The new system will result in Australian ratings being applied to games on digital storefronts, without each one needing to be analysed by the ACB.Australia’s video game developers are welcoming the federal government’s participation in a new program that could bring our classification system further into line with the rest of the world.
The program — which justice minister Michael Keenan announced last week would apply to Australia on a trial basis — allows game-makers to have their digital products classified for release simultaneously around the world by completing a free online questionnaire about the content in their game.
Currently, any game made available in Australia must be classified by applying to the Australian Classification Board (ACB), a process that can take months, cost up to $2460 and is largely impractical and unenforceable when considering the hundreds of games released on digital platforms every day.
The switch to the new online tool — run by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) — means developers in participating countries will have their games automatically rated in Australia for free, and Australian developers can similarly use the tool to get classified in all participating regions, which includes the US and Europe.
Each participating region sets its own guidelines for classification, meaning the online tool will ideally apply the same familiar Australian classifications (from G to R18+) to each game that the ACB would have applied if its members had sat down to analyse it personally.
The tool applies only to games released on digital platforms, so publishers of the blockbuster games available in brick and mortar stores will still need to go through the ACB.
Leigh Harris, co-founder of Sydney independent developer Flat Earth Games, said the changes won’t have an immediately noticeable effect for consumers, but that it was a relief the government had chosen this route over more restrictive or expensive alternatives.
He said it’s widely understood that the government currently allows digital games to be sold without official classification — online marketplaces like the Apple App Store and Steam apply their own age ratings to games — but that this was merely a stopgap measure until government could find a way to easily and consistently get official ratings into the digital space.
“The government wants to have their say in the kind of content available for Australian consumers, and rather than trying desperately to contain digital games within the old legacy system they’ve made the positive step of [joining the IARC]”, Harris said, adding that replacing each digital storefront’s rating symbols with the ACB’s would make for more consistency, and hold the government accountable for making sure classifications reflected Australian values.
“It gives us [Australian creators of digital content] legitimacy within Australia. Plus it’s free, and it makes it easier to release in other countries. The government gets their say and we at least know we’re abiding by the rules to get our games out to as many people as possible.”
Harris got to know the Australian classification system well while working with developer Rockstar — makers of Grand Theft Auto — and said the expense involved in the current system would be prohibitive if applied to independent game developers.
“Even games that get huge on the App Store often come from really humble beginnings, and those are the kinds of games you would not see in Australia if the government had instituted something like the current classification system for digital games,” he said.
The new system is currently reliant on digital marketplaces opting in to co-operate with the IARC and display official classifications. This week Google Play became the first major marketplace to sign on, meaning games on Android devices will soon carry ACB classifications.
Australia’s Interactive Games and Entertainment Association said the government’s participation in the program was a good step towards fulfilling the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations, handed down in 2012, to ensure enforceable classification rules.
Minister Keenan said Australia’s trial of the IARC online tool will last for 12 months, during which time the ACB will continue to scrutinise the assigned game classifications “to ensure they reflect the Australian community’s expectations and standards”.
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