After tough year, WeChat founder urges users to put down their phones and meet friends

Tencent’s CEO Pony Ma Huateng.

Senior management of Chinese tech giant Tencent have told employees that responsibility, respect and kindness were the main lessons of 2018, according to published accounts of a staff meeting held Wednesday.

“The biggest takeaway from the past year is responsibility, and we are rethinking Tencent’s mission at the 20th anniversary [of the company],” said Pony Ma Huateng, co-founder and chief executive officer. To become the most respected internet company Tencent’s products and services need to improve the daily lives of ordinary people and the company must work closely with developers and industrial partners in the ecosystem, Ma added.

Allen Zhang, the enigmatic founder of WeChat, told employees that the messaging app, with over 1 billion users, was a tool to help people who create receive some value in return.

“[WeChat] users hope to be sincerely treated … Put down your phones and meet with your friends. Sometimes it sounds like a slogan but it is what the users really want,” he said. On the same “feel good” theme, Zhang told staff they can “probably be more kind than artificial intelligence when the technology becomes cleverer than human beings”.

The management comments were posted on Tencent Culture’s official WeChat account.

This year has been a bumpy ride for Tencent, China’s biggest social media and game operator. After its share price hit a peak in January, a halt in the approval of new games that began in March and a subsequent global tech sell-off saw the company lose one third of its market value. Ma announced a reorganisation in late September that would shift Tencent’s focus beyond consumers to the huge potential of the industrial internet and the digital transformation of China’s economy.

The themes of responsibility and kindness were also invoked by executives who spoke about the games business, which contributes nearly half the company’s revenue.

“We launched the most stringent youth anti-addiction system in [our] history. It is very beneficial to the entire industry and a responsibility we must assume as an industry leader,” Mark Ren, the chief operating officer, said at the meeting.

Tencent, China’s biggest game publisher, said its mandatory identity check for gamers has led to a “noticeable reduction” in play time among minors. In October, the company made it mandatory for players to verify their age to log into the hit game Honor of Kings, and a year earlier it had introduced time limits on minors playing the game. The moves were part of Tencent’s response to a campaign by Beijing to mitigate the adverse impact of prolonged gaming on children’s health.

The shift to the industrial internet was a “natural extension” of the company’s long time strategy to connect people, Martin Lau, president of Tencent, said at the meeting. “When we connected the users and services seamlessly in the early days of the mobile internet, a huge amount of data was generated, to be analysed by artificial intelligence. As we provide cloud services for enterprises and connect users through mini programs, the capabilities of various industries have been improved,” he said.

Ma stressed that the industrial internet does not exist in isolation. “It is our wide connections in the consumer internet that will enable us to serve business and government clients better. This ability will be our talisman and our edge in future competition,” Ma said.

As the company continue its transformation, it announced on Wednesday plans to shut the web version of QQ, Tencent’s first flagship messaging service. The QQ web version will cease from January 1, 2019, according to a statement on the QQ webpage.


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