The new regulation affects some of China’s largest technology companies, including gaming giant Tencent, as well as gaming company NetEase.
China has announced a drastic cut to children's online gaming time to just three hours a week during term time, the latest move in a broad crackdown on tech giants in the world's biggest gaming market.
Gamers under 18 will only be allowed to play online between 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) and 9:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, state news agency Xinhua said, in what it described as a bid to curb addiction in the gaming-crazy nation.
Gamers are required to use their ID cards when registering to play online, to ensure minors don't lie about their age.
On school holidays, children will be allowed to play a little longer, with the allocated time set at 60 minutes per day.
"Gaming addiction has affected studies and normal life... and many parents have become miserable," the National Press and Publication Administration said in a statement.
Companies are prohibited from offering gaming services outside the stipulated hours, although the statement did not make it clear how rule-breakers would be punished.
The new regulation affects some of China’s largest technology companies, including gaming giant Tencent, whose Honor of Kings online multiplayer game is hugely popular globally, as well as gaming company NetEase.
Tencent’s stock price closed down 0.6 percent at 465.80 Hong Kong dollars on Monday ahead of the regulator’s announcement. Its market capitalisation of $573 billion is down more than $300 billion from its February peak, a decline equal to more than the total value of Nike Inc. or Pfizer Inc.
New York-listed NetEase ’s stock was down about 9 percent at the market's open.
The gaming restrictions are part of an ongoing crackdown on technology companies, amid concerns that technology firms – many of which provide ubiquitous messaging, payments and gaming services – may have an outsized influence on society.
Limits on big tech
China's Communist rulers have been reining in big tech and other powerful sectors that draw hundreds of millions of consumers.
Gaming seems to be the latest target for regulators, hit by a raft of rules introduced in recent months to weed out the excesses of the culture among Chinese youth, from worsening eyesight to online addiction.
The industry – which made revenue of $20 billion (130 billion yuan) in the first half of this year according to the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association – has been slammed in menacing state media reports in recent days, with one article labelling games as "spiritual opium".
An earlier restriction in place since late 2019 banned late-night games and restricted players to just 90 minutes of playtime on weekdays and three hours on weekends and holidays.
In July, Tencent rolled out a facial recognition "midnight patrol" function to root out children masquerading as adults to get around a government curfew on underage gamers.