Should Classification Be Self Regulated? It's 'Not An Inconceivable Leap'

Today at Game-Tech, the Assistant Secretary from the Classifications Operations Branch, Jane Fitzgerald, discussed the difficulties involved in classifying thousands upon thousands of apps a rapidly evolving mobile environment. Could we move to a system that enabled the Australian Games Industry to self regulate and make everyone's job a little easier?

"It's quite a leap," she claimed, "but not an inconceivable one."

Jane discussed a moment of weakness overseas, when the overwhelming amount of mobile apps available on iPhone and Android started to really hit home.

"I was in California and one of those ads for the app store came on," she began. "'There’s now 79,000 apps on the app store.' The regulator in me said oh my god – that's 79,000 instances of non compliance!

"I was sitting in the same place recently and up came a new ad," she continued, "and it said there were 400 or 500 thousand apps now available and I thought - in terms of the time and the exponential growth - you know, it’s like you want to pull the blanket over your head and hope for the best!"

Later during the presentation, Jane was asked about the possibilities of industry self regulation when it comes to apps, and video games in general.

"I imagine it will be given real and serious consideration by the ALRC," she claimed. "You have analogous models in relation to broadcasting, in that there are codes of practice that broadcasters must comply with. If they don’t conform a member of the public is allowed to complain. So it’s a complaints driven process.

"I imagine that the ALRC will look at those types of models, and I know that there are a number of large players who are pushing for that sort of approach."

The idea of self regulation has been put forward by many, including Brendan O'Connor himself. It'll be interesting to see precisely what the ALRC come back with when they present their findings early in 2012. Sadly, whatever happens - during July's SCAG meeting, or in the ALRC's presentation - any change will most likely be a gradual one, as the government passes the legislative amendments required.


Comments

    I think that's an excellent idea.

    In a way it's what the system is already, a classification isn't exactly permanent, one angry mum can change a MA15 to R with a single aggressive letter.

      Self regulation probably won't affect the "letter from an angry mum" problem.

      Under the current system, the process goes something like: (1) publisher submits game for classification and receives an MA15+ classification, (2) Publisher releases game with MA15+ classification, (3) angry mum sends a complaint, (4) the classification review board amends classification in response (assuming they consider the original classification to be incorrect).

      In a self regulated system, the process would be pretty much identical except that step (1) is removed.

        Also, it's the Step (1) that costs the government so much money.

        Reviewing complaints and forcing classification changes would be vastly less expensive than manually classifying hundreds or thousands games annually.

    What was the cost for government rating -- in the order of hundreds ...or thousands of dollars? It may be the most reasonable solution ... but for the government to allow it and lose that revenue stream? Not bloody likely.

      Last I checked, as someone who was making an iphone game alone, outsourcing assets, each application for classification would be $500 - $2000. That's attempts to be classified, not successful. If I want to appeal..

      It's a pipe dream, but a good one.

      I would imagine that fee wouldn't go away, they would still have to pay the amount to legally use the Classification brandings, etc... otherwise it still can't be sold.

    A complaints-driven process similar to that of TV programs is a great model.

    It drastically cuts down on the resources needed and it ensures that wrongly-classified content gets picked up and dealt with by consumers, who are after all the ones browsing and using the games.

      Self regulation overall is a good idea, however the regulator needs to be an independent body. Media Watch points to instances where self regulation fails every year.

        An industry-funded body similar to the ESRB, then?

        That sounds fine. I can definitely see the problems with self-regulation with no oversight.

          The ESRB is definitely not an independent regulator, since it is the publishers who pay its bills. If it makes too many decisions that are unpopular with the publishers (even if the wider community agrees with them), then they are open to interference.

          While ACMA has its problems, I don't think they are inherent to independent regulators. The ACCC is an example of an independent regulator that has done a lot of good, for instance.

            I can see the argument here, but isn't this whole argument based around the fact that the Classification Board (government funded) can't possibly afford to pay its staff to classify the thousands of apps and games released annually?

            If we take government funding out of the equation (or unless the classifiaction process is radically simplified or made cheaper) then surely the only option is an industry-funded regulatory body?

            They could legislate mandatory contributions from publishers and use independent auditors (similar to how the Classification Board is selected, if I'm not mistaken). It's possibly not ideal, and really finnicky, but way less expensive than the existing model.

              What gives you that idea? As more items submitted for classification, more fees are collected.

              The whole point of the fees is to cover the costs of classification, which is why the fees are lowered when the submitter reduces the amount of work the board needs to do.

        Self-regulation by an independent regulator? Madness!

        Unless you mean a regulator to be a watchdog or similar organisation

    Self regulation will never happen while the Australian Christian Lobby has a hand in politics. Even if the Government sets extremely specific guidelines (such as those in the proposed R18+ document) you will still have the ACL complaining that self regulation has put "more filth" out on the market, then use their influence to tie this idea up in red tape for many years to come

      Even if it does go through as suggested... it would take consumer complaints to review each game.

      Complaints from the public... like the ones about certain bus stop adverts recently.

    self regulated with harsh penalties for forcing something below the desired rating.

    Then if they want a PG rating but aren't quite sure if it applies they can submit the game to the classification board for rating. at which point the game either has to be modified according to suggestions from the board or keep the given rating

    The MPAA system in the US is voluntary and not legally enforced. It is agreed to by most industry bodies rather than mandated by the government.

    American society hasn't collapsed owing to children having their minds warped by violent/depraved films, so this would indicate that self-regulation is indeed a potentially viable option for video games.

    The ESRB system with video games is very competent and under a self-regulatory regime could do the same job that the MPAA does.

      With the MPAA model, you are basically just trading a government monopoly on classification for a private sector monopoly. It is only voluntary as long as you are happy with your film not being shown in the many cinemas that will only show films that have an MPAA rating.

      What I think is being suggested here is more a model where developers/publishers self-assess their work, with a system in place to handle the cases where they get it wrong.

    Who does Kotaku have posted at Gametech? I was there today and will be back tomorrow!

      I'm there!

        Really? How did I miss you! I'm the Software Engineering student from Griffith University, Brisbane. You must've heard me ask a few questions. :)

          Did you ask the one about getting into the industry during the dev roundtable?

            Yep, that was me! :D

            If you're there tomorrow we should catch up!

    Where's the 'like' button? this is by the best idea for our ever evolving digital media catalog.
    Not sure if I remember this correctly, but games etc in the USA are self regulated?

    This is really the only practical way to go forward with classification.

    In fact, to make it even easier, those wonderful folks in Europe already have an industry-run classification system which is used successfully in Europe, french-speaking parts of Canada, South Africa and even the UAE. And the PEGI ratings categories almost like up perfectly with our current classifications as a bonus. (Plus, unlike our current system of letter codes, they're clear and easy to understand)

    Apple could easily adopt the use of ACB classifications as they could display and use the same G/PG/M etc classifications used for TV and movie content in iTunes but in this case for apps . They currently use a 4/8/12/17+ plus system for apps.

    Self regulation is a fine idea-let's hope this is considered

    I think it works, have a code of practice that relates to what classification "should" be given and the developer/publishers can sort it out. If there's a complaint, then there's referencable material to judge this based on a case by case scenario.

    From the government perspective it would result in lowering the costs and I'm sure developers and publishers would be happy they could skip over that step and get to launch all the more sooner.

    You also wouldn't have complaints about the manner in which the games were rated, which often leaves much of the context out of the situation.

    Of course, this would only work if we DID have an R rating.

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