Classification. Unless you're Bethesda, in the professional game-making business, it's something you just don't worry about. It's the publisher's job to send the right materials to the correct organisations, pay the fees and deal with any fallout. Of course, when you don't have a publisher, the burden sits on your shoulders and, while we were expecting some sort of expense to get Zafehouse: Diaries classified in Australia, $110 short of a grand came as a shock.
Before I continue, I should make it clear this is not a whinge. We want you guys to be able to buy the game, so we'll do whatever's necessary to make that happen. What I do want to make you aware of is our initial interactions with the Classification Board and the requirements a PC game must meet in order to classified and therefore, legal for sale locally.
So, $890. Working as a journo covering R18+, I'd heard second-hand from PR folk at the bigger publishers that the cost was in the area of $900-plus. I don't know why I didn't believe them. Now I know it's totally true. Once the the initial slap in the face wore off, I just processed it as just one of those things you have to do. Hey, we'll make it back in sales, right?
Beyond the fee, what's interesting is that the Classification Board has some specific requirements regarding PC games — even Windows LIVE gets a mention. From the Board's website:
All games submitted for PC platform need to be compatible with Windows operating system Windows XP Professional.The applicant should provide the game on a CD or DVD and it must be a working version that is installable on the PC. The applicant should also provide clear installation instructions and any necessary codes to play the game to prevent delays in processing the application.Online games e.g. World of Warcraft If the PC game requires internet connection to play we request the latest version of the game client be submitted to minimise downloaded content and avoid any delays with the application, as well as an active game account to login.Windows LIVE Games All games for Windows LIVE submitted for classification must work in stand alone mode. No game should require any sign on to Windows LIVE in order to work.
Fortunately, Zafehouse: Diaries is compatible with Windows XP — it was a mission statement of sorts when I started making the game that it should be as backwards-compatible as possible. But it makes me wonder about those triple-A titles that are pushing DirectX 10/11 only and therefore, Windows Vista as a minimum. Will the Classification Board update this requirement in the next few years, or will developers who want to sell big-ticket PC games have to make sure Windows XP is in the mix?
Another point I wasn't aware of is that games designed for mobile devices only are exempt from classification. I doubt it's the main reason Aussie developers have flocked to the iPhone, but it was a fascinating discovery none the less. If you're making a game with almost no capital, I can imagine it's nice not to have this expense to worry about.
I'll post an update once our game has gone through the submission process. While I'm confident we won't be RC'd, I will let you know if anything interesting happens.