Should The Games Industry Handle Classification?

Should The Games Industry Handle Classification?
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We often complain about the decisions that The Classification Board makes, but what would happen if some of that power was given to the industry itself? Would a self-regulating industry, or one that co-regulates with The Classification Board, work? This was one of the questions raised at yesterday’s GAME conference at Macquarie University.

At last night’s Politics Of Play panel, university professors and Classification Board members debated the politics surrounding video games, with much of the discussion centering on whether or not the games industry should be allowed to classify most games, leaving contentious material to The Classification Board.

The commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Professor Terry Flew, said that the commission has put forward a proposal that, if successful, will see The Classification Board only classifying games that are likely to be rated MA15+ or higher.

“Games that come in below that level, and this is open to further discussion, under the proposals could be classified by the industry itself or may not be classified at all,” Professor Flew said.

“We think the industry would have an interest in classifying below MA15+ because the informational role of classification, particularly for parents, remains an important one. “

Flew drew comparisons to the television industry, which requires The Classification Board to only classify a TV series on first release. Beyond that, television networks classify the programs.

With regards to online content, Flew said that services like Apple’s iTunes was a good example of a kind of classification being conducted by a body that isn’t The Classification Board.

“Before accessing content on Apple’s store, that content has been classified,” he said.

“Parents can set their child’s iPhone or iPad settings to mirror those of the Australia Classification Guidelines; we’re looking at those mechanisms and seeing how we can incorporate that into legislation and recognise good corporate citizenship around these issues.”

Flew said that by devolving activity from The Classification Board, the proposals could reduce The Board’s games classification workload by 80 per cent.

But not everyone is convinced. Dr. Peter Chen from Sydney University’s Department of Government and International Relations argued that while the idea of self-regulation may work in theory, it may not work in practice.

“At the end of the day if you’re going to regulate things you need tight points to regulate them from and this is where I flag some dangers with just accepting holus-bolus the new intermediaries as regulators,” Dr. Chen said.

“The classic example is the Apple App store — they have been subject to considerable criticism for the way they classify their content online and they make their classification decisions based on a strange mixture of corporate randomness, the rather socially conservative morals of the United States that we don’t share in Australia, and the business acumen of Steve Jobs.”

“They’ve censored content that has been political in nature, they’ve censored political cartoons, they’ve treated homosexual and heterosexual material of a similar type differently. They’ve censored homosexual material, and they are not transparent or open with their actions in the way that The Classification Board and the OFLC are, and so in a sense the adoption of this whole ‘We’ll just devolve it to the Apple or Google corporation who god knows has our best interests at heart, I think is a load of horse.”

Dr. Chen said that we need to be very careful with regards to who is given the power to classify content and all possibilities should be considered before jumping straight into industry self-regulation.

What are your views on classification? Should it remain in the hands of The Classification Board? Should the industry self-regulate? Would co-regulation work? Let us know what you think!


  • There shouldn’t be any form of mandatory classification (censorship). Why not implement a system like the US has which allows games to be rated, but not absolutely required, but pretty much needed if you want to sell it in a wide capacity.

    • I know I am going to be thrown out of here for saying this – but I personally do not mind mandatory classification. It’s the game between the classification code and the rating system that drives me nuts.

      I do not know why many including the ACL miss this, but classification in Australia can be described as being in two layers.

      First is the classfication code which defines what is allowable here. And for the most part it does the job well.

      For example, I will use the ever infamous title “Rapelay”. People oftent think that if we get an R18+ rating, that game and many like it will get in here.

      Not true, the classification code forbids anything like it. Then again the Australian populas would be outraged anyway but that is another matter.

      While the classification code does cover the bases and allows or bars content up to the X rating, the rating system used to inform consumers falls short.

      Take games – R18+ games get by fine via the classification code (and I mean the guide lines, not the ACB), the rating system doesn’t go that far thus we have the inconsistency of RC’ed games.

      That is how I see it though – over simplistic as it seems. The other matter that bothers me is if everything classified, how is it one is able to documentaries which have been except?

      heck, I even have a stack of Mythbusters DVDs that rated ‘E’ which stands for ‘Exempt from Classification’.

      Does anyone know how that is possible?

      • I got wierded out by this a while back as well, when I picked up the DVD release of Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ and found it had a whit e ‘E’ rating I’d never seen before. Turns out that educational material that does not contain any content which would be rated M or higher is exempt from classification.

      • There is nothing wrong with classification, per se, or, really, even *requiring* some form of classification. Problems arise, however, when classification is conflated with censorship, and then used to restrict access to otherwise legal content.

        Material produced primarily for educational purposes is exempt from classification, as is material shown on the news.

  • Self regulated, with the Classification Board only existing as an investigative body if some idiot decides to give “Sex Gun Killer III” a G Rating to try and shift more copies.

  • I think co-regulation or industry regulation of some sort or another is just about inevitable. With ’99c’ gaming exploding as it is, expecting the Classification Board to classify every piece of content by itself is a huge demand.

    But I agree with Professor Chen, under an industry scheme the criteria for classification would be open to exploitation (intentional or otherwise) and subject to international norms that wouldn’t have any relevance to Australia. There’s also the uncomfortable reality that social norms in whatever country the company is based in, and the whims of its executives, could influence classification in this country.

    A great example is Apple’s ‘bleeping’ of the Australian TV show Spicks and Specks, because the first word is a racial insult in the US. If the industry does play a big role in classification, stuff like this could become much more common.

  • I think self-regulation will always have some degree of problems, but it has some great upsides too.

    As an example, there are more than a few games on Nintendo’s download services that never got an Australian release, and I heard that part of that was due to the classification fees being so high that it was not financially viable to release them here (part of the problem was, I believe, the flat fee required for the classification of any game, regardless of its sale price).

    That may well have been the case for other download services as well. If it means we get more games, then I’m all for it – we just need to have a framework in place to deal with publishers who try and abuse the system.

  • “But not everyone is convinced. Dr. Peter Chen from Sydney University’s Department of Government and International Relations argued that while the idea of self-regulation may work in theory, it may not work in practice.”

    Yeah, but we’re talking about games here. And in practice, the games industry has actively been self-regulating overseas for years with little issue. Should one arise, the classification board is there for review with the appropriate powers to cease sales and apply fines (or they can propose such actions to be taken as necessary).

    Self regulation is the only sensible step forward. There’s just too much content being produced and we’re waisting a lot of money which 99.9% of the time isn’t necessary. It makes far more sense to have self-regulation in conjunction with a board who may handle complaints and review said products.

    • yeah self regulation happens both in the Games and Movies. The companies know the rules and they know what target audience they are after. And as a result tailor their content to that.

      Die Hard 4 wanted a PG rating so they censored the series catchphrase in order to do so.

      The Hangover knew it was going with an R rated audience and as a result that gives them the freedom to do thing’s that wouldn’t be available in the MA segment.

      Self regulation with penalties for when companies make clear error’s for whatever reason. Should be all that’s needed.

      Rating games can’t be done in the same way as they rate movie’s. You can sit down and watch a movie and in 2-3hour’s you have seen every inch of content in that movie all of it in context to the main plot and any subplot’s.

      Game’s rating in australia is generally a highlight’s reel. The whole board doesn’t go through and play a 10 hour game and then make their judgement. They are given clips and content by the game company to show off different thing’s that would define rating’s.

      In that way they kinda already are self regulating. Since they are showing the stuff to the board that would cause the rating to be given.

      I’d actually be curious to see some number’s on how many game’s are rated to the publisher’s desired rating.

  • Self Regulation is fine, IMO.

    I think what we should have is, Self regulation with a classification board to then judge thing’s once they are rated.

    If a game get’s a bunch of complaint’s from parent’s. Then the company is bought in to justify why they believed the rating they applied to their game was sufficient.

    If they are found to be blatantly skirting the rules. Putting out a game in M which is most certainly not meant to be in that classification segment. They get a huge fine and then the publisher is put on probation for a specified amount of time. In which all there games need to be checked for that period.

    If it’s found to be something relatively minor or some stupid context thing. Much like the zombies in Left 4 Dead 2, being called infected human’s and as such being taken as killing sick human’s as opposed to walking dead human’s. The game just get’s bumped up in it’s rating.

    The rating system is broken because with the online world we have today. A G rated game offline, with voice online can suddenly become an MA rated game based on some of the language that comes out of some people’s mouths

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