China's under-18s will be restricted to just three hours of online gaming a week under new anti-addiction rules announced on Monday.
The limits mean children in China will only be able to access online games like Tencent's smash hit Honour of Kings between 8 and 9 pm local time on Fridays, weekends and holidays. They will not be allowed to play online at all from Monday to Thursday.
The announcement by China's National Press and Publication Administration regulator comes less than a month after an editorial in a government-aligned newspaper criticised online gaming, leading to a sharp drop in the share prices of major gaming companies including Tencent and NetEase.
Tencent stock fell by as much as 11 per cent in early August after the Economic Information Daily newspaper called online gaming a "spiritual opium" and said that the games industry should not be allowed to “destroy a generation".
Can they stop kids gaming?
China had already limited the total length of time under-18s could access online games to three hours a day during holidays and 1.5 hours on other days.
Gaming companies in China restrict access services outside those hours by using real name verification systems that require a user's official ID to log in.
China's regulator said it would increase the frequency and intensity of inspections for online gaming companies to ensure they were putting time limits and anti-addiction systems in place
Earlier this month Tencent, the world's largest video gaming company, imposed time limits on Honour of Kings that went further than the previous state-imposed cap.
But some Chinese gamers told AFP that they had found simple ways to sidestep the rules.
"Using an adult's account, I play two to three hours a day and of course after 10 pm," said a 17-year-old player who wished to remain anonymous.
China's tech crackdown
Chinese authorities have clamped down on the tech sector in recent months with strict new laws on private sector data handling and enforcement action against major firms accused of anti-competitive business practices.
The curbs on online gaming follow a decision in July to ban companies that provide tutoring in core school subjects from turning a profit, causing the share prices of providers like TAL Education and Gaotu Techedu to plummet.
Last week the country's internet regulator revealed draft proposals that could see companies like TikTok owner ByteDance and e-commerce giant Alibaba forced to make the algorithms that track users and make recommendations based on their activity more transparent.