Chinese Fatigue Regulations

Unggi just alerted us to this: The Chinese General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) has declared that on October 1, a fatigue system will be instituted in many major MMORPGs, including WoW and Lineage 2.  See this report.  The Chinese regulations are aimed at reducing time spent playing.  According to the linked report: "The system will only award players full experience points for the first three hours of each day, half experience for the next two hours, and no experience after five hours."  If you read Chinese, see this and this too -- and feel free to translate for us.

Looks like we're starting to see state involvement with MMORPG game mechanics.  Undoubtedly this has something to do with addiction concerns and the several reported incidents of death during over-playing.  It is interesting to note that a fatigue system was originally built into WoW, but was swapped in beta for the inn rest=XP bonus system they now have -- I think this  was due to negative player reactions.  More details on the "Beijing Accord" from Gamasutra and the Financial Times.


Comments on Chinese Fatigue Regulations:

galiel says:

Where are the folks who said, in reaction to massive Chinese investment in MMOGs, "for that kind of money, I'll do anything?"

Strangely silent on threads like these.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 10:26:53 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

I was thinking similar thoughts. Suddenly the flap about one US Senator talking about considering holding possible hearings into the potential impact of stealth sex mini-games seems a bit... tame. In this country, we're all talk. The Chinese? "If you want to sell here, you'll do it our way. By the way, we don't like that color of blue."

Posted Aug 24, 2005 10:55:38 AM | link

magicback says:

Actually, USA is just as likely to erect lots of rules and restrictions. Fortunately, the US government has not erect too many rules regarding the net.

For example, there are probably lots environmental and safety requirements that car importers need to meet in order to sell cars the US and vis versa.

I think we can safely conclude that China has a high regulatory index for online games. It's the cost of doing business like in any other industry.

Frank

Posted Aug 24, 2005 11:28:47 AM | link

says:

greg> Looks like we're starting to see state involvement with MMORPG game mechanics. Undoubtedly this has something to do with addiction concerns and the several reported incidents of death during over-playing.

I would suggest that it's more fundamentally about what happens when you cross the "people must be protected from themselves" mentality with authoritarian power.

There is no activity too trivial for a nanny-statist's attention.

--Bart

Posted Aug 24, 2005 1:18:56 PM | link

Kyle says:

So remember the days of BBSes, when you had not only a limited number of turns per game, but a time limit per day that you could be logged on to? Now, granted, that was due to connection resources more than it was people killing themselves, but this isn't anything new. :)

Posted Aug 24, 2005 1:59:55 PM | link

galiel says:

I would suggest that it's more fundamentally about what happens when you cross the "people must be protected from themselves" mentality with authoritarian power.

--Bart

Um, wouldn't that be a description of all current commercial MMO developers?

Posted Aug 24, 2005 3:11:31 PM | link

Damion Schubert says:

Where are the folks who said, in reaction to massive Chinese investment in MMOGs, "for that kind of money, I'll do anything?"

Catering to different regulations and cultures is already a part of the industry. Germany, for example, doesn't like blood. When SB launched in Asia, we put in variables to change many of the game rules on Asian servers, including if I recall, lengthening the grind as our partners were insistent that the players abroad wouldn't play a game with a quick curve.

If the country in question had a smaller market or were more onerous, then I could see that country being passed over altogether. But as long as the game makers can satisfy the Chinese government on the chinese specific servers without altering the rules in other territories, it certainly makes sense to toe the line.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 5:03:36 PM | link

Lukas says:

This rule will have no effect at all on people who have already hit the level cap - ie, basically all hardcore, obsessed players.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 5:43:07 PM | link

galiel says:

The difference between Germany and China, Damion, is that Germany is a democracy, and China isn't.

China oppresses its people and decides for them what is or isn't acceptable. Germany's government may be to interventionist for your take, but it reflects the will of the people, expressed through democratic means.

1) If you don't think that should be a criteria for where you choose to do business, where do you draw the line? Is there any murderous regime, past or present, you would not do business with, and why?

2) If you choose not to criticize the Chinese regime for its intrusion, do you then also not criticize the US government if it decides to censor games? If not, why the double standard?

Posted Aug 24, 2005 5:54:56 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

This rule will have no effect at all on people who have already hit the level cap - ie, basically all hardcore, obsessed players.

I seem to have lost the link, but I remember reading that both experience and loot would be halved after three hours, and drop to zero after five hours. If that's the case, even for a capped (level 60) character in WoW, that could seriously put a damper on the eight hour Molten Core runs for Bind On Pick Up epic items. ;P

Anyone able to confirm or refute that this new law in China will apply to both experience and loot? And what about skill points in a UO type system? Anyone know?

Posted Aug 24, 2005 6:02:20 PM | link

Damion says:

Anyone with any familiarity with me or my writing knows I'm more than happy to criticize both our government as well as those of other countries.

If you really wanted to not do business with uncouth countries, there are those could argue that the USA would be a fine country to choose not to do business with, given various claims about cultural imperialism, Iraq, Guantanamo, etc. But that wouldn't necessarily be a good business decision. When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he responded, "Because that's where the money is."

Anyway, it's not the chinese gamer's fault he lives in a communistic stronghold. Why punish him, when giving him a taste of what a free culture can provide is much more likely to win hearts and minds?

Posted Aug 24, 2005 6:27:53 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

I completely agree with Damion. I'd never do business with the Chinese government, for instance, as they're a bunch of wacked out evil lunatics who should be taken out back and shot. On the other hand, I don't feel that much differently about the US government and certainly wouldn't do business with it either (unless they gave me a CRAPLOAD of money, in which case slap a pair of stiletto heels on me and call me a whore.)

Doing business with people IN the country is a lot different, however, on some level at least, from doing business with the government of the country.
--matt

Posted Aug 24, 2005 6:43:40 PM | link

Scott Jennings says:

Leaving aside for the moment the frankly obscene comparisons of people who make games for a living with the people who ordered the cold-blooded slaying of thousands of their kinsmen in Tienanmen;

People who seek out publishing deals in China know what they're getting into. It's not like China makes a secret out of being a totalitarian state. Microsoft had a similar moral test when the PRC ordered them to add self-censor software to the Chinese version of Hotmail.

Do you follow the law, and add whatever the friendly zampolit tells you to add to your product, no matter how much it turns your stomach personally? Or do you follow your ethics and leave the market completely? That's the choice.

Although it's humorous to consider the policy that Maoist thought is suddenly going to answer the "how much XP grinding is too much?" question for us, the game industry already creates different content versions driven by political expediency as part of the localization process. For example, if you buy Hearts of Iron 2 in Germany, you might be amused to find that during World War 2 Germany was lead by Arnold Hetzer.

However, this also tends to a sort of bleed-over homogeneity at times. To continue with the Hearts of Iron 2 example, there is no overt Nazi symbolism anywhere in the game, even in countries where it's not illegal. The German flag is still its WW1 era Imperial ensign, and Paradox managed to find the only two German WW2 propaganda posters that weren't full of National Socialist imagery for its user interface. Now, it's easily arguable that regardless of the law, for many people everywhere Nazi symbolism is repugnant and has no place in an entertainment product. But at the same time, was this decision made because of that -- or because it was too difficult to come up with a seperate user interface for the German market?

Posted Aug 24, 2005 6:54:11 PM | link

galiel says:

People who seek out publishing deals in China know what they're getting into. It's not like China makes a secret out of being a totalitarian state. Microsoft had a similar moral test when the PRC ordered them to add self-censor software to the Chinese version of Hotmail.

Do you follow the law, and add whatever the friendly zampolit tells you to add to your product, no matter how much it turns your stomach personally? Or do you follow your ethics and leave the market completely? That's the choice.

Yep. That's the choice (of course, a third choice is insisting on basic standards in order to do business, and a united front among businesspeople from free countries can help to win such concessions--such as not locking workers in at night in the textile industry, for example). Exactly my point.

Of course, the rest of your comparison is gratuitous (you compare the rules of a democratically-elected German government with the authoritarian repression of the Chinese government, yet you wax indignant at an imagined comparison between game designers and the murderers of Tiananmen--a comparison no one actually made or even implied). If anything, your examples indicate the slippery-slope danger of taking a compromised position on censorship.

Now, it's easily arguable that regardless of the law, for many people everywhere Nazi symbolism is repugnant and has no place in an entertainment product.

In a game about Germany in WWII?? Not so easily arguable, at all.

I just wish people would be honest about their choices, rather than making rationalizations. Rationalizations suggest a discomfort with the choices one makes. If one chooses to make business decisions amorally, one should take responsibility for the consequences, just as if one chooses to run a value-driven business, one should accept the consequences from that choice (which, believe me, can be severe these days).

One shouldn't pretend that one is doing business with China in order to "give them a taste of free culture" (if one goes along with Chinese censorship of free content, how exactly does that work?), or that one can "do business IN China" without involving the Chinese government (does that mean refusing a piece of the $1.8 billion they are investing in online games?)

Incidentally, the argument that morality is not good for business is by no means a universally accepted one. It has become somewhat of a dogma in recent years in American corporatist circles, but it is not the only world view, even among ardent capitalists. For example, twenty-plus years of track record show that ethically-guided mutual funds have performed at least as well as the typical "amoral" ones.

In this context, "being good isn't good for business" sounds awfully like an excuse for not making tough choices. Particularly when quiet toleration of Chinese imposed political censorship and oppression of workers is matched with the howls of protest at democratically elected American politician's attempts to even rate content.

I fail to see how one can quietly go along with Chinese restrictions, and then expect to have any credibility moaning about American ones.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 8:07:07 PM | link

galiel says:

Just to point out there, we aren't talking about respecting local cultural sensitivities or our business partner's decisions. The post was about a Chinese government decision to impose rules on all MMORPGs in the country.

When one imagines the howls of protest if an American politician even suggested such a thing, the relative silence in this community about the Chinese action strikes me as clearly hypocritical.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 8:42:10 PM | link

says:

Galiel is 100% correct.

I expected to read pages of moral indignation here about government interference.

Instead I see a general tone (here and at other blogs) of people in the industry who got worked up over a ratings system (its censorship! its creeping fascism!)when confronted with REAL fascism...willing to bend over and take it with a smile.

Because we don't want to offend anybody....because hey isn't Communist China just as bad as the US...and because, hey, it might hurt the bottom line.

It's a dream but would be nice to see at least one of you make the argument that you would never augment one of your games to please a bunch of ossified fascists in Beijing and that doing business with a country thats killed 50+ million of it citizens, devoured Tibet, constantly tries to devour democratic Taiwan, murders it students with tanks, etc. makes you physically sick.

All I see are rationalizations, excuses, and worst of all cheap arguments of moral equivalence.

Some of you talk a good game about freedom, about games, about integrity in your games but fold in an instant when you actually have to make a REAL choice between morals and the almighty buck.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 10:32:20 PM | link

Scott says:

You misunderstand me. I have no problem whatsoever with Germany's anti-Nazi symbolism laws. I seriously doubt any sane person does given history. I simply used it as an example of how "localizing" a product to meet one country's standards can potentially bleed over into what sort of product the rest of the world gets.

If you want me to wax morally indignant about the Chinese government I can. I'm just not sure why you'd want me to particularly. Given their forced labor camp system, aiding and enabling of probably the most hideously ridiculously evil government since Genghis Khan (North Korea), flooding American cities with AK-47 knock-offs to fund the PLA and destroying families via enforced abortion laws, making MMO players log out after 4 hours a day ranks really low on my list of things to be righteously indignant about.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 11:02:24 PM | link

Lyn Jeffery says:

As someone who lived for many years in China, I'm not surprised that the state is stepping in to regulate what they call "unhealthy" activities, esp. for youth. But it's about so much more than just "fascism" or "totalitarianism." For one thing, Chinese parents care A LOT about what their kids are up to. Why? There's only a short period of time for Chinese kids to get into the kind of high school that lets them go on to college or university. And each family only has one kid--one chance to improve their lives via the next generation. So there's huge pressure on teens to study for the highly competitive entrance exams to high school and college. Time spent online and using computers goes up quite dramatically once Chinese kids get out of high school and are either working or in college. To me, then, these rules are mainly aimed at that segment of gamers ages 14-18. Heavy-handed, yes, but completely without context or merit? No.

This is not to say, of course, that I think it's a good way of going about shaping the media environment for youth or the gaming environment for players. One of the most interesting things in the next ten years is going to be how the Internet is used and what it will come to mean against the different regulatory, technological, and cultural backdrop of China. And how that will affect online experiences for those of us outside of China.

Posted Aug 24, 2005 11:13:53 PM | link

galiel says:

Again, the issue is not the merit of the act, the issue is the source.

It doesn't matter whether the authoritarian oppression happens to have positive effects. That, in fact, is the very argument the Chinese government, and every other oppressive regime, uses to defend its totalitarianism--:look, we are only doing what is good for our people."

It is the principle of free society that is the issue here. The people might, perhaps, choose in a democratic China to impose limits on game-play. But they did not make that choice, because they are denied the opportunity to make that choice, or many other basic choices we take for granted.

One of the most interesting things in the next ten years is going to be how the Internet is used and what it will come to mean against the different regulatory, technological, and cultural backdrop of China.

And whether or not the rest of the world rolls over and lets the Chinese government determine and control their citizen's experience of the Internet, or whether the rest of the world will seek to influence that experience in ways that support free thought, free speech, and freedom politics, will have a great effect on how things turn out.

I'm not advocating a boycott of China. I am advocating being true to our principles, those of us who have them, and not applying double standards to China merely because they are the market du jour.

The Chinese government, like many authoritarian regimes, is extremely PR-sensitive. It is possible, as past results have shown, to gain concessions from them if pressure is exerted in the proper way. On the other hand, they know how to play the PR game well, and have done a good job of making us quickly forget that they are not just another capitalist democracy.

We mustn't forget. If nothing else, our customers here in the West will remember, and will remember our choices, too.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 12:47:06 AM | link

Damion Schubert says:

China is in many ways very backwards country with many repugnant aspects to their governance. They are, however, opening up at a rate which terrifies their government. Much of this has been accelerated by the reabsorption of Hong Kong, the lessons that Hong Kong taught China about capitalism, and the inability for the government to limit what media their populace can read (largely due to the internet). Internet Porn, Coca Cola, Dallas re-runs and Rock and Roll are more likely to bring China (as well as countries like Afghanistan) to the modern age than feel-good measures that deny that market an American product. One can only hope that that 'Rock and Roll' isn't Linkin' Park, or they may nuke us on the way to exile.

But, I don't advocate staying in that space to create social change. It's the fastest growing Internet market in the world, and looks to surpass the US in connectivity soon. I want to make money. Being ahead of the curve means being there. The fact that positive world change will result is merely a happy side effect. If we decide not to play in that space at all, we could be closing our doors on an enormous opportunity - our social grandstanding would be simply ignored as dozens of chinese games will step into that role and the net loss will be our foothold in a market that looks to be ginormous inside of five years. In fact, the actions of the Chinese government in the past has resulted in making it hard for non-Chinese games to launch there.

This is because even their government realizes that, even if we can only speak for 3 hours a day, outside voices are always more likely to run counter to the status quo than those on the inside.

China has a different culture than we do. That is, shockingly, no big deal - every country we publish games in bring in different cultural memes to the table, and some of them are fairly appalling. Some of the attitudes expressed towards women in some parts of the world (including, I might note, the free country of Japan) are particularly strange and/or galling. If I refused business with every culture that thought differently than my own beliefs, I'd be coding games for myself to play.

They also have very different fears and concerns. As one poster here noted, Chinese kids get one opportunity in life to get into a university - failure to do so effectively means your life is doomed to be second rate from that point on. The parents in all three asian countries are also very concerned because there have been a rash of deaths from MMO players playing these games for 50+ hours at a time. It is the equivalent of Shark Attacks here - an exceedingly small number that has been overly hyped in the media there, resulting in a parental outcry forcing government intervention.

On the flip side, my experience on UO and Shadowbane taught me that the three Asian markets (Japan, Korea and China) are extremely docile and easy to manage. Once you get past the fact that gamers from these three countries REALLY like to player kill people from one of the other two territories, they are extremely easy to manage. They trust the developers, they complain very little, they solve their problems themselves, and they only turn to a Game Master as a last resort. There is a strong lesson here for those interested in online communities about how the real-life culture you bring to the table shapes the tone of the virtual world you play in - but you have to be willing to look past the government they didn't get to elect in order to learn these valuable lessons.

The Beijing Accord is unfortunate. It is also a good example of what happens when someone who doesn't know game design attempts to do so - the design that's been quoted is questionable at best and hopelessly flawed at worst, and may very well have little effect on the problem they think they'll solve. I suspect that, in a year, even more draconian measures may be called for. But given China's government history of terror, getting angry because they've decided to limit how long you can play WoW is all kinds of ludicrous.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 1:21:34 AM | link

Evangolis says:

What, people expect that governments won't make laws governing what their citizens do, and the products with which they do them? We should oppose such laws because of the enactors and not the enactments? I'm not comfortable with those general statements.

In this case, I don't see that great an issue. Is playing online for more than 3 hours good for you? While I don't fully support the ideas, there are reasonable arguements for why people should limit online activities to shorter blocks of time. I'm surprised they didn't simply impose a hard connection time limit, myself.

If the arguement is that China is not a democratic state, well it wasn't one before this law. That horse is already out of the barn. I don't think people who were interested in the China market were unaware of that before this.

And the laws and culture of one country influencing the products delivered to the rest of the world? As a citizen of the country which has almost unconciously extended cultural imperialism throught the world via its entertainment products for the last 60-odd years, I can hardly complain if the shoe is on the other foot. Well, actually, I can complain quite alot, but I can spit into the wind a fair bit as well.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 2:22:08 AM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Very interesting discussion.

Let me throw some gasoline in the fire with a (highly-loaded) question for the group:

Is it more moral/ethical/patriotic/ to

A) refuse to work with a China for any reason, even a game, or;

B) to build a game there, make millions and bring some of that trade deficit money back here, denying it for their use?

Posted Aug 25, 2005 7:49:10 AM | link

Seth Sivak says:

So what happens when you reach the level cap?

Posted Aug 25, 2005 8:50:38 AM | link

galiel says:

Jessica, why present such a false dichotomy?

I look in vain for anyone in this discussion who advocated A.

And I wonder why the need to continue rationalizations in B (now you're patriotically serving the budget deficit?!). (never mind that, from a practical standpoint, whatever millions you made off an online game would not even be a rounding error in our trade deficit with the Chinese...)

Why not discuss the more interesting:

C) Work with your peers in this country and others, along with trade associations and even a sympathetic government, or government agency or two, to create minimal standards (covering workers in your employ in China, covering who owns the data, covering the parameters of free expression within the games, spreading knowledge and expertise widely enough that it is more difficult for the government to narrowly control who makes what, and whatever other issues may be worth fighting for), and then pressuring the Chinese to agree to them in return for gaining the experience and expertise they so desperately want?

D) Other creative solutions.

E) Refuse to work with a China for certain reasons we consider essential (free speech), but not for others (we don't like take-out).

("even" a game? Funny how, when the government wants to regulate us, it's never "just" a game, it is art, it is free speech, it is a noble pursuit; however, when we want to make a buck, it's "just" a game).

F) Other creative solutions that make us part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

I realize there is a taste for polarizing extremes at the moment, both in this industry and in the US, but surely there are more than all-or-nothing options to discuss. Why must every thread here fight reducio ad absurdum, usually along ideological lines? Of all places, we who work with large, diverse populations musth surely have some appreciation for the complexity of life, and not seek to reduce everything to its polar opposites.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 9:21:28 AM | link

Thabor says:

Where are the folks who said, in reaction to massive Chinese investment in MMOGs, "for that kind of money, I'll do anything?"

Strangely silent on threads like these.

I wonder how much MORE money they would end up getting.. After all with the exception of the raid example mentioned above this is pretty easily bypassed by purchasing multiple accounts. I truly despise such ineffective activity.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 11:12:58 AM | link

galiel says:

Damion said:
If I refused business with every culture that thought differently than my own beliefs, I'd be coding games for myself to play.

1.) galiel said:
Just to point out there, we aren't talking about respecting local cultural sensitivities or our business partner's decisions. The post was about a Chinese government decision to impose rules on all MMORPGs in the country.

2.) *No one* that I can see in this thread ever even hinted that cultural differences should be the criteria for doing business.

2.) *No one* that I can see in this thread ever said said:

"don't do business with China under any circumstances, no matter what. Period."

Folks did express indignation at the double standards of the Americans on this list, where we seem more tolerant and forgiving of Chinese oppression than even the mildest oversight by our own government--or any other Western government, for that matter.

If we decide not to play in that space at all, we could be closing our doors on an enormous opportunity - our social grandstanding would be simply ignored

A) Again, straw man, since no one was advocating that position.

B) there is a reason the Chinese are trying so hard to attract us, just as there is a reason they are trying so hard to buy an oil company--they need the expertise. They know it would be years for them to develop the experience internally, and they figure it is cheaper and faster to acquire it elsewhere. That gives us some leverage at this unique starting point in the game--if we cared to use it.

This is not a new invention. It has been public policy to encourage and work with companies, throughout both Republican and Democratic governments (well, until now), to explicitly and deliberately attempt to make the rhetoric about change-through-trade a real thing, by including factors such as human rights and worker conditions and press freedom into trade agreements with China.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 11:26:02 AM | link

galiel says:

Subscription games require that confidential personal and financial information be given to the game hosts. Under Chinese law, the government has the right to access those at will.

Scenario one: Two players in your game, which has the appearance and illusion of being a Western, Pepsi-Cola-like product (after all, we want to liberate them with exposure to our free culture), engage in a Western-type discussion which includes mild, indirect criticism of the Chinese government. They assume they are anonymous, because they don't know any better--and, in order not to offend the Chinese government or presume to "impose our cultural values" on them (funny how its ok to impose our Coca-cola values on them, just not things a free society actually values), we haven't disabused the players of the notion that they are anonymous.

The Chinese government accesses their information, and arrests them.

Are you willing to live with that?

Scenario two: In order to gain publicity, you want to talk to reporters. However, China holds the unique distinction of, six years running, jailing more reporters than any other nation in the world (this a world that includes North Korea and Iran and and yes, Cuba, most hated of all nations--and, incidentally, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, not to mention stalwart US allies like Turkmenistan, as well as Uzbekistan, our close ally until they threw us out after getting rid of their oppressive dictator who literally boiled his opponents to death.) So, you talk to government-approved reporters, and they insert quotes from you where you, by name, laud the Chinese government for their open and tolerant regime. Oh, and you also happen be quoted by a reporter who accidentally or intentionally quotes something you really said off-hand at a cocktail party, which the government deems offensive. Of course, in classic Chinese style, they don't punish you, the outsider, they merely imprison the reporter.

Are you willing to live with that?

3) After your game is up and running for a while, and you are raking in the big bucks, you find out through a European magazine that the Chinese shop where they make all the merchandise that is sweeping the populace--tshirts, action figures from your game, etc.--and find out that it is staffed by ill-fed, poorly clothed employees trucked in involuntarily from the countryside, who are locked in at night and whose meager pay is further depleted by enforcers working for the corrupt party official in charge of the factory, who runs a protection racket on them.

Of course, since you didn't want to intrude on the cultural sensitivities of your host, you never bothered to check this out in the first place, before signing the contract--and your Chinese hosts gently but firmly discouraged you from doing so in the first place.

What do you do?

4.): Your game is a great success, and you have managed to slip through all these moral quandaries thus far. Now that you and the Chinese are firmly clenched together, your Chinese development partner gently and oh-so-politely suggests that a new character must be introduced into the game--a noble Communist Party leader, who helpfully guides the community for their own protection. Oh, and little thought-slogans should be descreetly placed around the virtual world, supporting the current regime.

What do you do?

These are quite realistic scenarios, based on the actual experience people have had doing business in China.

It is nice to pretend that the real world can't intrude, as long as we hold our hands over our ears and say "la la la!" as the yens roll in. But reality is rarely so simple.

Is the world really so tiny, and the greed so great, that even the suggestion of moral considerations in one's choice of business partner is unthinkable?

Posted Aug 25, 2005 11:44:32 AM | link

hikaru says:

hehe, my warning from the first time china's game meddling was brought up here a week or two ago turns to be true. china is now clearly dictating design policy -- and look at all the participants. will anyone say, no, we won't change, we will back out of china, the world's largest emerging market...? hell no.

wow's biggest subscriber base is china. there's no way they'll back out. they'll do it.

but the thing is, now with a 3 hour cap, i guarantee you blizzard and other developers will start building content with that 3 hour cap in mind, e.g. instances designed to be cleared in about 3 hours.

this is the reality of a global industry. to be a an efficient, profitable player, you must play to the least common denominator rule set.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 12:14:37 PM | link

Luca Girardo says:

On the rationality side
Hmm, we could discuss about how democratic it is introducing such a system to regulate online games. But on the other side I have first to ask myself if such a measure is reasonable or not. Online gaming can cause a form of new addiction with devastating effects like many other addictions. This is a fact, no more no less. Where do we put the barrier between addiction and normal behaviour? Probably a day contingent does not seem the perfect answer but 90 hours in a month seems to me a realistic line where there is the need to put a clear limit. Many countries do it for drugs causing addition, why not online gaming? And with online gaming companies basing their fees on a per hour basis, how realistic is to think that they will take efficient measures to reduce the number of hours subscribers spend ingame limiting addiction?


On the business side:
What about the impact on the Chinese online gaming market in terms of revenues ? Most subscriptions models are based on a fee per hour in China. How many players spend more then 90 hours ingame?
Subscription revenues per user for the Chinese market are pretty low. Let’s consider WoW:
One WoW CD costs 30 RMB (3,60$) and includes 5 hours game. 66 additional game hours cost also 30 RMB, so again 3,60$.
The effect on revenues depends from the number of "power users" (playing more then 90 hours a month). Will that generate a paradigm shift with the introduction of flat subscription fees? Many Chinese publishers have paid royalty fees in advance (for example The9 for Wow)).

Posted Aug 25, 2005 12:36:24 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

galiel said: When one imagines the howls of protest if an American politician even suggested such a thing, the relative silence in this community about the Chinese action strikes me as clearly hypocritical.

The difference, at least for me, is that I am a US citizen and not a Chinese citizen. When American politicians suggest laws that I disagree with, it is my duty, in a representative democracy, to vote against the law or encourage my representatives in Congress and the Senate to vote against the law. If California tried to pass a law that would make it illegal to sell or rent an M rated game to a minor -- without censoring R rated movies in a similar fashion -- you can bet that I would be up in arms, and I would become very active in the political process. My country, my state, my laws, and my responsibility to make noise about something I don't like.

I have opinions about how China does things, but how much I yell and scream about it, or call my Congressman about it, just won't change anything. I can act with my dollars, I can make decisions about with whom I will do business, and I can participate in World Trade Organization protests, but that's about it. I am quite aware of China's Human Rights violations, and I am well aware of the state of trade between the US and China. There was a time when I thought that we shouldn't have anything to do with a country with that many Human Rights violations, and that the UN should shun them, etc etc. But then I went to college, took an International Affairs class, and participated in Model United Nations -- basically, I grew up, came to understand that refusing to do business with China is the number one way to ensure that they commit more Human Rights violations, and got over my eighteen-year-old upper-middle-class misplaced activism.

I don't agree with this law in China, but I don't agree with most things the Chinese government does. I wouldn't agree with the law if it were passed in France or Germany either. If someone proposed it here, I would get involved. But I'm not going to try to tell China how to manage their population any more than I am going to try to tell France how to run EuroDisney. The Chinese are communists and the French are rude pacifists. What of it? Is it my job to go over there and tell them that they are "wrong"? Is it the US Army's job to make sure that US laws are enforced in every country in the world? In my opinion, HELL NO, but then, I'm a Democrat. ;)

I think that participating in trade with China is important. I think that exporting our culture there whenever possible is important. The more we do this, the more likely China is to open up to Westerners, and the less likely the next generation -- who grew up playing American games, watching American movies, and drinking Coke -- will be to commit Human Rights violations. Yes, we have to draw the line somewhere, but for most companies, that line is somewhere around "children in sweatshops in China are being used to manufacture our merchandise," rather than "upper class citizens with good jobs and access to the internet aren't allowed to play my game for more than five hours at a stretch." In a situation where so much cultural good can come from exporting your product to China, you have to pick and choose your battles carefully.

In the list of things that matter to me in international politics, genocide in Africa and women's rights in the Middle East are at the top of the list. How China treats its citizens who already have computer and internet access doesn't even make the top 50.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 12:47:13 PM | link

hikaru says:

following on gamespot new and gamesindustry.biz, it seems after five hours, the games are designed to quit, and will not allow reactivation until a minimum of five hours have passed.

this pretty much covers every genre of game mentioned previously, like puzzle pirates etc.

this also is essentially a mandate: you cannot create content designed to last longer than five hours. this heavily impacts games focusing on large, high-end raids, which typically take the most time.

but even more importantly, i don't think anyone has touched on the point that this will affect almost all chinese operators' bottom line drastically. this policy hurts the hardcore players most, and hardcore players are the bread and butter for MMOGs. with china effectively setting a service cap on providers, expect short term future revenue to be bleak.

long term? look for different ways of obtaining money from your subscribership. pay per hour will soon move to micropayments. toll charges -- pay to enter this instance -- or luxury taxes -- pony up for exclusive designer duds, etc.

as a gamer, i see this move ultimately being a boon. developers will not be able to rely on the grind model anymore -- keep subscribers online as long as possible, on as little content -- and will be forced to deliver more content in less time. quality of time over quantity of time.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 1:44:01 PM | link

Damion Schubert says:

Work with your peers in this country and others, along with trade associations and even a sympathetic government, or government agency or two, to create minimal standards...and then pressuring the Chinese to agree to them in return for gaining the experience and expertise they so desperately want?

The problem is that the americans have little or no clout in this space. Only one American MMO has been more than mildly successful over there (WoW), and that does not create an effective pressure block. Most of the other games are Korean. And here's the kicker - the Chinese don't WANT foreign investment in that space. They have actively been trying to make it harder for other countries to bring product over there. Even if all foreign games disappeared, their market would be flooded with home-grown Chinese products - there are a bazillion of them - and the government would be happier for it, because it's much easier to dictate content when the people making the game live inside your borders.

Of course, the other mistake you're making is assuming that pressuring the Chinese isn't happening. When this measure was originally announced, the word was that it was going to be a forcible expulsion from the game after three hours, with some talk of requiring a social-security like number to log in to enforce both the time limit and the new age limitations. The restrictions announced yesterday are far less draconian, and came about with discussions between the GAPP and the largest companies in China.

Folks did express indignation at the double standards of the Americans on this list, where we seem more tolerant and forgiving of Chinese oppression than even the mildest oversight by our own government--or any other Western government, for that matter.

Actually, we were the ones that pointed out Germany's blood regulations, which you poo-pooed with a 'they're democratically elected' wave of the hand.

It has been public policy to encourage and work with companies, throughout both Republican and Democratic governments (well, until now), to explicitly and deliberately attempt to make the rhetoric about change-through-trade a real thing, by including factors such as human rights and worker conditions and press freedom into trade agreements with China.

For this to work, we have to provide them something they otherwise don't have access to. Making MMOs technically isn't hard once you've done it before, and they now have dozens of companies who have shipped them, albeit smaller and less ambitious ones. In some ways (including social gameplay), the Asians are overall light-years ahead of us.

All this being said, when I was running a startup making a purely social MMO which centered on player-created content, we sought Chinese funding. We were told that to get it, we'd have to fundamentally change how players promoted and demoted other player's content (the Chinese government isn't a big fan of democracy, go figure). We ultimately walked away from the deal. The policy would have not only destroyed the game we were trying to make. Beyond that, it also left a bad taste in my mouth which made me not want to pursue alternatives and do business with them.

So I've stood on principle before. It makes you feel righteous. It also ultimately resulted in that project's entry into permanent limbo, and me walking away from the startup because I needed to start paying off startup-incurred credit card debt. You can't afford to stand on principle all the time.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 2:06:52 PM | link

Peter Edelmann says:

I suppose this is kinda off topic considering the direction this thread has taken, however...
I find it interesting that, so far in this thread, all the examples of regulation outside of China deal with the regulation of the instantiation layer of games. By instantiation, I mean the level at which Nazi insignia, nipples, or any other symbolic element are mapped onto the game mechanics. So far, the kinds of direct regulation we have seen with respect to video games in Western countries have largely been at this level (eg: sexual/violent content) or at the level of the interface/actual world (eg: age restrictions, EULAs...). [I've discussed distinctions between regulatory levels more formally in a Digra paper for those interested]

This is not what the Chinese government is doing here. As Greg points out, they are regulating at the level of the game mechanics (or pressuring the game developers to undertake such regulation on their behalf). I find this aspect makes this case interesting completely aside from the entity undertaking the regulation (which has been the focus of this thread so far). Deploying game mechanics as a regulatory mechanism is fundamentally different from making rules about content. This is essentially the difference Lessig makes between code and law with respect to cyberspace regulation in general. In the case of content, it is the content itself that is the object of regulation, while legislation is the tool. In this case, the object of regulation is the behaviour of players, while the game mechanics are a means to that end. The Chinese government is clearly adept at using code in a regulatory fashion to meet policy goals (think "Great Firewall"), and thus it is perhaps not surprising that they would see the potential for intervention at this level in games. Whether or not the policy goals are laudable (others have already touched on that question), the method appears novel to me, at least in the virtual world context.

Thus, while it is very common for designers/developers to regulate player behaviour through the manipulation of game mechanics/world rules (what I would call the system layer), I would be interested to know if people are aware of any other examples of state regulation of game mechanics in virtual worlds, or even games in general.

Posted Aug 25, 2005 9:58:18 PM | link

greglas says:

Peter --

That's also what caught my attention about this as opposed to the standard sex and violence regs. One aspect that interests me is the First Amendment implications that might be raised by this kind of game mechanical state restriction. As I've asked some other folks, are points speech? So far, I've received divided answers.

As far as I can tell, the regulation of real space games mechanics doesn't seem to raise any red flags (think of boxing laws) similar to those that might be raised by the regulation of speech. I've been looking for people to point me to some 1st Am cases related to game regulation, but no luck yet...

There was no 1st Am challenge raised, for instance, in the Casey Martin case, where the ADA re-wrote the game mechanics of golf for the PGA Tour.

http://straylight.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-24.ZS.html

I realize that you might not be as interested in these 1st Am issue. :-)

Posted Aug 26, 2005 5:39:00 AM | link

Peter Edelmann says:

Martin is definitely an interesting case on this level - and Scalia may not be so far off in his fear that the decision could open the doors to requests for judicial intervention in all manner of sports and games. However, I think there are a couple distinctions I would make with the case here.

First, in Martin I am not convinced the court is using the rules of golf to regulate behaviour. The court's issue is whether the rule itself (and thus the PGA Tour) breaches the ADA. The regulatory mechanism remains the ADA itself and presumably the Court would not object to further modification of the rules of golf, so long as it was done in such a way that they did not contravene the ADA. In the Chinese example, otoh, the government does not seem to be taking issue with the game rules themselves. The game mechanics are the means through which the policy goal is to be achieved. AFAIK, there is no legislation to be enacted limiting the amount of time players spend in VWs. I think this is an important distinction. (note that the recent Chinese regulation of PKing is probably more akin to Martin in this sense, as the target is the rule itself, and the mechanism is actual world legislation).

Secondly, I think the [operational] rules of PGA golf are more like law than they are like code[1]. VWs have a whole series of rules which are not written into the game engine itself, but enforced through administrative mechanisms like GMs. Those are like the rules of PGA Golf - if you don't follow them and get caught you will be sanctioned. Code is different - it is regulation through architecture. The advantage is that rules enforced through code cannot be broken without breaking the laws of physics (NB: circumvented, yes - broken, no). The disadvantage is that regulation through code may not have the intended effect at all, as this poster at the BBC story points out:

The main problem I see with this is that instead of logging off the computer and going out into the real world, people will simply use the time they are forced offline to play another game or research for hints and tips on the Internet; in essence it does not really curb their game play at all but teaches them how to play smarter and make better use of their online time.
Paul, Darlington, UK

[1] Incidentally, this raises some interesting questions about the remediation of sports rules in video games - largely a transition from law to code. Jesper Juul addresses this in his dissertation (and forthcoming book I would imagine), although I don't fully agree with his analysis on the issue. Unfortunately, that discussion will have to be for another day...

Posted Aug 26, 2005 12:35:39 PM | link

greglas says:

Peter --

I'm not sure I understand your first point. With Martin, I think you *can* say that Congress essentially rewrote the PGA's golf rules. With China, once this regulation is in full force, you I think you *can* say that the MMORPGs in question have run aground against a law. While I get the formal distictions you're drawing, I'm not spotting the practical difference.

On your second point, I agree. The PGA rules are more law than architecture. In coded golf, it may be impossible to hit the ball backwards, whereas in real space, it is very possible. I've thought about that distinction a lot, but I'm not sure yet what it would mean for the validity of the state regulation of video game mechanics. Pointing in the direction of architecture as the right analogy, not law, can cut different ways.

Posted Aug 26, 2005 1:02:15 PM | link

Peter Edelmann says:

Greg --

I see your point about Martin - the ADA *is* indirectly changing the rules of golf. I would underline *indirectly*, however, in the sense that the ADA does not require specific rules be built into golf. The ADA contains an explicit and detailed description of the policy goal, and requires an interpretive excercise on the part of the PGA such that whatever rules they choose to play by don't discriminate against the disabled (in certain ways, etc.). SCOTUS is the ultimate arbiter of the validity of that interpretive excercise.

The Chinese regulations (as I understand them) need not explicitly define a policy goal, nor will they require an interpretive excercise to that effect. They define a specific system of game mechanics to be implemented in online games. Whether or not the regulations have the intended effect is not a question game developers/owners need concern themselves with. This is what I mean by regulation at the level of game mechanics/code.

As for the (US) constitutional validity of regulation through game mechanics, I'll leave such questions in more capable hands.

Posted Aug 26, 2005 2:22:25 PM | link

greglas says:

Peter -- I see what you're driving at now. Yes, I suppose that is a noteworthy difference, esp. from a hermeneutic angle. We know what the letter of the ADA is and the law reflects in application to particular cases, whereas with these fatigue regulations, we know what the regulations of the game mechanics are and we glean, from them, a particular policy objective that can be somewhat vague in its contours.

Posted Aug 26, 2005 2:53:17 PM | link

Galrahn says:

From what I understand, the vast majority of players selling currency on US servers to the IGE's of the world are players living and playing from China on servers in the US.

If they are under restrictions playing on servers in China, I don't see why they simply won't play on the US servers. While a country like Japan may block all IP addresses from China in some games, there will likely never be such a ban on IP addresses from other countries on US servers.

US companies will take the money and let the playerbase sort it out, or the GMs, who are probably outsourced offshore anyway in WoW and Lineage2, the 2 games specifically sited.

I think Samantha asked the question I'd like to see an answer to, I don't see a way anyone is making a MC run on a WoW server in China after that law, much less a trip up the Tower in Lineage 2 for XP on the 10th floor.

Posted Aug 26, 2005 4:25:18 PM | link

magicback says:

More data points:

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper have an article in the Technology section called: Enter danger zone, Matrix-Style that summarized "goverments worry about the hazardous reality-bluring effects of online gaming."

Greg and Dan was caption-quoted stating "Crimes involving virtual gaming worlds ... do not fall within the scope of existing criminal prohibitions".

The article is China-focused, but also quote Hiroshi Yamaguchi, a research at the japan Centre for International Finance. Will keep an eye out for his work, which based on the article is on virtual item trade and a financial and social interest in regulating the trade.

You can read it here, but it's subscription only:
https://register.scmp.com/loginscmp1.php?refpage=http://technology.scmp.com/techmain/ZZZWFCS0YCE.html&sPF=Y&sKO=&track=

Frank

Posted Aug 29, 2005 8:55:28 PM | link

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Posted Mar 7, 2006 8:46:27 AM | link