The Chinese gaming giant Tencent will be using facial recognition technology to limit the amount of time that minors spend in front of a screen. The new face-based Midnight Patrol system is being rolled out in more than 60 mobile games, and will help enforce a Chinese law that was passed in 2019 to prevent video game addition.
The law itself essentially acts as a curfew, and bans minors from playing video games between the hours of 10pm and 8am. Those under 18 are also not allowed to play for more than 90 minutes on a weekday. The problem (at least according to the Chinese government) is that many minors found ways to get around that policy, either by using a parent’s device or by signing in under a parent’s gaming account.
To make sure that the rules are enforced, a new policy went into effect on June 1 that states that games must implement an authentication system to verify each player’s age and Chinese national identity (a separate 2017 law already forces people to use their real names when opening accounts with internet service providers). The Midnight Patrol went live on July 5, and will allow Tencent to fulfill those newer policy obligations.
Under the new system, players do not need to scan when they start playing, but they will be prompted to verify their identity if they are still playing past midnight, play for a certain amount of time, or spend an excessive amount of money in the game. At that point, they will need to complete a facial recognition scan in order to continue playing. The check is not mandatory, but those that opt out will be treated as minors and will be locked out of their gaming session.
The face scans will be matched against China’s national facial recognition database, which powers the country’s extensive (and controversial) public surveillance system. Tencent claims that it will not store any new images captured through the Midnight Patrol system, though it may compare them to photos stored in a database of images previously submitted to the company. The company’s Chinese customers log in with their WeChat IDs, regardless of the game they are playing.
The new rules only apply to Chinese players, and only to mobile games in particular. That means that Midnight Patrol will not be rolled out in other countries, or for desktop games like League of Legends (at least not yet). Tencent initially started trialing the facial recognition system in Honor of Kings back in 2018.
July 12, 2021 – by Eric Weiss