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?