China's Tencent introduces facial scanning to crack down on children gaming all night

In 2019 guidelines were introduced to protect children from the effects of too much gaming
In 2019 guidelines were introduced to protect children from the effects of too much gaming Photo credit: Getty Images

Chinese gaming company Tencent has started using facial recognition technology to stop children in the country playing games between 10pm and 8am.

In 2019, China passed official guidelines with a view to stopping minors playing too much games while also requiring gamers to register accounts with their official IDs.

Sixth Tone, a state-owned media outlet aimed at those outside the country, reported the moves come after teenagers stole money to top up their accounts and concerns were raised over the physical and mental wellbeing of young gamers.

There were six measures in total, NPR reported at the time, with the overnight ban part of a wider package that included a maximum of 90 minutes gaming per day and a cap on the value of online microtransactions for minors.

But children have been sidestepping the measures by using adult IDs, prompting Tencent to introduce the new process to "let the children sleep well".

When accounts are played at night for an unspecified amount of time, a facial scan will be required to remain connected.

Anyone who refuses or fails the face verification will be treated as a child, kicked offline and added to Tencent's gaming anti-addiction system.

More than 60 games have been included in the verification process, translated as "midnight patrol" by Sixth Tone, including popular games Honour of Kings and Game for Peace.

The move was welcomed by Chen Lina, an accounting executive in Jiangsu Province who said facial recognition could be a major factor in stopping gaming addiction, Sixth Tone reported.

But not everyone was as happy.

"This is such desperate news for us high school graduates who are two months away from being 18," a user wrote on the Tencent owned WeChat messaging platform, according to Sixth Tone.

Most of the top games in China are mobile-based, making it easy to use the phone's camera for facial recognition over a wide population.

Gaming is a massive business in China worth US$29.2 billion in 2020, Variety reported.

Meanwhile Tencent posted US$6.7 billion in overall gaming revenue in the first quarter of 2021.

Niko Partners, a market research firm and consultancy, reported that at the end of 2020, 682 million of China's 1.4 billion people are mobile gamers, with a projection that will grow to 748 million by 2025.