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    My Child Spent a Fortune on a Chinese Video Game. What Now?

    Amid a wave of public anger, China’s video game industry has vowed to make it easier for parents to claim refunds if they find their child has secretly spent huge sums on in-game add-ons.
    May 29, 2024#gaming#policy

    It’s every parent’s nightmare: opening a bank statement and realizing that your child has secretly spent hundreds of dollars on their favorite video game.

    Thousands of Chinese parents experience that stomach-dropping feeling every year, and claiming a refund is often easier said than done — with users frequently required to navigate a complex application process and provide proof that their child made the purchases without their consent.

    Public anger about the issue has been on the rise in recent months, with several stories of distraught parents going viral across Chinese social media. And it appears that the video game industry is finally moving to take action.

    On Tuesday, the Internet Society of China — a nonprofit industry body — released a set of draft guidelines designed to address the issue, setting out suggested refund procedures for gaming companies to follow.

    The guidelines contain few surprises — stating that parents and video game companies should agree to refunds based on the level of fault of both parties — but if implemented they will require companies to speed up the refund process by establishing dedicated channels to process requests.

    Under Chinese regulations, it should already be difficult for minors to spend huge sums on online games. Gaming companies are not allowed to offer paid services to users under 8 years of age, and they can only allow users aged between 8 and 16 to spend up to 200 yuan ($28) per month. For 16 to 18-year-olds, the limit rises to up to 400 yuan.

    But children have found ways to bypass these restrictions, leading to a number of cases involving minors draining their parents’ bank accounts gaining public attention in recent months.

    In April, a video of a father slapping himself after discovering his 9-year-old son had spent over 13,000 yuan on a popular game called “Eggy Party” went viral on Chinese social media. The case sparked heated discussion online about who should bear responsibility in such a situation.

    NetEase, the maker of the video game, ended up providing the father with a full refund under public pressure. But many parents have complained that claiming a refund usually isn’t so straightforward, as gaming companies use complex procedures, opaque refund rules, and strict requirements for evidence proving the child spent money without the parent’s knowledge.

    “It’s very easy to make in-game purchases — there’s no facial recognition or verification, just a password is needed. But the refund process is complicated, discouraging requests,” a father surnamed Wu, whose 10-year-old son spent over 20,000 yuan on online games in 18 months, told domestic media in May.

    According to a 2023 report, only 15.4% of Chinese parents are aware of how much their children are spending on video games. Of those who had applied for refunds on their children’s in-game purchases, nearly 30% said their application had failed as they were unable to provide enough evidence to satisfy the video game company. Over 38% said they had received a full refund.

    According to the new guidelines, online game providers should bear 100% of the responsibility for minor overspending on in-game purchases if the company has failed to implement a real-name authentication system or enforce the required limits on minors’ in-game expenditure.

    The provider should take between 30% to 70% of the responsibility if they have implemented these restrictions, but a parent helped the minor bypass those measures or failed to supervise them properly. The specific percentage depends on how effective the restrictions are deemed to be.

    Parents should take full responsibility for their child’s in-game spending if they repeatedly helped them bypass the gaming company’s restrictions, or failed to supervise the child’s spending for long periods. Adult users who are found to have made false refund claims by pretending their purchases were made by a minor will be blacklisted and reported to the police, the guidelines state.

    “The new guidelines provide a standardized path for minors and parents to advocate for their rights and interests, and a template for how enterprises should respond to refund demands,” Yao Zhiwei, a law professor from Guangdong University of Finance and Economics in southern China, told domestic media.

    The Chinese government has implemented stringent regulations on minors’ use of video games in the name of preventing addiction. In 2021, a new law restricted minors to just three hours of gaming time per week, with companies ordered to enforce the rules strictly using real-name registration systems.

    These anti-addiction measures have drastically decreased minors’ spending on video games over the past few years. In the first quarter of 2023, Chinese gaming giant Tencent said that minors’ in-game spending and gameplay time were down 90% and 96%, respectively, compared with the same period in 2020.

    Additional reporting: Li Dongxu.

    (Header image: IC)