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Plans to Limit Online Game Playtime Rebuked

Chinese players of the "World of Warcraft" online game have begun an Internet signature campaign protesting plans to limit the country's online gamers to three hours of consecutive playtime.

"These restrictions violate the rights of online game players," one Chinese player wrote on the petition. "Trying to prevent young players from being addicted is good, but this new system will be a total failure."

As of August 29, more than 1,000 Chinese gamers had signed the petition opposing implementation of the new time limits.

Chinese authorities said last week they planned to implement a new system that would deduct from the ability levels of online game characters after an individual had played a game for more than three consecutive hours.

The system was designed to prevent online game addiction. The online petition is currently on http://bbs.wowchina.com.

Although many of the gamers expressed outrage at the plan to set time limits on game play, it remained unclear if the petition would be sent to government officials.

In addition, gamers have signed the Internet petition with their online names and not their legal names. The petition is hosted on the "World of Warcraft" Chinese portal, run by The9, which also operates the "World of Warcraft" game in China.

In addition to the petition, gamers have also begun discussing counter measures to circumvent the impact of the new time limits.

The most popular countermeasure suggested has been to open several accounts, so when the new timing system kicks-in for one account, players can then switch to another account and continue to play.

In fact, such a tactic would be beneficial for online game operators, an official with a leading Chinese online gaming firm, who asked to remain anonymous, told Interfax.

"If players are all playing with several accounts, that means it will take longer for them to develop their characters.

That will give online gaming companies more time to develop updates and new products, which will reduce costs," the official said.

In addition, the new timing mechanism will also help online game operators to deal with gaming robots, a type of software that operates game characters while players are away from their computers.

Gaming robots are often used to perform menial tasks such as the gathering of resources, which players later sell.

This 'farming' of in-game resources has become a source of income for some players, who then sell these virtual goods on sites such as ebay.com.

Despite some expected benefits for online gaming firms, overall, the new policy is expected to have a negative impact on their operations, Kelly Huang, Research Supervisor for IT consulting firm iResearch, told Interfax.

"The new system has real potential to adversely impact online games in China, because the system will probably reduce total playing time, which is directly proportional to income for operators," Huang said. "But, it's hard right now to estimate how much of an impact the system will have."

However, Shanda and The9, the largest online game operators in China, both said their businesses would not be greatly impacted by the new timing system, which authorities said would be implemented for all online games in late 2005 or early 2006.

"We actually started an R&D on a system of our own to prevent game addiction in 2004, before they unveiled this new timing system," Shanda PR Manager Li Lijun told Interfax.

"What we care most about is long term profitability," Li said. "The new timing system can help players foster healthy gaming habits and so it is worthwhile to adopt this system now for future development of the entire industry."

Meanwhile, The9 PR Manager Wu Yinan said the "World of Warcraft" online game in China already has an anti-addiction system designed to prevent players from playing the game for too many consecutive hours.

"And so, installation of the new system will not have a large impact on our operations of 'World of Warcraft' in China," Wu said.

In addition, although China's new time-limit system was unveiled last week, it may actually take quite a long time before deployment of the system can begin for online games.

The version of the system that will be completed in September of this year is a standard version that will have to be customized for every online game that it is deployed for.

As a result, it could take online game developers and operators some time before they are able to customize the system for each of their titles.

The implementation of the system could be further delayed by the fact that so many of the games on the Chinese market were developed in by foreign companies.

Chinese online game operators will have to get foreign game developers to integrate the new time system into their titles.

(China Daily September 5, 2005)

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