The Chinese Imperium against Honor of Kings
There are 100 million young Chinese people playing Honor of Kings every day, the most popular and profitable online video game in the world that rakes in 7 billion dollars a year for its developers. Basically under the thumb of the virtual world, Chinese civil society is beginning to cause great headaches for its leaders and the Communist Party who are now trying to remedy this widespread addiction that promotes lavish spending and violence mainly among the very young. The situation has become even more serious with players literally at death’s door – and even dying in internet cafés – from exhaustion from playing the game.
Currently, the draconian measures being adopted by the authorities to put strict limits on the use of these online games are quite understandable, because the matters of public health and even hygiene are crucial to this fight against the “spiritual opium”. Under 18s are therefore now banned from engrossing themselves in these games outside of the time windows that have been strictly defined by the government: only 3 hours a week in total, only between 8 and 9pm, and only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. The country’s authorities are displaying an unprecedented determination in their merciless fight against addictions, with their head-on attack against the sector’s companies demonstrating that their paternalistic attitude towards certain major players in their economy belongs well and truly in the past.
This battle that aims to front up to the technology giants has started with proper scrutiny of the gigantic Alibaba and by staunchly blocking the “Ant” group from figuring on the stock market, which was created by Jack Ma and which had to pay nearly 3 billion dollars in fines for breaching fair competition rules. Then, strict controls were placed on Tencent, Didi and ten or so other companies active in the games and technology sector, and they were made to suffer a general collapse in their stock market value in the way of several hundred billion dollars, as they kept harassing users with pop-up windows. Following the same logic, the merger of two other online streaming platforms, Huya and DouYu, was duly blocked by the authorities who thought this would result in a monster that would take control of 85% of the domestic market and therefore have an outrageously dominant position. A company such as Tencent, that owns the very popular game Honor of Kings, was once worth up to a third of the stock market capitalisation of Amazon and had attracted international companies like Burberry and Nike who would sell accessories and virtual clothes to the players.
It must be said that the games industry in China has been omnipresent and omnipotent, and caused among the population an obsession to the point of madness with, for example, Honor of Kings, that has since its release in 2015 generated average annual revenue of 3.7 billion dollars, which comes to 15 dollars per user per day. Paradoxically, this large-scale attack risks reinforcing the strength of the technology sector that has already been asked to develop facial recognition software to catch minors who are misappropriating the access code meant for adults.
Thanks to its naturally authoritarian model, the Chinese government’s form of capitalism is showing all its effectiveness in regulation and crackdowns at a time when dependencies of all kinds have been exacerbated by the isolation caused by the pandemic. Right now, China’s technological titans are feeling the effects of the crackdown, kowtowing and have no other choice but to follow the guidelines set out by their government that additionally is about to come down hard on stock market manipulators. Strict regulation of insurance, property, healthcare and other sectors is only going to be a matter of time. Having risen to power in the same year that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s mass surveillance programme, Xi Jinping founded the “Cyberspace Administration of China” the next year, stating that “without cybersecurity, there will be no national security.” Now, he’s kicking into a higher gear and unleashing a very strong campaign that aims at “common prosperity” by purging the overindulgences of the young generations in order to inculcate them with “proper values”.