China Promises Crackdown on Unwholesome Gaming

The Great Firewall of China just keeps piling on the bricks: China already runs the world’s largest and most comprehensive Internet censorship operation on the planet, and recently riled up privacy rights activists by attempting to mandate the controversial “Green Dam” content filter be installed on all new PCs sold in the country. Now, the Chinese government is clamping down on online games, announcing a new probe designed to root out “unhealthy” content in online games. The Chinese government also issued a new edict barring foreign investment in domestic online gaming, including operating through joint ventures with Chinese businesses.

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Under the new regulations, businesses operating online games in China must apply for a government license for each game; titles will be reviewed by state censors, who will be able to order objectionable content be removed from the games. The Chinese government says the new regulations are aimed at reducing the amount of violence and adult material children are exposed to through online games, but in the past concerns over sexual and violent material has also entailed suppression of political content critical of the Chinese government.

The online gaming market in China is among the fastest-growing in the world, with estimated revenues for 2009 ranging from $3.5 to $4 billion. Chinese officials are increasingly concerned with teenagers and other youth seemingly obsessed with online games like World of Warcraft—China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) cites online games as the leading cause of Internet addiction in the country. The Chinese state-run news agency says over 200 games have already been investigated, and some 45 games shut down.

Chinese game developer NetEase.com earlier this year announced a partnership with Blizzard to operate World of Warcraft in China; the proposed tie-up ran into trouble with regulators, and would now apparently be prohibited under the new regulations.