A Chinese game will use facial recognition to stop kids from playing too long

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Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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Imagine having to scan your face and prove your age in order to play a video game. Tencent, the largest video game publisher in the world, just made that a reality for Honor of Kings, one of its most popular games.

The Chinese company is testing facial-recognition software to verify the ages of players in a trial it says is limited to several thousand players in Beijing and Shenzhen (200 million people play worldwide). Honor of Kings, in which multiple players battles against each other in a fantasy world, was the highest-grossing mobile game of 2017 with $1.9 billion in revenue, according to SuperData. Despite this success, Tencent has been grappling with pressure from the Chinese government to prevent underage players from getting addicted.

Last year, Tencent moved to limit game time for users. Children under 12 were only allowed one hour of daily play and were banned from logging in after 9pm. Players age 12 to 18 are allowed up to two hours. As Quartz reported last year, this led to a black market of “adult” accounts that let children play without limits.

This year, Tencent tightened its regulation further by introducing a real-name-based registration system, linked to China’s public security database, to identify minors. The facial-recognition test will also be linked to government photo records, although Tencent has not provided details on the technology behind the face scan or how it will cross-reference with government data. According to the BBC, Tencent noted that many users had expressed concern about facial ID checks, saying it would evaluate the results of the trial “in depth.”

Chinese regulators have previously blamed video games for rising rates of nearsightedness and even distracting the country’s soldiers. The government banned new gaming licenses earlier this year, which damaged the market value of publishers including Tencent.