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

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.

In an email with Kotaku Australia, Compulsion Games chief operating officer and producer Sam Abbott said he wasn’t sure that the Classification Board had any room to move, given the constraints of the rating guidelines.

“I think originally the board made the best decision they could given (a) the guidelines they work within, and (b) the information we provided them,” Abbott said. “I’m not sure I’d make a different original decision given those constraints.”

We Happy Few Has Been Reclassified R18+

The Classification Board has reversed their original ruling on We Happy Few, giving the dystopian adventure a R18+ rating following a review.

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Abbott went on to explain that Compulsion Games could have outlined more information about Joy — the drug that is a centrepiece of the dystopian society in which We Happy Few is set — including the positive and negative aspects of its consumption.

“If I was going to provide suggestions to other developers who are concerned about running into these issues, it would be to make sure that any drug related stuff is couched in the appropriate context inside your game, and making that context very clear in your submission materials.”

The producer noted that the Classification Board guidelines are reviewed every couple of years, and he expressed sympathy for the complexity of the framework that the Board operates under. “Ratings decisions are a complicated subject, because I think we can all agree that some things should be banned, but beyond the obvious ‘Illegal’ baseline, few people can agree on what those things should be.”

The Classification Board noted in their media release that they sought guidance from Gearbox Publishing regarding the use of drugs in-game, and that the clause surrounding incentivised drug use — as it stands in the current guidelines — includes the following: new skills or attribute increases, extra points, unlocking achievements, plot animations, scenes and rewards, rare or exclusive loot, or “making tasks easier to accomplish”, the latter of which We Happy Few fell foul of in the original rating.

A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing though the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.

In another sequence, the player is seen in first-person view, entering a telephone box that contains three large pill dispensers, each holding a different flavoured Joy pill. The player consumes a Joy pill and a swarm of brightly-coloured butterflies appear as well as rainbows and coloured pathways on the ground, improving speed and visibility for the player.

In the Board’s opinion, the game’s drug-use mechanic making game progression less difficult constitutes an incentive or reward for drug-use and therefore, the game exceeds the R 18+ classification that states, ‘drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted’. Therefore, the game warrants being Refused Classification.

– Classification Board decision on We Happy Few, 21 May 2018

Abbott went on to stress that while addiction to legal medicinal drugs is a genuine problem, being able to talk about it openly is a crucial element in combating that problem too. “Drugs aren’t just lsd and cocaine, they’re also antibiotics, ibuprofen and your dad’s blood pressure medication,” he said.

“Preventing the discussion of drugs generally for having ‘positive gameplay effects’ deprives people of debate (eg. how do you deal with topics of addiction if you can’t talk about how drugs make you feel). It’s also a bit unfair to video games, as other mediums are free to discuss these subjects. But, maybe some people won’t agree with that.”

I asked if it was possible for Compulsion Games’ submission to be publicised, but it was explained that the developer provided substantial plot and lore spoilers in their appeal to the Board and weren’t ready for that information to be public as of yet. Abbott revealed, however, that their appeal was about 20 pages and had a video approximately 30 minutes long.

“Other than the issues about content, reviewing the cost of the appeal process might be worth it, because indie teams will simply not be able to afford the $10,000 entry fee, nor the resources to find legal support to write a formal response. Without Gearbox on our side, we may not have been able to do it.”

Abbott also wanted to thank everyone who made a submission, as well as the Australian gaming public. “That’s cool of you guys, and we’re very glad to have been successful.”

I’ve contacted the Classification Board for more information about the We Happy Few review process, including the amount of submissions made, whether the Board will publicise those of their own accord, and when the review panel’s report will be released.


  • We can only dream of a time where Video Games are treated as equal to other mediums, rather than being seen as a children’s pastime. I am envious that cinema, television and books are able to delve into more serious and graphic depictions of certain acts to add to the experience, whilst video games are limited to the experience they can deliver due to such unnecessary limitations.

    • If video games can prove they’re capable of this fine. Gamer darling The Last of Us would be barely memorable as a film and even more likely wouldn’t find a major distributor.

      • I think the point being made is if they HAD A CHANCE to prove it, the classification board still see video games as a child orientated culture, where it has been proven time and again that the kids grow up and they want their content to grow with them. The whole point is why have an ‘R18+’ classification if you are going to ban or censor everything above ‘M’? Its ridiculous and needs to fixed. As a reference 156 games were refused classification last year, even with 762 ‘R18+’ games getting through, I think the bigger issue here that needs to be addressed (I’m looking at you FORTNITE) is that parents need to be more observant of the classifications so that way it will have a trickle up effect, the more parents monitor the restriction and adhere to them the more lenient the classification board can be, but this is a pipe dream because blaming the parents for not parenting is something that will have me exiled and branded all sorts of thing on television and the papers and radio, none of which would be allowed to be even alluded to in videogames, because “think of the children”…. more like here is a diversion that takes away from the fact that i’m a bad parent and let my child have anything that will shut them up and keep them happy…. sorry i have to get the door… A Current Affairs is here to question me about my human rights violations and poke slander at me…..

    • Games being interactive tends to reinforce the experience that little bit more, so the risks go up as well. All that means is more games should be MA 15, or 18+ that would be lower grades with more passive mediums, but it seems that they want to ban more mature minds (that includes 16 year olds) from experiencing those more serious depictions. Which helps nobody – adults should be allowed to adult.

      End of the day, this is the right decision, even if its possibly for the wrong reasons. That’s something at least. Hopefully more games on that borderline will end up getting similar treatment. But its also an easy copout.

  • Easy fix is to prosecute parents who allow their kids to play games rated too high for them. There has never been a prosecution for breach of rating in Australia, yet the ‘doom of youth’ mantra is trotted out from kindies to court rooms and universities as if it were set in concrete. I want to see adult content games, with decent adult storylines and it won’t happen until the ‘kiddy zone’ attitude is dropped.

    • That’s a terrible idea, and totally misses the point of ratings, which is to inform, not to prohibit. It is not illegal to allow your children to watch an R-rated movie, and nor should it be. It IS illegal for a cinema to allow children to watch an R-18 movie without supervision, but that is an entirely different situation. The media that parents allow children to consume at home is a private decision. If you oppose the idea of a “kiddy zone attitude”, then that means respecting parents to make their own decisions about what their children should or should not be consuming.

      It would not be an “easy fix”, either. It would take a lot of work, everyone would hate it, and there’s no practical way to enforce it. A much easier fix would be to make the guidelines as permissive as they are for movies. “Interactivity” should not even be a factor in judgement. Content is either child-appropriate or it is not. They Skylanders game does not become “more mature” than the Skylanders cartoon show, just because it is interactive.

      • Those who claim that they got their kids x game and it had ( insert evil here) in it. Self admission is enough suspicion. That’s how south Aussie gamers rolled our attorney general Atkinson over the game classification fight…pointing out he was condoning child abusive behaviour when he made all sorts of constituent claims which he refused to back up.

  • No, parents should NOT be prosecuted for allowing their kids to play games. Fyi its not illegal to allow minors to play R18 games in the privacy of their own home. As it should be.

    There is no scientific evidence to suggest doing so is harmful in the long term, thus there is no need to have more nanny state laws. Games are not alcohol or tobacco. Parents have a right to determine what is appropriate for their kids, not the government. Encouraging more laws based on subjectivty and assumptions is a horrible idea.

    The best thing to do is just change the bloody stupid system !!! We should be using PEGI or the ESRB instead of more government regulations. They’re just games. They prosecute people in NZ for letting their kids watch or play stuff not suitable for them. Its terrible practice. Don’t you want to live in a free society where individual responsibility is valued, rather than socialist nanny state policies??? Prosecuting people for using drugs hasn’t worked, yet the govt continues with its “war on people”. No one has a higher claim over your life and property than YOU! Is it ever right to harm someone else who has done no harm to others?? No. Truth, logic and common sense needs to prevail over more laws and PC culture.

  • These days it is just so rare to read rational people in gaming. Understanding of how such a thing could happen and not damning the process or professionals for just doing their jobs but respecting the position they are in.

    Now if only we could weaponise that sort of constructive thinking to the gaming public on mass, we wouldnt would have to see gamers losing their minds and personally attacking the board etc.

  • Anyone else want to join with the Conspiracy Theorists???

    Microsoft Studios announced at E3 2018 that they had acquired Compulsion Games…
    Suddenly the Classification is reviewed and revised…

    How fortunate for them… Convenient even… Just saying…

  • How does the “making the game easier” clause not also hit any game with medpacs or HP potions or the like?

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