World of Warcraft Is “Potentially Illegal” In Australia… Huh?

World of Warcraft Is “Potentially Illegal” In Australia… Huh?
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Truly bizarre story on the Sydney Morning Herald site yesterday afternoon. They claim that MMOs such as World of Warcraft are “potentially” being sold illegally in Australia as they do not carry the correct classification markings. In fact, most MMOs are not classified at all in this country.

Apparently, this is all very naughty. NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said the NSW Classification Enforcement Act prohibited publishers and retailers from selling unclassified computer games. “The NSW legislation covers computer games bought online as well as those bought in stores, and treats single, multi-player and online games the same way,” he said, seemingly confusing MMOs with games bought at an online retailer.

Ron Curry, head of games industry body, the IEAA, responded by stating the classification guidelines distinguish between selling a full game and selling an access key of the kind used by MMOs:

“In some instances the box sold in a retail outlet contains an access key to the game which can only be accessed online. If such a game is hosted locally it falls under the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Services Act, but if it is hosted internationally, it’s classified in the country that hosts the game, rather than in Australia.”

But Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland disputes such a distinction exists, according to a spokesperson from his office who said: “The National Classification Scheme does not distinguish between games based on whether or not they contain a single player component.”

This morning I’ve contacted Ron Curry for clarification of his comments and also sought further comment from MMO distributors such as Blizzard, EA, Sony and Ubisoft.
While waiting for their thoughts, it seems to me that we’re really just debating semantics: that is, when is a game not a game? And is this pedantic discussion the result of an archaic Classification Act ill-equipped for the rapid technological change of the games industry?
Obviously no one wants to be in a situation where every single online flash game must be classified before Australians can access it, but it seems strange to me that the line is apparently drawn between, say, Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft. What is the core difference between those two games that means the former must be classified while the latter – apparently – need not be?

Seriously, does this make any sense to anyone else?

MMOs defy classification in Australia [Massively, via The Sydney Morning Herald]


  • This might be a backhanded favour for the classification debate. With progress stalled on progress towards a more permissive system, a perceived need for legislation which better regulates issues like this opens the door for better legislation generally. Mr Atkinson will have a great deal more trouble stalling the proposed discussion paper if other state A-Gs come to believe their local legislation inadequately regulates key areas.

  • Working in a game store, no online game we sell has a classification. Wahammer, WoW, AoC, etc. I did think it a little odd at first, but online games have frequent patches that change content of the game; its a bit ridiculous for the developers to pass every patch through every country’s ESRB before it can go live.

  • Greg makes a good point. This proves how archaic the current classification laws are for games in this country (One of the other discussions pointed out that there is still mention of a required BBS in the guideline) so things will need to change. One would hope that the Australian Government will shoulder the cost given the blame for this cock-up lies entirely on their shoulders.
    In order for things to change quickly though, there probably needs to be a little more moral outrage generated. We need to get some terribly inappropriate MMO selling on Australian shelves and then point out said to the right wing firebrands in the local media.

  • I remember reading a while ago when GTAIV was refused classification that MMO’s need not be classified as they are not recognised as constructed material by the company making it, but rather it being formed by it’s online community…or summing stupid like that. Cos I remember thinking “Sweet, I should make a porn MMO and everyone is welcum!!”

  • G – you obviously dont remember reading anything since GTAIV was NEVER refused classification in Australia. Why do people STILL persist in spreading that stupid and false rumour?

  • Not classifying MMOs is ridiculous. If access to it (direct or indirect) is sold by an Australian retailer then it should be treated the same as other games.

    (we could also do with a standard ‘experience may change during online play’ disclaimer as per what the ESRB uses)

    Now: how can we set this up to put WoW addicts and Michael Atkinson in a battle to the death???

  • I think that these games should have classifications. It must be hard for a parent to decide of their kid can play Age of Conan, without having any real informaiton.

    That said i think it is clear that the current classification system cannot handle these types of games. Reading up on Star Wars The Old Republic, having diffrent quests and stories evolve throughout the game, how can you classify stuff like that. What happens if they add a quest that has drug references or sex? this can happen all the time with an online only game. It’s not like a normal game where the only content is what comes on the disk.

    If it is illegal to sell these games does that mean we should report EB Games to the police????

  • @ Daniel
    Sorry you’re right, but that’s not the point fool, and I don’t see how your negative comment is helpful at all.

  • Hey Liam, Hey Greg.

    Yeah, back in my game store days this was a running joke with staff and the regulars. From what we knew, it was cause the OFLC determined they couldn’t make accurate and up to date ratings on constantly changing software… so they just ignored it

  • The only thing illegal about World of Warcraft is the way they keep charging you for a game when you aren’t playing it.

  • @Duskbringer: You’re joking, right?

    World of Warcraft is a subscription service and it automatically rebills monthly because… y’know. Blizzard would like you to keep playing. If you don’t wish to pay, you cancel the subscription.

  • Do what the Comedy Channel on Foxtel does, and just automatically give it the highest rating. There, problem solved! Kids under 15 shouldn’t be wasting their lives on WoW anyway (they’ve got their whole adulthood for that!).

  • Got to love it when you’re typing up a big comment and the damn site randomly refreshes and flushes it into the abyss. >:(

    I’m seeing two major arguments against MMOs sold at retail in Australia being classified. The first one, that MMOs are constantly being patched with new content, is no different to the situation with DLC for more traditional games. As long as the new content stays within the bounds of the rating issued for the original game, there’s no problem. The other argument is that they’d automatically need an X rating since the other players could potentially do anything. I don’t think that that argument holds water – it’s like saying that movies should all be rated X because it’s possible that people could be having sex in the movie theater while it’s screening. Actions of other players are an intangible, ratings are done on the content of the game itself – the same way they rate the content of other games with online components. If the classification board starts to do MMOs then they will rate the game’s content and stick an ESRB-style disclaimer, “experience may vary during online play” or something to that effect.

    I personally have no problems with requiring MMOs sold at retail here being classified. The real issues that this opens up are with stuff distributed entirely online by non-Australian companies. What about all those free-to-play MMOs? They’re opeated outside Australia by non-Australian companies, does this stuff mean that they will have to kick Australians out of their games? What is the legality of a situation where, for example, I buy a (single player) game online from a non-Australian indie developer and get it digitally. It’s never hit Australian retail, but have I just broken the law? Has the company that sold it just violated Australian laws? It’s a really knotty issue. What about games that are distributed online as freeware? Should the producers of such pony up the several thousand for classification now or ban Australians from accessing their work? What about if an Australian makes a game and distributes it for free online?

    It all needs to be clarified, and clarified soon. And I suspect the only way to clarify it is to update the legislation to actually reflect the technological realities of the modern age, rather than the early 90s or so when it was originally written, before the advent of the internet etc. And while we’re revisiting outdated and outmoded censorship legislation, how about that 18+ rating?

  • This site sucks. Auto-refresh killed my comment. Lets try again.

    The ratings system in this country is an absolute farse. First and foremost; we need an 18+ rating. No, it won’t bring in murder simulators and child porn, it’ll allow games designed to be “adults only” for the rest of the world to come in without slipping under the radar into a 15+ category like they are now. A large number of MA games are rated Adults Only everywhere else in the world. It is this kind of incompetence that puts our ratings board at fault for any damage done to our children. Lets look at a few recent examples shall we?

    Grand Theft Auto 4 – console versions were deemed inappropriate for our precious children (as they’re the only ones that play games here), yet the PC version fits just fine under the same category, completely uncensored.

    F.E.A.R. 2 was refused classification, then re-submitted a short time later without any change to its content and accepted under the 15+ rating.

    Fallout 3 caused worldwide media attention when it was refused entry in Australia due to the use of real-world drug names, yet there was no mention of its violent content – of which I consider to be beyond what was cut from GTA4.

    On the subject of real-world drug names, the upcoming GTA Chinatown Wars set for the Nintendo DS allows you to sell Ecstacy and Heroin as a major source of income, yet fits perfectly under the MA15+ rating (one of the very few DS titles with that rating too).

    As a parent, I am disgusted in what the OFLC have done this past year, and have lost complete faith in their ability to classify any media content in this country. Even movie titles do not escape. Lets look at the recent Dark Knight – over 30 people killed, primarily innocents and policemen, and the “hero” of the movie goes out of his way to make a point that he is an enemy…. yet this movie fits nicely under an M rating and allowed to be advertised right next to childrens meals at fast food. Utterly disgusting.

    I for one will no longer use the OFLC’s “guide” for my children and recommend anyone to use the ratings system from the UK as a guide.

  • @Ruku
    Think about how much you play, then think about how much you didn’t play in any given month.
    If you cancel your subscription, does Blizzard refund you for the amount you didn’t or won’t (as you pay before you play) use? No.
    Let’s say you choose a 6 month subscription because you plan to play it a lot, but your computer melts down or you realize it’s just the same old stuff with new textures. You immediately cancel your subscription. Do you get a full refund?
    Do they refund you for the amount you won’t use? Nope. Your account stays open until 6 months have passed, regardless of whether or not you use it. So, not only did you pay to buy the game, you pay for the privilege to play it.. even when you’re not playing it.
    Then you pay for additional content which is one of the biggest reasons they give you for the existence of a subscription service.
    So you cancel your subscription, but you don’t get any money for time left over. How is that acceptable to you?

    Johnny Dolebludger sitting on his computer all day pays the same amount as you, Mr Joe Workpants, who gets an hour and a half per day if he’s lucky. How is this fair?

    It’s a sucker’s game. Buy into it if you like, but don’t expect others to accept their business plan as the norm and any attempt to challenge it a joke.

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