A crackdown on online games in Vietnam has seen several games' operators ordered to switch off their servers over the past month.
In the latest official move, six operators in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, were fined, restricted or closed by the authorities.
Altogether 13 separate online games from the six companies will be shut down by the end of the year, according to local press reports.
At least one was told to turn off its servers today. Another has been ordered to immediately restrict playing time to five hours per day for each player.
"It is very difficult for us to limit the playing hours for our games. We need the assistance of foreign partners," one games developer warned local media last month.
Vietnam has a population of 80 million, and around 14 million Internet connections, and internet use is growing rapidly. The majority of gamers do not own a PC, but play in internet cafés.
Estimates of the number of online gamers have ballooned from 800,000 last year to two million this year.
There are at least 13 massively multiplayer online games available in the country, with the most popular, VinaGame's Swordsman Online, reported to have 250,000 players.
The current crackdown started last year with the publication of an editorial in the official communist party newspaper, Nhan Dan, calling for more control of online games.
According to the article, many of the country's online games players are "addicted" to games. The unnamed writer described online gaming as a waste of time that was causing players to "neglect their work and studies".
"The profit that online games bring for the economy is too little compared to the waste they bring," the article claimed.
The editorial called for new rules to limit playing time, and "severe punishment" for those who broke the rules. To date, puny fines of around US$1,000 have had little effect on games operators who stray outside the law.
Ho Chin Minh City's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications has begun enforcing rules requiring games operators based in the city to apply for a licence for each game they run.
VinaGame and one other firm are said to be relatively close to obtaining licences, but others are not.
"We cannot ban the playing of games, but content must be censored and the method of play adjusted," said Dr Mai Anh, director of the Ministry of Science and Technology's IT centre.
"We prohibit young people from gathering in gangs to fight, but they can do anything they like in the virtual world of the internet.
"On the other hand, playing games is good because it helps children improve their motor and analytical skills."
Vietnam cracks down on online games
By Simon Burns on Dec 13, 2006 9:06AM