Gov't flags update on online game regulations

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Authorities plan to update existing regulations on the country's US$80 million online gaming industry.

"A new decision is expected to tighten regulations while creating more healthy development of online games," Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Do Quy Doan told a recent seminar in Ho Chi Minh City on online game management.

"There should be a more detailed and clearer document on managing online games," Doan said without saying when the decision would be issued.

According to Doan, a 2006 document is the only regulation in place on the issue and contains several loopholes.

The seminar was attended by representatives from the steering board to draft government regulations to manage online games, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Vietnam Youth Federation and the Vietnam Software Association.

Promising industry

Vietnam is a promising market for the online game industry with a population of 86 million, with 67 percent under 30.

According to a survey published on www.internetworldstars.com, Vietnam ranks 18th in the world for the number of people using the Internet, with 22 million people going online in 2008.

Statistics from the Vietnam Internet Network Information Center showed that 3.6 million people used the Internet in 2008 for entertainment purposes, a majority playing online games.

Luu Vu Hai of the Ministry of Information and Communications said domestic game online suppliers made remarkable profits in 2007 and 2008.

He said that until recently, 15 companies were supplying 45 games in Vietnam, with total revenues of $80 million in 2008.

They also created 3,700 jobs last year and contributed VND287 billion ($16.4 million) to the government budget.

Representatives at the seminar, however, said that it was inaccurate to say that Vietnam had an online game industry because most of the games were bought from overseas.

Only one game was the product of a joint-venture between a local company and a company in China, with 24 games bought from the Republic of Korea and 20 games from China.

Time limit

Representatives said the major loopholes in the existing 2006 regulations were the playing time limits and the rights of players to virtual property.

Under the current regulations, player accounts in Vietnam only last for five hours, with the time limit meant to be built into the games.

Experts at the seminar said the time regulation was ineffective.

According to the 2006 document, gamers lose half of their bonus after the first three hours and lose it all after five hours. They can continue playing but should not be able to accrue any more bonuses.

However, the conference heard that gamers had found ways to get around the limitation and some online games did not have the limit built in.

Hai said the 2006 regulations proved to be ineffective, adding that it should only have applied to gamers under 18.

"Gamers of 18-year or more should have the right to play and are responsible for their own behavior," he said.

He also said the five-hour limit was copied from a model in China that has been changed, setting the limit for gamers under 18-year-old only.

Virtual property

The new industry of Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) has led to the development of property rights within the game world as players trade real money for virtual objects, land and characters.

The new phenomenon brings with it familiar legal problems such as theft, fraud and ownership disputes.

"The matter of virtual property in online games is not regulated in the current law," said Nguyen Thi Thu Van from the Justice Ministry's civil and economic law department.

Van said the regulations need to evolve with the technology so old notions of theft should no longer apply.

"We shouldn't implement the current law on property rights in this field," she said.

Tran Huu Linh, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's E-commerce Department, said that many countries and territories including RoK and Taiwan already have clear regulations on virtual property.

Le Hong Minh, director of VinaGame, said there should be better regulation of Internet shops supplying online game services because a survey showed 80 percent of gamers played at the shops.

Some online game suppliers complained about the five-hour limit because of the expense to modify the games, which were bought from other countries.

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