Yep, Our Classification System Is Broken Alright

Yep, Our Classification System Is Broken Alright

You already knew our classification system was ludicrously out of date. But here’s another example. A game released on console or handheld must be classified. That same game released on the App Store doesn’t need to be classified.

That’s a loophole in the current classification system the federal government is seeking to close.

The office of the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, told The Australian that he was “concerned about the classification of games playable on mobile telephones and had put the wheels in motion to address this with his state and territory counterparts.”

The issue is likely to be raised at the next meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General to be held in November. As previously reported, also on the agenda for that meeting is the debate over an R18+ rating for games.

The problem seems to one of definition. Technology has advanced since the Act was first drafted and our lawmakers have failed to update it. As a result, the Classification Act is a grey area as to what is and isn’t considered a game.

Firemint’s Flight Control, pictured, can be released on iPhone and iPad without any classification beyond the App Store’s own unofficial scheme. Yet that same game must be submitted to and rated by the Classification Board in order to be released on DSiWare and WiiWare in Australia. And in the latter case, the government collects a fee.

What if Firemint made a browser version of Flight Control? Anyone could happily play it without a care in the world as to whether or not it had been classified.

Via digital donwload channels such as Steam it’s possible to buy countless games that have never been submitted for classification in this country.

Microsoft claims it cannot launch the Xbox Live Indie Games channel in Australia because the service’s peer-review classification process is incompatible with Australia’s Classification Act.

Yet at the same time, dozens of un-rated PlayStation Minis are available for Australian gamers to purchase and download.

Local and overseas games publishers are in a state of confusion over whether online-only games can be classified here and the type of content that would qualify for an MA15+ rating in this country.

It’s a mess. The whole scheme needs an overhaul – and it needs it fast.


  • You mentioned Steam games aren’t rated for this country, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Take Left 4 Dead 2 for example, where we only have the uncensored version.

    As for classification in general, I think some items don’t need to be classified unless the author deems that it may be necessary to have it classified.

    At least that’s the impression I got when I was looking at whether a literature magazine would need to be submitted for rating or not. Not sure where games stand compared to that though.

    • The guidelines for games and literature are not the same, so yes there are plenty of books and magazines that do not need to be classified.

      Left 4 Dead 2 is not a great example, as it was refused classification in Australia, thus making it illegal to sell the uncensored version in this country. Purchasing unclassified games online, via digital download, is one of the grey areas. That very concept didn’t exist when the Classification Act was written.

      • Lol, some do. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is banned from sale in Queensland. Strangely it’s perfectly legal to order it in

      • I’m confused. So if there never was any retail version of L4D2 for Australia and it was only available to Australians via Steam, then there never would of been a problem? As it wasn’t required to be rated?

        Pretty sure some of the games from smaller developers I’ve purchased off steam during sales have never been through the OFLC.

      • Thanks for the clarification, David. It’s funny that games are censored because “they’re not the same as movies”, and now they’re censored because “they’re not the same as literature” 😉

  • Reading the linked The Australian article, it seems as if the ALP are making a revenue grab by closing this loophole.

    • doubtful

      most of these games just wont be released in australia

      or the fact that you can buy them over the internet will just mean people purchase through a US based account

      i mean no one in there right mind is going to pay the money to get there game rated in a small market like this unless its gonna be a big hit anyways

      and i wonder how haphazard it is to apply to have your game rated, would it be too much of a hassle for the indie developers to do it

  • This news dismayed me quite a bit. I agree that there needs to be uniformity and consistency across all platforms. That cannot be denied and it really does need a drastic overhaul.

    The thing that disappointed me the most is that the ulterior motive behind this decision may be one of revenue. If the OFLC keep charging for classification, it’ll kill of the mobile gaming industry. Look at the Firemint guys – would they have attempted getting off the ground if they had to pay what is a ridiculous fee when you’ve just started up? Would they be where they are now?

    Problem is, I can’t envision when what needs to be done may happen. It’s definitely not high on either parties agenda, and the main element that will be looked at is the R18+ (not that that is a bad thing).

    Or maybe I’m just being overly paranoid and rash..

    • my major issue with this whole thing

      is that there using the very R18+ consultation stuff saying the system needs an overhaul to actually make the system worse

  • I was surprised to learn that Steam and PSN mini games can be without classification.

    If they start requiring classifications on iPhone games and charge a fee, they’re going to kill Apple’s App Store. To avoid that I think they’re going to have to take steps to streamline the classification process and negate the fee; or make the whole process optional like ESRB in the USA.

  • It will be interesting to see if they push on to force classification of games in other arenas and yet still leave us without the R18+ rating. It’s the sort of move that would unite the hardcore community with the casual community on principle and could be deal breaker come election time – even if that is in 4 years time.

  • I agree that it is a mess and needs an overhaul but are scared that the reasoning behind the change is dangerously misguided.

    While it might have been the angle the journalist of ‘The Australian’ article opted to report. It seems the core of the criticism, wasn’t about games of questionable ethics slipping through the cracks of the classification system but rather missed out revenue the government could collect.

    This is a frightening prospect and the only likely result is all games would be removed from the Australian App store and only sold internationally. It would have horrible ramifications on the local Indie Games Development scene and the Australian Mobile Apps market in general.

    I recall a post by David a month or two ago about the potential to lower the cost of classification for games. This seems to be a step in the opposite direction.

    Given roughly 68% of Australian’s (accoring to a tweet I read quoting one of the organisers of Freeplay 2010) play games, this could be a very foolish change in legislation made by a government that doesn’t understand the entire marketplace they are hoping to legislate.

    Please world, show me some common sense!

  • The problem is that all they’ll do is close the loophole regarding mobile gaming and leave it that. they won’t give the entire system an overhaul like it desperately needs. And us Australian gamers will continue to suffer.

  • Personally I reckon Microsoft should stop being sissies and just launch the XBL Indie Games channel anyway. It’ll take the government more than 3 years to find out about it (see: PSN Minis), and by the time they do there will probably be another election. And we all know how organised parliament is during election time… =/

  • I’m pretty annoyed about the XBLA indie stuff, I didn’t know that was an issue until after I bought an xbox.

  • And this will put the final bullet in the head for Australian indie devs. Sure, there are some, but there would be many more if there wasn’t a huge-ass fee for getting games classified.

    Yes, there needs to some form of equality, however not /all/ games should be rated. In the case of flash games, for instance; it would be impossible (bar the filter, mind you) to classify even 10% of them.

    How do you differentiate between games that should be rated and games that shouldn’t, then?

    I think size is a good meter. Memory. How many mb does the game take up? I think this should be a major factor taken into consideration.

    DS games ported to the iPhone, yeah, they should probably be rated. Doodle Jump, though? Is that necessary?

    Additionally, a lowering of the rate might actually increase the revenue, as the lower it is, the more indie devs you get. There should be a fair amount, the current is ridiculous. Maybe the rate should even change with the size of the game. Should a iPhone game cost as much to be rated as an X-box game? No.

    So, yeah, I’ve been rattling on. Are my ideas all crazy? I might actually word this all nice-like and send it to my AG.

    Joshy, out.

    • It’s uh, not on the internet. That’s the problem. They don’t classify browser or phone games downloaded of the internet but the same games get classified if they’re relased through a consoles virtual store.

      Unless the O in your GTFO was ‘on’, in which case my mistake.

  • we need to keep this on the downlow because odds are it will get worse not better

    with sir classification nazi wanting to classify the internets, it cant end well

    but sir classification nazi, isn’t going to push me to liberal(unless they have an actual viable internet system(among other things) and im not going to get into that any more than that)

    • There’s a very substantial economic case against the National Broadband Network.

      For one, the NBN represents investing a huge amount of money in fibre optic cable. The problem comes when someone discovers a better way to transmit data.

      Also, should the government really have a monopoly over the infrastructure? Privatizing Telstra and deregulating telecommunications is something that even centrist economists have accepted as a good policy move. Having the government build one giant network; one which may be obsolete by the time its completed, and OWN that network and CONTROL it, is not necessarily a good thing.

      I’d love faster internet, believe me I would. But this kind of thing is best left to private enterprises, not the government. After all, if the government owns the network it can control the traffic (see Conroy’s filter). At least you can switch ISP’s if one of them abandons net neutrality.

      • There is no better way to transmit data than optical fiber. The only practical limit to fiber’s speed is the hardware at either end, with 10Gb becoming common on high-end switching equipment. This will continue to trickle-down to consumers while the high-end continues to increase.

        Wireless will never come close to fiber for throughput, scalability or reliability. I have no problem with the government wholesaling it to private industry, it will be a better situation than the previous Telecom/current Telstra monopoly.

          • First of all, Bill Gates never actually said that.

            Second of all, it’s not that “fibre should be enough for anybody” it’s that it’s physically impossible to transmit data faster than the speed of light.

          • It’s physically impossible to transmit data faster than light. This is correct.

            However, for this transmission to be optimal, distance must be equal to displacement.

            No wired connections can guarantee this.

          • Yeah, there’s always going to be a better option. The total internal reflection which occurs in fibre optic cables does not reflect /all/ light; in fact, for such to occur would require a perfect psuedo-mirror which is as theoretically impossible as travelling at the speed of light.

            That said, eventually we will reach a point when any increase in ‘perfection’ wouldn’t be worth it, as it would effectively reflect all light when it does 99.99..%, however we are not at that point yet, and fibre optics can and will still improve.

  • Classifying mobile games is a good thing.

    Making the costs of classification reflect the budget/size of the game and the effort required to assess them is also good.

    Is the first a problem if they also implement the second?

  • Count me in as annoyed at the lack of an indie channel on the Aus XBox as well.

    I agree that classifications should be optional, not mandatory, next time you read some sort of OP-ED by Bob Carr or other such detractors against a bill of rights – just remember – we don’t have the right to free speech in this country – you can see it in idiotic proposals like the net filter, or the fact that all types of entertainment have to be submitted to the OFLC

  • Ughhh this is lame, one of the main reasons for selling games on the app store is that the cost of entry is so low. Classification in Aus can cost upwards of $1000 per game.. that’s a huge chunk of what an average indie iOS game might make. If I have to pay to get my games classified for Australian release, well fuck it, my games are just not going to be sold here.

  • I always thought that it was unreasonable to demand a company to pay for their game to be rated.
    This is something that the government should do for free (maybe charge if they want to resubmit), but honestly the system would work better if every-one could sell “unrated games” (though they should still show some sort of rating – PEGI or ESRB) with the Australian Classifications Board only stepping in and giving something an Aussie rating on request. This would make games in Australia easier to bring to market and would still allow for a rating to be in place, the only time there would be an issue is if some-one felt the ESRB rating was wrong and asked for our board to look at it. For most of the Wii Ware games, Mobile Games, PSP Minis and indie games this would work nicely as it would reduce the cost of bringing their game to market, and it would reduce the work the classification board would need to do as they would only be looking at games where there is an issue with the ESRB rating.

  • That’s fine, but they’d need to rework the fee structure to be actually reasonable.

    Classification costs $1000 minimum, and the most common price point is $0.99 US. That works out that you need to shift just shy of 1500 copies to break even from the cost of classifying the game.

    Most indies in Australia would simply stop producing software for the store. It wouldn’t be economical any more.

  • So what I take away from this is that the R18+ issue will be bumped back to protect the kids from the dangers of iPhone apps.

    People who say it should be free, let’s be realistic here. The company is going to make money off the game. Halo: Reach is going to make more than enough money in this country on day one to justify it’s rating cost. If they made $20 a copy than they need to sell 50 copies to make $1000. And I can see it selling way way more than that.

    Of course crappy games have an uphill battle. Most Aps or Indy games could be reviewed by one guy for $50.

    On Steam you can get a game called Alien Swarm, I’d put it at PG. Some people may swear alot online but you can’t help that in any online game. Since it’s free they’d lose money rating it, Hell I can DL the SDK and make horrible horrible pervese things with it (in about 6 months time after I learn it, and I wouldn’t make porn with it) does that make the game worse because it can be modded?

    Should the makers be held responsible for people obsessed with making wangs in every possible format?

    And since most mods are freely available will they try and police them too? Infact PC mods have been around since the early days of Quake 1. Even I had a go at re-skinning.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!