What should companies and parents do to better deal with addictive games?

In April, a 17-year old boy in the Guangdong province of China had a stroke and nearly died after playing the viral game, Honour of Kings, for 40 hours straight.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated event.

A 21 years-old woman from the same Guangdong province lost sight in her right eye after playing Honour of Kings non-top for a whole day. The same game was attributed with the death of a 13-year old boy who jumped off a building after being confronted by his father concerning his addiction. And the state-run publication People’s Daily commented, “This game which has been referred to as ‘poison’, has shown its consequences…,”

What could be causing this behavior in kids?

Experts agree– the game represents a revolutionary blend of virtual gaming and social media.

80 million Chinese citizens are playing Honour of Kings daily, and overall, more than 200 Million people are registered to play the game. The sheer number is massive even compared to the populations of many countries, if you consider China’s online population of 700 million users, this data means that over one in every four people have played the game at least once, and more than one in ten plays it every single day.

In an interview with an Honour of Kings player, the South China Morning Post reports:
“Honour of Kings players have to log in via QQ or WeChat. Once logged in by WeChat, the system shows them if any of their friends are online. They can then team up to battle rival players in a fantasy landscape while talking to each other via live chat. Tencent rates players by their gaming skills and a player’s ranking is visible to their WeChat friends – creating a kind of peer pressure that makes players such as Zhao Lei, a government clerk in Xian ( 西安 ), keep playing.”

WeChat and QQ are chat applications owned by Tencent, the creator of Honour of Kings, and combined, have a reach of approximately 940 Million users. Users that are funneled directly into their gaming platforms, like Honour of Kings. The game is so pervasive that a Chinese marketing executive told The Economic Observer that he had paid hundreds of yuan for a proxy player to help him reach a higher ranking in the game,

” ‘There are so many people in China playing Honour of Kings. If you don’t play it, you can’t join their conversation,’ Whenever Cai meets colleagues in his office, instead of saying “Hello”, they now greet each other with the same question: ‘When shall we play Honour of Kings together?’ ”

With a massive audience generating more than 800 Million in profit for Tencent every quarter, it is safe to say that this game isn’t going anywhere, despite the outcry from parents.

Where are the Parental Control Measures?

Until this summer, there weren’t any– despite the fact that China was the first country to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder in 2008.

Earlier this year, following the lead of draft legislation from that would ban minors from playing online games between midnight and 8am, Tencent launched a parental control tracker on its WeChat messaging platform, allowing parents to monitor the time and money their children spend on mobile games, going so far as to enable the ability to block the game with a single swipe.

“Honour of Kings” wasn’t included.

However, in the wake of the controversy caused by consequences of Honour of Kings addiction and losing billions in market value, Tencent vowed to introduce sweeping safeguards to protect their young users from addiction under the guidance of the Ministry of Culture. According to their spokespeople:

“In the current absence of clear regulations to guard against mobile gaming addiction we have decided to take the lead … and dispel parents’ concerns.”

Tencent describes the new controls as “three broad axes”, and explains that those who play beyond the allotted time period will be “forced to go offline”. They will also place caps on the amount of money that underage users can spend on the platform, to combat “minors’ irrational consumption.”

Additional measures implemented include a real-name authentication system and software that enables parents to set electronic locks on the game. All users 12 years of age and younger are now limited to one hour of play a day and will not be permitted to sign in after 9pm. Users between 12 and 18 years of age are limited to two hours per day.

Following the publicity over Tencent’s addiction-curbing policies, the number of users who signed up for its parental monitoring system doubled in less than a week.

Is Parental Control the Solution?

Without a doubt.

In a world where more than half of American kids have faced cyberbullying, and 13% of youth Internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations, informed parents are demanding ways to keep their children safe from the dangers introduced by the digital age. Companies and families can only benefit from giving parents the tools they need to control the way their kids interact with the internet.

From improving lives, to ensuring the quality of your company’s reputation and brand, the inclusion of Parental Controls on digital media is imperative. Tencent’s brush with outraged parents and media cost them more than 17 Billion dollars that pale in comparison to the impact on young lives as a result of their original oversight.

Rather than wait for governments to intervene with with creation of laws to protect children, software publishers should take the lead to show that they care about the health and wellbeing of young consumers. Besides doing what is right, they will also reap great long term rewards in revenue and positive brand impact.

If you’d like to learn more about the basics of parental control and how you can start to protect your family, check out this helpful guide from Common Sense Media.

If you work on a App Publisher developing apps for children, talk to us and learn how we can help you be in good terms with parents, resulting in better long-term engagement with your app.

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