Too soon for parents to cheer curbs

Editorial | 6 Jul 2017

The move by mainland technology leader Tencent to limit young people's access to its most popular online game - Honor of Kings - should delight parents who have been trying in vain to keep children from becoming addicts.

But I doubt Tencent would have slapped on the limits if the People's Daily hadn't unleashed its bombardment. Otherwise, it would have reacted earlier to similar calls by parents and teachers.

But its failure to act earlier was understandable, since the game is the Shenzhen-based internet giant's major cash cow - accounting for half of its smartphone game revenues in the first quarter.

The People's Daily, while affirming the tech industry's efforts to invent new products, reminded product makers of their social responsibility. Given the popularity of Honor of Kings, it was singled out for criticism because of its "poisonous" side effect on society.

At the end, People's Daily called for regulation, and this time, Tencent responded promptly with a number of measures. These include limiting players under 12 to one hour of play time each day, and those aged between 12 and 18 to two hours.

Tencent was also reported to be planning a curfew for the youngest players, so that they can't access the game after 9pm.

It remains to be seen whether the measures are meant to be serious, or just lip service to appease authorities. Be that as it may, it underlines the reality that a chorus of disapproving parents was no match for a few articles in the People's Daily - the Chinese Communist Party's official mouthpiece.

If Tencent's boss, Pony Ma Huateng, is handling the official media's criticisms with care, so are investors with a stake in the stock. Speculation abounds.

Taking no chances, it's only right to err on the side of caution. Since the start of the year, Tencent's share price had surged more than 44 percent to become one of the best performing blue- chip stocks in Hong Kong.

Although most technology stocks - including Alibaba - came under pressure as Nasdaq slumped in the past month, Tencent bucked the trend to remain strong.

A sound reason would be needed for it to fall in line with the rest. The attack by state media provided just that reason.

The 4-percent slide on Tuesday - wiping US$14 billion (HK$109.2 billion) from its market value - was the result of normal trading, with investors locking in hefty profits.

Yesterday, it recouped some of its losses, closing at HK$271 a share.

The Tencent case is reminiscent of the Facebook fiasco, in which the US company was denounced for live- streaming murders, suicides and rapes. In response, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg went about hiring thousands of moderators worldwide to take gruesome posts offline sooner.

What tech companies and state authorities face is human nature. It's common sense that tasty snacks are often bad for health, while healthy food is usually not delicious. By the same token, a game has to be addictive, or it won't be a best seller. That natural relationship isn't going to change.

Perhaps, the People's Daily lecture will be forgotten sooner than expected.

It's all a storm in a teacup.

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