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Vietnamese authorities prepare to crack down on online gaming


A young boy plays online games at an Internet shop on Tran Quang Khai Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Vietnamese authorities are poised to issue a stringent clampdown on the online gaming industry, a move decried as unfeasible and unwise by critics.

Vietnamese authorities are poised to issue a stringent crackdown on the online gaming industry.

Authorities claim that the move is aimed at protecting the nation's youth from perceived social ills. Critics of the measures have decried them as unfeasible and unwise.

On July 16, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, the municipal administration, submitted a proposal to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asking that he tighten the screws on online gaming.

In the request, the city government noted that the number of licensed online games has increased from only two in 2006 to more than 65 today. The city hall claimed that 43 of the currently licensed games are violent in nature.

The city government proposed a halt on the importation of new online games and an end to their advertisement "in any form." It further proposed that all new games be screened for violent, gambling or pornographic content. All existing licenses should be re-evaluated; those that fail to meet the new content standards should be revoked, the city officials recommended.

At the same time, deputies at a meeting of the Hanoi People's Council, the municipal legislature, called for laws that would force Internet providers to pull the plug on Internet cafés from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The snowballing municipal ire has worked; the central government is honoring many of their requests.

Starting September 1st Internet access at public cafés will cease from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. While the central government will not enact all of the proposals put forth by the Hanoi and HCMC administrations, it looks as though Vietnam's cyber-junkies will be getting a lot more sleep this coming fall.

"How could they do that?" asked the owner of an Internet shop on Bui Vien Street in HCMC's backpacker area. She said her business mainly depended on tourists who visit the shop after spending the day sightseeing.

Two other shop owners in the same neighborhood said they wouldn't mind the move.

"It won't hurt us much," said Hung an employee at the Hoang Hao Internet shop on Do Quang Dau Street. "There aren't many customers at night."

Unfeasible

HCMC'S PROPOSALS ON ONLINE GAME MANAGEMENT

- All existing licenses must be reevaluated those that fail to meet the new content standards should be revoked.

- A halt on the importation of new games

- No advertisement of online games "in any form"

- All new games must be screened for their violent, gambling or pornographic content

- Applications for the approval of new games must include a "social impact assessment" that would quantify the game's potential for harmful social effects.

- Local online game providers must shut down online gaming servers from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. [Current regulations require Internet shops to comply with local cyber curfews, though such laws are seldom enforced.]

- Provisions for suppliers to limit each gamer to three hours of game play per day [Current law requires game providers to create virtual deterrents for players who exceed three hours of game play. Players are able to dodge these penalties by signing into different virtual profiles they can create as many as they like.]

- The government will now encourage the development of locally-made games that educate players about Vietnamese history and culture.

Many officials, experts and gamers consider the new regulations unfeasible and unreasonable.

Luu Vu Hai, head of the Broadcasting and Electronic Information Bureau under the Ministry of Information and Communications said that even if a domestic ban on online games were to be instituted, gamers could still play games on foreign servers.

"We cannot ban the games completely," Hai said. "We plan to come up with a solution that will maximize the benefits of online games and reduce their harmful impacts."

He said the Ministry of Information and Communications is trying to create an initiative to encourage local firms to produce "positive and healthy" games.

According to the Vietnam Software Association (VINASA), Vietnam is the biggest online game market in Southeast Asia; 22 domestic game suppliers generated $130 million worth of revenue in 2008 alone.

Generally speaking, these companies purchase the rights to games and invest in large computer servers to run them on. Most of the games run by Vietnamese providers are produced abroad. Most of the games have their own currency. Players can enter the virtual worlds for free but, in order to advance, they purchase virtual items and powers for real-world currency.

Many of the games are designed in China and South Korea. They are streamed through Vietnamese servers that translate the language. However, Vietnamese gamers are able to download software that enables them to play foreign games on foreign servers.

Pham Tan Cong, VINASA General Secretary, said online games, like all forms of entertainment, have their good and their bad sides.

"People have vilified online game companies without considering their potential for good," Cong said. He believes that the government should encourage domestic game developers to work on games that educate players about Vietnamese history and affirm its cultural identity.

"The concept of limiting game play time flies in the face of the borderless nature of Internet," he said. "We can only manage games that are being run off servers inside the country," he said.

Management failure

Khuat Thu Hong, head of the Institution for Social Development Studies, said cutting off Internet access at game shops will prove ineffective and signify a failure of the concerned management agencies.

"Online games are not guilty," Hong said. "They are an advanced technological product. We can't deny their entertainment value or their capacity to develop players' reaction time and problem solving skills. Of course, any form of abuse will have negative consequences," she said.

"We have to educate our kids about avoiding addiction to online games and select suitable games to play" Hong said, adding that many of the supporters of the new measures are parents who have ultimately failed to educate and supervise their children.

Worried companies

Domestic game providers have claimed that the proposed crackdown will prove unfeasible, impede the lawful adult enjoyment of a legal product, and damage a fledgling online gaming industry.

Hoang Trong Hieu, deputy director of VTC Games, an online game subsidiary of Vietnam Cable Television, said banning online games will not affect youth violence.

"When I was at school, there were no online games but fights still broke out. [Violence] is a big picture problem that starts with family, school and the whole society," he said.

Nguyen Dac Viet Dung, deputy director of FPT Online, an online game supplier, said it would be difficult to issue an account for each gamer and manage their maximum game play per day. Putting online game servers on hiatus [from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night] will badly hurt providers, he said, as they will be forced to backup databases and fix errors caused by regular shut downs.

Dung added that the proposed regulations will not affect Vietnamese gamers who play online games on foreign servers, but local providers will lose foreign customers who wish to play during the new cyber curfew hours.

Gamers divided

Thanh Nien Weekly spoke to several gamers who seemed concerned about hostile behavior exhibited by the youngsters who frequently crowd Internet cafes. Beyond such concerns, however, is a large community that appears frustrated with the government plans.

Dinh Hoang Minh, 28, said he often plays online games to relax after a long day at work. "A ban on online gaming at night would deny adults [who hardly qualify as "˜addicts'] a valuable entertainment outlet," the HCMC gamer said. "They should find another way of preventing vulnerable children from becoming addicts."

Minh added that his friends often play games supplied by companies abroad at home and the new regulations would not have any affect on their activities.

Nguyen Thanh Luan, a 21-yearold Vietnamese student in Paris expressed his concern that he would no longer be able to play online games out of his native country due to the time difference. "Didn't they take Vietnamese gamers living abroad into account?"

MINISTRY HALTS THE LICENSING OF ONLINE GAMES

The Ministry of Information and Communications is about to put the hurt on the officially reviled online gaming industry.

On July 27, the central governing body held a closed government meeting discussing a draft of new restrictions on the burgeoning industry, according to Luu Vu Hai, head of the Department of Broadcasting and Electronic Information under the Ministry of Information and Communications.

Subsequent to the meeting, Hai said no new licenses will be issued to companies that operate online game servers inside Vietnam.

Furthermore, the ministry will instruct Internet service providers to cut service to online gaming shops in accordance with local cyber curfew laws.

"Actually, a 2008 decree requires all Internet shops to close after 11 p.m.," Hai said. "The new measure will make its enforcement more effective."

He added that the regulations have been in place for a long time. Due to the abundance of Internet cafes and shops, he said, the laws have been impossible to enforce until now. He believes the new measure will make enforcement more effective.

Hai told the Tien Phong newspaper that regulations on cutting Internet access for Internet shops after 11 p.m. will take effect September 1.

He said that the Ministry of Information and Communications and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism are drafting regulations that will add provisions for the management of off line video games. A task force is currently in the making designed to assess the content of currently licensed online games and new games.

 

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