the government still like earning money for the economy from the game sales. I just dont get why cant they cant just rate games like what they do in America
It won’t come as a shock to anyone to learn that the classification of video games in Australia is somewhat of an entanglement. But walk into any game retailer in the country and it is immediately clear that one group of games is without any classification at all: online-only titles like World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, and Age of Conan. Between vague classification guidelines, an inconsistent Classification Board, the lack of an R18+ rating, and a constant game of pass-the-parcel between Australian government departments toying with the issue, classifying video games in Australia is proving to be a headache for more than just gamers. But are online games and massively mulitplayer online games exempt from classification in Australia? If not, is it then illegal to sell these games without a classification? And if so, why have games like World of Warcraft remained unclassified on shelves for years?
In this GameSpot AU feature we will look at the legislation behind the classification of online games in Australia and speak to the Australian government, the Classification Board of Australia, and Blizzard in a bid to end the confusion once and for all.
At the start of the year a wave of reports surfaced on gaming news Web sites and traditional media outlets questioning the legality of games such as World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, and Age of Conan due to the fact that these titles were being sold on shelves across Australia without a local classification. Many of these reports claimed that publishers seemed to be unaware that online games that did not have a single-player component needed to be classified in Australia, often referring to this as a “legal loophole.” This seems to have led to the widely accepted view that online games are exempt from classification in Australia. The following was taken from a report by Australian law firm Clayton Utz, published on May 1, 2009, by writers Gina Elliott and Danielle Briers:
“The gaming industry has long assumed that online multiplayer games like these are ‘unclassifiable’ due to the inherent unpredictability of online play, and therefore do not require classification. This assumption has led to countless copies of online multiplayer games being sold without classification over the years, despite legislation which prohibits the sale, demonstration and advertising of unclassified games.”
But little attention was paid to the Australian government, whose repeated stance on the issue was just as widely reported and documented. The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department told GameSpot AU:
“The Commonwealth Classification Act does not exclude online games from the definition of computer games. The Classification Board [of Australia] must classify a computer game (including one with online content) upon receipt of a valid application. The Classification Board often uses the consumer advice 'gaming experience may change online' for a computer game with online content.”
To further clarify the issue, the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department will soon be releasing a fact sheet on the classification requirements of online video games, following a request put forward by Censorship Ministers in April. The fact sheet, whose release date has not been confirmed, is being developed by commonwealth, state, and territory officers and will be provided to the industry, in the hope that the issue will no longer confuse and mislead.
Legal or Illegal?
If online games are not exempt from classification in Australia, does it follow that unclassified games such as World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, and Age of Conan are currently being sold illegally in Australia? The short answer is yes. According to the Federal Attorney-General’s Department, it is the law that all video games must have an Australian classification before being sold, hired, displayed, or advertised. However, each state and territory in Australia has its own classification laws, which cover what material is legal; how it is marked, displayed, sold, and advertised; the penalties involved for breaching these requirements; and the policing of these matters.
The penalties differ from state to state; most involve prison terms for individuals and monetary penalties stretching into five-figure sums for companies. However, the actual online content part of a video game is regulated by the Department of Broadband and the Digital Economy, where the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 regulates illegal and offensive online content, including video games. Under the Online Content Scheme of the Act, illegal or offensive online content can be taken down, regardless of whether it is hosted in Australia or overseas--the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) can ask content providers to remove content if it believes it’s of a serious enough nature, and it must notify the Australian Federal Police if it finds any evidence of wrongdoing.
But if the sale of unclassified video games is a crime, why have these penalties never been enforced? Why are publishers guilty of this offence not being charged and their games taken off the shelves? Since the enforcement of the law is up to each state and territory, GameSpot AU first put this question to the NSW Attorney-General’s Department, whose response, word for word, was: “Call the police.” Judging by this response, we can only assume the NSW Attorney-General’s Department does not attribute enough importance to this issue. Whatever the case, GameSpot AU did contact the police.
“The states and territories are responsible for the enforcement of their own jurisdictional laws relating to classification offences,” said Senior Sergeant Darin Ferguson from the Australian Federal Police.
Sergeant Ferguson could only offer his opinion as to why the issue has gone unnoticed for so long under state and territory police: more serious threats to deal with or just a general lack of knowledge about the existence of the issue. When contacted, NSW Police offered the following explanation:
“There is not a particular unit that deals with breaches of the state classification laws; it is an issue that is dealt with at a local area command (LAC) level, which means it is up to each individual police station to follow leads,” a spokesperson for NSW Police said. Click on the Next Page link to see the rest of the feature!
I think a nationwide re-work of the rules would benefit everyone involved. Bring in the "R" rating and it would make classifications a lot easier for online play.
Online, offline... Our laws are backwards at there very best, the people in control of these laws are ridiculous. and as stated in your segment the police couldn't give a rats ass regardless. so comes the big question, why don't they just give us an R rating and be done with it all. this will also help classifying online games broadening the spectrum. no wonder so many trainee police had there mass Exodus a couple of months ago , what was it? over 85 of them??, our laws stop even the keepers of the law from keeping the law.
@ Son-of-phantom- You are quite right and without a CLEAR law to go by police are unable to do anything. And to be honest why would they waste their time on gaming troubles when people have real not virtual problems. @ themovi3nut- i hope you remember that when your TV or car gets stolen. Perhaps the police will be too busy stealing freedom to help you. W@NKA. PS. I'm enrolling at the police academy in a few weeks.
Dont forget there is DeadSpace where the whole point of the game is too dismember the aliens.... cut off legs, arms heads anything and everything and get a nice amount of blood, then there is Wolfenstein, u can shoot off heads, arms, legs of human beings.... and its legal, u r right there is no consistancy in the labeling of classification, i mean u can find two games with similar content and one will be rated M and the other PG but u do pretty much the same thing in both of them....
I agree with veeks, an R rating and/or at least consistency in the classification. Left 4 Dead 2 is refused classification for dismemberment of infected human limbs while Ninja Gaiden 2 passes even though you can decapitate and dismember Ninjas and see the blood gushing with all its glory. Is this a joke???
Our classification laws require two things, an R rating so consumers can be informed and allowed to make their own decisions, and a more competent and/or informed Classification Board who are willing to take their task seriously. We need classification in this country and we need it to be consistent. I know what I find suitable for myself and my children through the classification labels and from monitoring what comes through the AV cables. If the Classification Board are be so frequently questioned, it seems obvious that they do not represent or reflect the consumers they are working for. Sorry all for the rant. But this is another young father/gamer who is bored with our censor$hit.
Damn, if only WoW was still illegal. I know a couple of people that'd need some prison time just to detox from WoW. It destroys young lives, more addictive than crack.
@Vain_Apocalypse - I can't believe I didn't think of that. @Son-of-phantom - Good job? all they do is rob people of there money and freedom.
lay off the police they do a good job, the issue is that gaming is relatively new and the vast majority of the older generations don't understand or care. sure the government should introduce better games classifications, like the European classification system which has a lot more levels of ratings, like M 17+ meaning that the games that are only just above MA level don?t just get thrown straight up to R, but going on about how the police and government should do their jobs better isn?t going to help. how about actually writing a serious letter to government, a letter that doesn?t just abuse them but instead makes valid points about the issue and asks good questions about what?s being done.
Hey EB Chatswood! Awesome! The situation is very interesting. I feel that its a bit hypocritical to let these games go unrated and yet they ban titles such as Left 4 Dead 2. You can't wipe one game off the map and have another totally unrated. The whole thing undermines their position on RC material.
These lazy people should do their jobs. Its not that hard to classify a game. If their is a shooter game im sure that is viloence, if their is swearing its coarse language not hard
why does it matter? i'm 18 next year so by the time they get their act together i'll be 18 the real problem is younger siblings watching there brothers and sisters play violent games, that cant help a child mental development
ToxinZA-"Ha I laugh in the face of classifications and ridiculous laws, its simple if I want it I will get it. There is no stopping me." Hmm, you sound like some sort of evil villain.
Ha I laugh in the face of classifications and ridiculous laws, its simple if I want it I will get it. There is no stopping me.
FluxZero - "I suppose they are too busy trying to catch murders and rapists." More like too busy holding radar guns at the bottom of a steep hill. Cops in Australia aren't instructed do anything unless it brings in $
Its all good. Kinda glad the cops dont care - because i certainly dont let the Classification Board screw with my gaming life. Justifiable Video Game Piracy lol
This article shows a lot of people just either not doing the job tax payers pay them to do, or they simply don't care either way. "Call the Police" ? I pay your wage! DO YOUR JOB! Get off your butt and do your job. If I shrugged off complaints and requests for information like that at work, I'd be fired! And tax payers don't pay for my damn wage!
A well written article but that it took 5 years for the OFLC to change enough to classify a online game is silly and that the video game developers and distributors were unwittingly breaking the law because of that is appalling. I do find it hilarious that the OFLC tries to defend that they failed epically and that games were allowed through as 'unclassifiable' thus allowing users not to worry about their censorship.
So they've finally got around to classifying online games. how bout they now get around to releasing the consultation paper so we can have our R18+ rating.....
good article. Honestly though, I would rather the OFLC turn a blind eye and the games continue to be sold ratehr than another L4D2 drama with something like Modern Warfare 2, resulting in no blood in game or something similarly ridiculous.
In other words no one really cares, or could be bothers devoting the man power to build cases. I suppose they are too busy trying to catch murders and rapists.
THAT was the official response from the NSW Attorney-General's Department? "Call the police"? Appalling.