Australian Video Game Classification Just Took A Huge Leap Forward

For the better part of a decade the major issue with classification in this country was the lack of an R18+ classification for video games. Now the Classification Board faces an arguably greater challenge: managing the dramatically increased volume of video games being sold in Australia. How does a small team like the Classification Board keep up? Yesterday the Australian Government took steps towards solving that problem.

Yesterday Michael Keenan, the Minister for Justice, announced that Australia would officially begin trialing a new system that helps ease the astronomical burden currently being placed upon the Classification Board.

The International Age Ratings Coalition (IARC) is a globally unified age ratings classification system and Australia is now part of that coalition, meaning digital and mobile games can now be classifified using this system, as opposed to going through the traditional process with the Classification Board. Developers obtain ratings by answering a short questionnaire about the content of their video game. The system then outputs an age rating based on the country and that country's specific social norms. 36 countries are now part of the IARC and Australia is the latest to join.

A trial period will begin next month, and will initially be overseen by the Classification Board.

"After close collaboration between the IARC and my Department over many months to ensure the tool meets Australia’s requirements, I have approved the IARC classification tool for an initial 12-month trial period to begin next month," said Michael Keenan.

"As part of the trial, the Classification Board will audit a large number of classifications made by the IARC tool to ensure they reflect the Australian community’s expectations and standards."

"The Board also has the power to revoke classifications made by the IARC tool if it decides it would have given the game a different classification."

The government took steps towards this ultimate goal in 2014, when it amended the classification act in 2014 to allow questionnaires to be used in the classification process. The ultimate goal with this legislation was to allow digital and mobile games to be classified using the IARC tool.

It's a move long supported by the local games industry. Ron Curry, the CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, made this his next port of call almost immediately after R18+ classification passed. He's been petitioning for a move to the IARC for years, a move that is consistent with recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission back in 2012. He was pleased with yesterday's decision.

"The IARC tool, which is a global industry lead classification solution, will help developers keep pace with classifications and ensure that games are classified appropriately for Australian gamers, with Australian classification symbols." he said.

The trial period will last for a total of 12 months.


Comments

    A huge leap forward would be to disband them.

    Extra Credits did an episode on this a while ago. Though targetted at the North American market they made some good points, including how to solve the rating issue for mobile and indie games. http://youtu.be/hoV3_gEvqA0

    The above mentioned changes seem to be a step in the right direction. Let's hope the trial period goes well.

    What's that, we're finally trying to be in line with the rest of the World?

    Now do something about digital price hikes

      Whoah, whoah. Baby steps. We don't want to spook the Government now they've started coming out of their hole.

    just to confirm something, is this just for mobile and online games that are downloaded?

    Not for retail stores selling physical copies?

    I hope I'm wrong and its all video games

    http://www.ministerjustice.gov.au/Mediareleases/Pages/2015/Firstquarter2015/10-March-2015-New-Trial-For-Classification-Of-Online-Games.aspx
    " IARC’s new tool for classifying mobile and online games."

    Last edited 11/03/15 9:42 am

      Digital games only.

        Mark, what is up with the "Also on Kotaku" section? If I see something I would like to read I will middle click with the mouse which will nearly always open a new tab. Doing it here navigates away from the page :(
        Learnt very quickly to avoid them.

          I'm on a mobile so I don't have that option (or I normally would). So it's not that bad for mobile users.

          But it is obnoxious on my iPhone 6 screen. I'll give it that.

            You may know this but if you hold the link you can open in new page in iOS you can open, open in new page or copy the link

              still doesn't remove the annoying "Also on K... " content

              It is not a great user experience, should be after comments section.

              Plus when you review the whole page, the site is now plastered with useless "other content" links, which ultimately get ignored and add to the overall noise of the page

                "Also on Kotaku" linking to something unrelated from four years ago. though you don't know that until you go to the article.

                  YES! That looks interesting, oh wait, it's from 2010.

                you're absolutely right. I'm not a fan of the layout and it could easily be changed for a better experience. As a fellow reader I'm just passing on something to try and make tiberath's experience a little better

              I do know that. I don't bother because tabs in Safari are about as useful as tits on a bull and I don't care enough to download another browser.

          Weird, middle click works fine on them for me.

        Hey Mark, does that then mean we could see more of the indie Xbox One and PS4 digital games that don't get released here due to classification costs as long as there is no physical release? (not many presently but when it gears up...)

    Great step forward. Only a step, though, and a long path ahead. Hopefully they'll soon get to the part that I'm most concerned about, which is this:
    “As part of the trial, the Classification Board will audit a large number of classifications made by the IARC tool to ensure they reflect the Australian community’s expectations and standards.

    Last edited 11/03/15 9:45 am

      I think once they realise six year olds aren't going to be able to download and play PG-rated porn games on mummy's iPad they'll realise self-regulation isn't a terrible thing.

        But the problem is, the parents are the one that purchase it and then throwing a fit and writing petitions when they find it offensive for their children.

        Case point : GTA @ Target

      To me this just sounds like they want to make sure that the classifications recommended by the IARC tool match up with what the Classification Board would have assigned.

      If they don't measure this, how would they know if this trial is actually working? And if these checks do reveal that the IARC is issuing incorrect classifications, that doesn't mean the system will necessarily be cancelled: instead it might just result in tweaking the algorithm that maps the questionnaire answers to the classification.

        Nah, that's not the part I'm objecting to... it's what I bolded.

        The Classification Board rates games according to a set of standards.
        My opinion is that those standards they base their ratings upon are not a reflection of the Australian community's expectations and standards, but of a bunch of wowsers with rods up their asses who either a) think adult minds can't handle unpleasant subjects in fiction, or b) are completely full of shit about the R18+ rating being for adults.

          I suspect that if you ran any game that might get an R18+ classification through this tool, the answer is going to be "get this classified the old way". At least in the trial phase, having submitter provided answers and an algorithm decide whether it is actually legal to sell media that sits at the edge is a bit much to expect.

          But deciding whether a game is G, PG, M, or MA15+ is a lot less controversial. Even if the content has been rated to conservatively (which I assume is one of the things they are trying to measure during the trial period), a parent can easily override that decision and let their child access it if they feel it is appropriate.

            Yeah, what I'm saying is that the tool for auto-submission being evaluated is a great first step, one of many, the steps I'm concerned about are the re-evaluation of community standards.

              I've got zero problems with periodically re-evaluating these standards. If we didn't, then there still wouldn't be an R18+ classification for games. But that's not what this is about: instead it is about finding a way to apply our existing standards in a more efficient manner.

              If we do change our standards in the future, that should be reflected in changes to the algorithm in the IARC tool. If the algorithm and the standards differ, the the algorithm should be assumed to be in the wrong.

    A very promising step. Fingers crossed it all works out OK.

    I also find it amusing that classification is such a mainstay of this site that I actually recognise @ron Curry in images :)

      I'm flattered (I think).

    Woah woah woah, so Hotline Miami 2 could theoretically be related?

      I hope so! Definitely save on having to use my US PSN account to get it.

      I don't think so, because the system would be programmed with the same criteria the board has to go through and unless the devs lie when asked "is there any reference to sexual violence?", the system will say "DENIED!"

      @markserrels might know for sure but I'm fairly sure when this was previously announced it was only going to cover games that would get a rating of M or below. Games that would be expected to end up in legally restricted categories (MA & R) would still need to go through the traditional process.

      Also Hotline Miami 2 was already rated and RCed so this wouldn't help it.

    "Australian games classification takes a huge leap forward" on the same day Hotline Miami 2 is released everywhere but here. *sigh*

    Sorry, but is this trial period of 12 months overseen by the Board? After that, what happens?

    Racking my brain for notable releases down the track, these are hypotheticals:

    If say, Batman Arkham Knight was digital only - would WB/Rocksteady take the test and "risk" getting the CB's review of their result? "You lied about Catwoman's sexual themes in your questionnaire, we'll punish you for this etc etc"

    Or would they (and other major publishers) just do things as usual? I am thinking along the lines of Ubisoft's UbiArt stuff.

    What about games knocked back totally, but get a Steam release, like Hotline Miami 2?

    Speaking of which, by platform:

    Steam: Do Early Access games need to do this now?

    Sony: I believe everything indie on PSN-only is published by Sony anyway so again, can the test by chosen as a route to take, or will Sony just pay the $ as per usual?

    Nintendo: See above, but eshop-only.

    Microsoft: See above, but XBLA-only.

    If S/N/M aren't on the front foot about this and declare that Australia is now oprn for business for indie games, this will be a waste of time. Will they take advantage of this and tell dev's who may only be looking at PC/iOS as their only targets for release?

    I just don't understand why my beloved "Atelier" games are constantly rated R for "Sexual Violence". They're the most fluffy marshmallow sweet games in the world....

      Holy crap, really? I've got one of those sitting unplayed on my PS3 and yeah, it sure as hell looked like the cutest, fluffiest stuff in the world alright. Surprise hentai? That's pretty weird.

        lol, but there isn't any surprise hentai though. Maybe there's like light-hearted risque jokes, and a VERY mildly risque picture, but its so weird to think it warrants the hardest rating.

    They should just make all unrated content R. Then that way if you don't want to rate your indi game people can still buy it. The whole refused classification idea is stupid for adults, there are very few games that should be banned out right.

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