In an effort to combat the growing threat of online game addiction, the Chinese government last week announced plans to deter gamers from spending excessive hours in front of their computers. The heavy-handed imposition of a "fatigue system" may put pressure on gaming companies like Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks ShandaInteractive (NASDAQ:SNDA) and NetEase (NASDAQ:NTES).

Online role-playing games, such as Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft and Shanda's The Legend of Mir, typically revolve around the accumulation of "experience points." Players spend countless hours fighting bad guys and completing quests, earning experience points to advance their online character's power and status.

Under the newly proposed "fatigue system," players will accumulate experience points normally for the first three hours of each session played, but will receive a diminishing amount of points for any play thereafter. This should greatly reduce the incentive to play beyond the three-hour threshold.

If you're asking yourself who could possibly play computer games for longer than three hours at a stretch, then you likely don't have much experience with online role-playing game addicts. Devotees of these highly habit-forming games are known for their all-day gaming sessions, routinely bypassing food, sleep, and all forms of human interaction in favor of those precious experience points. There's a good reason why Sony's (NYSE:SNE) venerable online role-playing game EverQuest has earned the affectionate nickname EverCrack.

Online game addiction in China, by all accounts, appears to be just as severe. A study by the group iResearch indicated that 41% of Chinese gamers played an average session of four hours or longer. Fourteen percent of them played an average session of eight hours or longer. A particularly deviant 1.8% of them played an average session of 24 hours or longer. Yikes!

Average Session Length
for Chinese Online Gamers

Over 24 Hours

1.8%

12 - 24 Hours

3.2%

8 - 12 Hours

9%

4 - 8 Hours

27%

1 - 4 Hours

51%

> 1 Hour

5.1%

Not Sure

2.8%


Online game addiction has been linked to a variety of social ills in both China and game-crazy South Korea, including unemployment, truancy, and even death. One South Korean gamer collapsed and died at an Internet café last month after a 40-hour marathon session. Concerns over such matters prompted the Chinese government to open its first licensed clinic for treating online gaming addicts earlier this summer, in addition to introducing the "fatigue system."

While such measures may prove helpful to online game addicts, they add an element of uncertainty for investors in Chinese online gaming companies. Shanda Interactive and NetEase will be among the most severely affected by the new regulations, which take effect Oct. 1.

This situation illustrates some of the additional risk involved in investing in a government-controlled market such as China. While U.S. game producers such as Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO) are free to publish just about anything short of explicit sexual content, China's government often censors or bans titles it deems too violent or subversive. The explosive growth and near-fanatical player loyalty of the Chinese online gaming market are indeed exciting, but measures like the "fatigue system" may well temper investors' enthusiasm. Fools would be wise to demand a certain margin of safety before plunging into these stocks.

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Shanda Interactive and NetEase are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks .

Fool contributor Gerald Kim does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.