Online games crackdown a fillip for domestic industry

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Import controls planned on online games aim not only to contain violent, gambling or pornographic content but also to boost development of the gaming industry in Vietnam, officials say.

Le Manh Ha, director of Ho Chi Minh City Information and Communications Department, said the controls would protect the domestic industry and offer opportunities for local businesses to develop gaming at home.

Ha said local businesses were currently distributing games imported mainly from South Korea and China and they were unable to control the games' content as they are designed by foreign programmers.

There has been heated debate in recent weeks over the negative social impacts the online gaming industry is having on the nation's youth, and a few cases of teenage addiction have garnered considerable publicity.

The voicing of public concern has prompted Vietnamese authorities to consider several measures of the crackdown, including cutting the Internet connection to game parlors from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. and requiring Internet users to register their personal details each time they use the service.

Ha said local businesses have depended too much on imports as the domestic gaming industry was as yet immature.

HCMC has the highest number of gamers in the country. Two-thirds of students in secondary and elementary schools, and three-quarters of those in high schools and universities are regular gamers. Nationwide, an estimated 10 million people play games online.

A recent report from the HCMC government said about 65 online games were licensed to 14 distributors in the country so far, but just one of these was designed by a local firm.

Le Hong Minh, CEO of VinaGame, the country's biggest online game supplier, said it took much time and money to develop a game at home.

VinaGame has designed Thuan Thien Kiem, a game set in Vietnam's post-Le Dynasty (1533-1788) history when the north and south were fighting each other to establish control over the whole nation.

Minh said the firm spent VND20 billion (US$1.04 million) and three years to complete the game, excluding costs for upgrading it in subsequent years, a low investment compared to Korea, China and the US, where programming a game costs $20-80 million.

He said the firm has yet to cover the investment cost after it introduced the game last August. VinaGame has also distributed 14 imported online games, of which Vo lam truyen ky (Swordsman a Chinese game) is the most played by Vietnamese gamers.

Nguyen Lam Thanh, deputy director of VTC Intercom, said it invested $5 million in an English-learning online game based on Audition, a Korean musical game it imported.

VTC Intercom, a subsidy of VTC under the Ministry of Information and Communications, has distributed nine imported football, music and action games in the country. Thanh said the firm would focus on developing educational and entertaining games, avoiding violence.

For now, he said some of the games are introduced with warnings of violent content to players who have to declare their ages and ID numbers before loading the games.

Ha from the HCMC Information and Communications Department said the warnings were not strict enough to prevent kids from loading violent games after declaring wrong details about themselves.

The HCMC government's report mentioned earlier said 78 percent of licensed games involved violence.

He suggested banking cards like ATM cards used to pay for playing the games should also be used to block violent games from teenagers and younger children.

Like China, Vietnam is faced with a social problem as online game addictions have soared since the games appeared in the country in 2005.

Experts said the number of addictions have soared due to the rapid growth of Internet shops in Vietnam, especially in big cities like HCMC and Hanoi.

Nguyen Thanh Nhan, director of Southern Young People Education Center which has turned to a rehab center of sorts for game addicts, said the number of calls from parents was increasing. They invariably asked for help and advice from the center to deal with children addicted to online games, he said.

The center trains children in responsible, sensible use of the Internet so that it complements their studies and also provides them with entertainment.

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