Government To Implement Changes To Classification, Starting With Automated Classification For Video Games

When an R18+ classification was finally put in place across all states and territories, the Australian games industry was already preparing to push towards the next step: dealing with broader, bigger areas of classification. The National Classification Scheme Review undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2012 was a major part of that step forward, and we've now been informed that the federal government is taking seven of the recommendations made by that review on board and intends to implement these reforms during the winter session of parliament in 2013.

Jason Clare, the current minister for home affairs, presented these changes to the Standing Council on Law and Justice meeting in Darwin yesterday. All State and Territory Ministers agreed to the changes.

— Broaden the type of content that is exempt from the scheme and reduce the red tape associated with running festivals;
— Enable the use of automated classification decision making systems, starting with a pilot for mobile and online computer games;
— include classification marking requirements in the Commonwealth Classification Act and revamp existing statutory instruments so they are clearer and simpler;
— change the rules so that 2D and 3D versions of films or computer games no longer need to be classified twice;
— change the rules to allow minor modifications to be made to computer games without further classification;
— a program of research to examine current classification categories, symbols and community standards in relation to media content; and
— give explicit power to Commonwealth officials so that they can notify law enforcement authorities of content that is potentially Refused Classification prior to classification by the Classification Board.

The above bolded change is arguably the most important. One of the major recommendations of the Classification Review was some sort of automated classification system, to ease the burden of classifiers in Australia. Currently every game needs to be classified by the Classification Board, but the ALRC recommended that games under MA15+ should be automatically classified under a new industry regulated system. This pilot for an 'automated classification decision making system' looks like an attempt at bringing that recommendation into being.

This most likely means that, if it goes ahead, Australian video games will be classified by either an industry body, or the publishers themselves, allowing the Classification Board to focus on games in the MA15+ or R18+ bracket.

Another issue is with digitally distributed games. There's also the possibility that this pilot scheme refers to games sold over iOS, Steam or any other online service. Currently Apple are legally bound to classify every game on the app store, but don't. Other online game stores such as Xbox LIVE, PSN and Steam — for the most part — only sell games in Australia that have been classified in Australia.

Either way, it looks like positive changes are on the horizon.


Comments

    If self classification does come in the indies will finally be able to release their titles on the Wii and 3DS eShop, PSN and XBLA. As long as the $800 fee is gone.

      Probably have to pay the industry regulated body or something dumb.

    the ALRC recommended that games MA15+ should be automatically classified under a new industry regulated system.

    @markserrels there is a missing word in there. Was their recommendation that games expected to be *under* MA15+ be automated, or MA15+ and under i.e. everything but R18?

      Everything under MA is pretty much already auto certified. A classification officer at the publisher does it and submits to COB who rubber stamp.

        And they still charge $800+ for the rubber stamp. :(

          A pittance when it comes to the returns for a game in Australia. Let the government make a little cash off these foreign corporations, we could do with it.

            It's not a pittance when your game is $1 on the iOS App Store.

              Do they come under the ratings system?

                They're supposed to but the volume is such that they can't, which is why they're using an automated system to do them.

      Thanks man! I'm actually on a day off, so I had to write this up quickly before my baby wakes up! lol

    Isn't this to eliminate the issue with games on the IOS app store?

    If this really does mean that it will be easier to get things onto digital distribution channels then I'm really excited to see it happen, especially on PSN. It's only insult added to injury that not only do we miss out on games because of licensing between US and EU territories, but we also miss out on a lot of things because they don't get Australian ratings, most often because of the cost.

    Seems sensible. Provided that there is still the possibility for the classification review board to review these automated decisions, then it should result in the same eventual decisions.

    You could argue that it makes inappropriate content available between release and the review decision, but that ignores the fact that so much content is being released without classification, and classification decisions are sometimes reviewed and changed under the current system anyway.

    If it reduces costs and provides the same service, then what's not to like?

    This part worries me;
    – give explicit power to Commonwealth officials so that they can notify law enforcement authorities of content that is potentially Refused Classification prior to classification by the Classification Board.
    Umm... And what do these "authorities" intend to do with these new powers???
    Does this mean they will strong arm developers before they even have a chance to finish the damn title?
    What the hell is the business of "authorities" to say what developers can and cannot produce???

    This is a very scary clause they have chosen to adopt.

      I think that's so there's no legal limbo where stuff that will definitely be refused classification but is never submitted for classification is an unknown. IIRC currently customs can't intercept stuff that hasn't actually been refused classification, but I may be wrong on that.

        you are correct. If a game is not rated here, customs cannot confiscate it because you are importing it for personal use.

        Commercial quantities they can.

        Sure they can. This Customs notice explains that goods meeting the Refused Classification standard are prohibited imports:

        http://www.customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/ACN2009_55.pdf

        It doesn't require that goods have been classified as such; just that they meet that standard.

    What gets me is that they're more worried about the ma15+ and R rated games then they are for the G and PG titles.

    The way I see it is that by 15 or 18 a youth is already desensitized to violence and/or old enough to choose wether a game is too violent or sexy for their poor little minds to handle.

    Focus on our children and make sure that they're not being exposed to the wrong content.
    Eg, Justin Bieber. That kid should come with an N rating - IE suitable for NOBODY!

      There's a reason for that. The MA and R ratings are restricted by law. Anything below that carries no legal enforceable restrictions and is purely informational.

    Neat. Can we also ditch the insultingly large rating stickers we have now and go back to the size we used to have? You idiots see the ESRB and PEGI ratings? They don't take up half the box do they?

      Maybe we'll get upgraded to the glory of the USK logo scheme.

    I think they should give the power to publishers to classify their own games, while selecting games at random to go through the real process of classification.

    On top of that they should implement some sort of complaints or review system, where members of the public can complain / review a game's classification and if they get a large enough amount of complaints / reviews, the game will go through the proper classification process.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Last edited 05/04/13 4:22 pm

    I'm horrorified they watch the movie in 2D rate it and than again in 3D to rate it. But hey tax payer dollars are for wasting.

      they dont actually watch/play all these games/movies they are given things about the product and go by what it says, if they had to watch and play every video game, frogger would be getting released tomorrow, and harry potter 1 would be out in 5045

    It's not really our tax dollars. The company that submitted for classification is covering the costs with their (what, I'm told, are quite exorbitant) fees.

    How easily we accept government hand holding when they throw us some scraps once a decade. We fought the wrong fight because it was easier to win. It should never have been about creating another level of classification, it should have been about getting government out of peoples entertainment choices, period.

    "change the rules so that 2D and 3D versions of films or computer games no longer need to be classified twice;"

    There are 2D and 3D versions of games?

      I think it means when a movie goes to cinema in two versions and if the game has a literal 3D effect. I dunno. It may just be one of those wording things were part of it (the games part) is redundant but avoids leaving a whole in the logic.

    steam is currently selling the postal franchise even tho i don't believe its status as a banned game has been lifted, i however still have a censored version of left4dead 2, what even.

    The ALRC did its work from 24 March 2011 (when they got the order) to early 2012, delivering the final report 28 February 2012 and it was tabled in parliament 1 March 2012.
    www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/national-classification-review
    www.alrc.gov.au/news-media/2011-2012/classification-e-news-final-report-delivered
    That's a bit different to "The National Classification Scheme Review undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2012".
    Can we have a link to the Minister's media release?
    As in this one:
    www.ministerhomeaffairs.gov.au/Mediareleases/Pages/2013/Second%20Quarter/5April2013-ReformtotheNationalClassificationSystem.aspx

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