
Former online gamers, such as 25-year-old Cheng Kai, have more doubts and say that minors will have no trouble getting around the system. Kai expects children wanting to play the games will be able to find available ID numbers on the Internet or get them from their parents without their knowledge. "I think these regulations will have no effect at all," he said. "I think the Internet is inherently meant to be free and open. These regulations will only restrict users."
The new regulations come in light of a larger effort by the Chinese government to reduce anonymity on the Internet. The director of China's State Council Information Office delivered a speech in April that said the government wants to make an Internet real name system a "reality as soon as possible," according to a text of the speech obtained by the group Human Rights in China. Some of the system's uses would cover the buying of cell phones and web posts on forums and bulletin boards.
"The Internet gives people a lot of tools for them to work around official regulations," said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting based in Beijing. Now the government wants to better control that, making it a "game of cat and mouse" between authorities who issue the new rules and the users who are finding ways to get past them, he added. "Every time something like this introduced, there is always some way around it," Natkin said.
Analysts add that online game companies should expect little impact from the regulations. China's Shanda Interactive Entertainment, a popular online game operator, echoed that sentiment saying the company expects no loss in revenue since it is already in compliance.
"Most of the statements in the latest [government] announcement are reiterating previous regulations which are already in place," the company said in a statement.
Even as the effectiveness of the regulations is drawing doubt, some online gamers say the regulations will still have a positive impact on the youth. The regulations also state gaming companies must develop ways to ensure minors will play the games in a healthy manner. "A lot of children like to play online games. This can protect them from playing too much," said Li Ling Zuo, a Tsinghua University student. "I don't think it will be a problem. But if it's really troublesome to register with these games, I won't want to play".