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.