The Reasons Why We Happy Few’s Ban Was Overturned

The Reasons Why We Happy Few’s Ban Was Overturned

The Classification Review Board – which operates as a separate body to the Classification Board itself – has finally published the reasoning for its decision to overturn the RC rating for We Happy Few. In its report, the review panel noted that the game “quickly establishes” that the hallucinogenic state induced by the drug Joy was “undesirable” and that the game’s overall quest was to “avoid the use of the Joy drug”.

Earlier this month three members of the oversight body oversaw We Happy Few‘s review, unanimously voting to reclassify the dystopian survival adventure R18+. The Classification Board had originally found that the game incentivised drug use through the benefits and easier gameplay afforded through the consumption of Joy, but that view was rejected in the Review Board’s report.

“The premise of this computer game is for the playing characters to escape a fictional town where the inhabitants are in a state of Government mandated euphoria and memory loss,” the review board’s report reads. “Although the non-playing characters appear to be happy due to their continual use of the Joy drug, the computer game quickly establishes that this state is undesirable and the playing characters are on a quest to avoid the use of the Joy drug.”

The report adds that written and oral submissions from Baker Mckenzie (lawyers representing Gearbox Publishing) were taken into account, as was material from the game itself, the Board’s original report, a written submission from Microsoft (which was listed as an ‘interested party’) and 87 submissions from the public.

The review’s procedure went as follows:

The Review Board was provided written submissions from Microsoft Pty Ltd and 87 members of the general public. The Review Board viewed a lengthy live demonstration of gameplay and viewed recorded gameplay footage. The Review Board heard an oral submission from the Applicant. The Review Board then considered the matter.

Ultimately, the Review Board found that any benefits from the use of Joy were “short term” and they were often followed by a drop in health, “depletion of the body” and “withdrawal symptoms”.

The actual use of the fictitious drug as a game progression mechanic, questions the viability of such a gameplay decision at each stage/level. The character’s action in taking the drug is usually the only viable option given and while it may enable the character to pass a stage/level of the game, the benefit is short term and is followed by a loss of memory and a reduction in health points, the depletion of the body and/or withdrawal symptoms.

In the Review Board’s opinion, the use of the drug is not presented as an incentive nor does it constitute a reward for the player in achieving the aim of the computer game. In the Review Board’s opinion, the interactive drug use does not exceed high, therefore the computer game can be accommodated at R 18+.

The Review report also pointed out the various guidelines under the National Classification Code and the specific rules for computer game classifications under the relevant Act.

We Happy Few is due out for release on PC and Xbox One on August 10. The board’s full report, including the names of each member of the public who filed a submission, can be read here.

Why We Happy Few Was Refused Classification

The latest game to be banned in Australia. We Happy Few. The announcement was a shock, but a reading of the board's report reveals that the decision is one gamers have become accustomed to from the country's censors.

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We Happy Few Developers: The Classification Board 'Made The Best Decision They Could'

Following the unanimous overturning of the Classification Board's original RC rating for We Happy Few, Compulsion Games has expressed sympathy for the statutory body. The studio -- and Aussie gamers -- is glad that the RC rating was overturned, but one We Happy Few producer isn't sure the Board could have ruled any other way.

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Thanks to reader Emme for the tip!


  • Could they sound anymore out of touch? Stop saying “The computer game”. Next we’ll seeing classifications about those moving pictures, and programs on the wireless.

    • Computer game, video game, what’s the difference? You really want them to make a distinction between computer and console games when they are essentially the same thing?

      At least they aren’t calling them “interactive games”, which is what SA’s lovely former Attorney-General Michael Atkinson used to call them. Games – board games, card games, sports, video games – are interactive by definition. That’s what makes them games. They wouldn’t be a game if the player’s didn’t interact with them in some way. That’s not something that’s special to video games. I cringed whenever he said that.

    • Not to be narky but “computer game” still applies as its more a blanket term for any form of gaming on computing hardware.

      Maybe down the track the terms could be brought more inline with the current times.

      But for now, the process itself has far bigger problems than the vocabulary being used. Like how it is still possible for one person to stall any and all change, the R18+ rating still needs further work is its still mostly a go to if MA15+ doesn’t fit, and finally inconsistencies like we are seeing now still happening.

  • Wow… so Fallout 3’s factor of addiction to morpheine causing a reduction in player stats wasn’t even considered? Great news for this game, but damn in retrospect (and granted that’s what, 10+ years back), woulda been great if the same standard was applied back then 🙁

    • If I remember correctly though the issue wasn’t actually the names of the drugs, it was that there was animation of you injecting them or the likes, which was removed to pass the ratings board. The name change I think was made on Bethesda’s end to avoid other potential issues with ratings boards (not even necessarily Australia’s one).

    • Didn’t someone make a mod to restore that behaviour though?

      On a side note, I might revisit that game on of these days since have released both it and New Vegas. I just to figure out how to tear myself away from Cities: Skylines! X-P

  • Pity that PlayStation hasn’t paid attention to the ban being overturned

    We Happy Few isn’t available from them as yet (Xbox has it), and contacting them just gets a fob-off.

    • I believe it’s Xbox/PC exclusive. Since the developer was just bought out by Microsoft, I wouldn’t even expect it to be a timed exclusive, either.

      • The full game is being released on PS4 the same day as xbox/pc… Early access/beta was Xbox and PC only.

      • Nope, still coming to PS4. Microsoft bought them right near the end of development, so the PS4 game will be about as ready to ship as the others. Microsoft are still going to get a cut for sales on PS4, so why scrap all the work that’s already in place?

    • Sorry I wasn’t particularly clear

      The non-deluxe version for the PS4 is available from multiple stores (EB, JB, Amazon, etc) in Australia, and the digital copy is available for the PS4 through the PlayStation Store in Nth America and Europe but not here in Australia.

      So even though the classification board has finally woken up to itself and given a rating, you cannot get a digital copy through Sony Australia and this may also limit our access to the dlc and season pass.

      My query to them was fobbed off, and I was referred back to Compulsion Games!

  • It sucks because no rules have changed. We still aren’t truly treated as adult media.
    Also they didn’t listen to you or me, the Australian population. They just heard a very good solid case from Microsoft. It changes nothing.

  • I wrote a submission to the review board decrying this ludicrous decision, saying it’s a game about overcoming authoritarian manipulation including by some forced use of drugs. that’s the story of the friggin game. that’s what we saw at E3.
    Those liars at The original decision Banning classification of this game should be sacked for misrepresenting what this game was about and denying this company a chance to make sales, and controlling adult choice for gamers.

  • Out of interest: Is there double handling going on here? There’s a Classification Board and a Classification Review Board.
    And if the CRB is independent (could be the wrong term) of the CB, does this cause delay and conflict?
    I just picture the typical type of Australian government bureaucracy (that I just walked away from after too many years) wherein departments are created that layer upon other departments due to everyone basically wanting to milk the tax tit and grow their area at expense of efficiency and logic.
    BUT that could be my negative association due to being a bit burnt out from working in the sector, which is, to be open, a messy labyrinth of responsibility shirking and extra long lunch breaks.

    • Sort of but not really. Within most public service departments, you often have areas that look like this. The first area does the bulk of the work, and just makes the decisions, while the review and objections type areas have the luxury of time to go over more detail and reconsider positions.

      Most of the time decisions don’t change, so the more bulk process nature of that first step is enough. But they realise they don’t get it right every time, so have a review/objections area to reconsider.

      Because humans are making these decisions, mistakes happen. So areas like this are necessary. On the plus side, this appears to be an automatic process, at least this time, which is a good thing. Most review areas need a formal request for review.

      • So it’s more of an internalised appeal process then. Kinda.
        It seems like personal convictions regarding drug use are still a factor in decision making though.
        Even Yoshi’s Island’s “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy” level might not have made it past this process.
        But without these little road bumps along the way, the reality is that the process won’t grow into something that actually represents the task at hand.
        Their main goal is to classify, not ban.

        • It could simply be how much discretion they have to interpret the legislation. The initial decision may be forced to knock out any drug use, end of story, while the review board may have more scope. Context may not be a factor at the first point, but is at the second. That happens a lot.

          I know here in Tax, the Commish has considerable discretion to interpret some Acts, but zero discretion with other Acts. Which flows to the staff and how they do their job. Sometimes you can make a judgement call, other times all you can do is sympathise.

          I’m pleasantly surprised this happened so quickly. It says to me that theres a system that is actually working better than in the past. I submitted something, so might have been one of those 87 people, so hopefully played a role in this. Not a big role, but a role anyhow 🙂

      • ” On the plus side, this appears to be an automatic process, at least this time, which is a good thing. Most review areas need a formal request for review. ”

        There was nothing automatic this time. Gearbox (the original applicant) paid the $10,000 review / appeal fee, sent in the paperwork, Gearbox / Microsoft and their lawyers prepared their arguments, etc. Members of the Review Board were flown in from wherever in Australia they live. There is always a formal request for review in classification.

        The $10,000 appeal fee is mentioned in this article:

  • The drug Joy was “undesirable” and that the game’s overall quest was to “avoid the use of the Joy drug”.

    Question: Did they play it the first time?

    Their statement reads like they completely missed the premise of the story of the game they were reviewing. Seriously, that’s what they would put on the back of the box if games still came out in boxes.

    • My understanding was that they don’t actually play the games but review content material submitted by the developer, such as images and gameplay footage, probably akin to those that are provided on a game’s Steam page. Not sure if was the Aussie Classification Board or the ESRB but one of them did it that way.

    • The Classification Board doesn’t play games; they make their review based on a written (and video) submission made by the publisher detailing the game, I believe. They have stringent rules what they have to disclose to the Board as to what goes on in the game, from what I remember of reading the process a few years back.

    • AFAIK classification board does not play the game. There is a checklist of stuff that publishers have to submit to accompanied by snippets of the game relevant to the said item.

  • We Happy Few is due out for release on PC and Xbox One on August 10

    Also PS4 still.

    P.S. How come I have had an account on this site for years, but every time I comment it goes into Moderation?

    • Happens to me too. Too many downvotes? Have you disagreed with the “correct” opinion lately? I had a comment deleted for posting a Wikipedia link that didn’t fit the narrative.

      • Nope, nothing like that. Don’t post to often, and never had a bunch of downvotes that I know of.

        • Seems to happen mostly if you edit your comments. I think it might be some sort of over-zealous automated spam catcher that assumes if you’re editing your comment you’re trying to add links to bypass the spam filter for new posts.
          Of course, that’s just speculation based on what I’ve seen.

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