Devolver's Switch Co-op Brawler Won't Be Released In Australia

A couple of years ago, the Devolver-published indie Genital Jousting was held from sale in Australia and New Zealand. At the time, the publishers said they were "proactively saving ourselves time from a likely ban" down under after their experience with Hotline Miami 2.

Mother Russia Bleeds launches this week on the Switch. And despite being available through Steam right now, the publisher has tweeted that the Switch version won't be available locally because our "government folk do not approve of this video game".

Mother Russia Bleeds, a side-scrolling co-op brawler, first launched in September 2016. The console versions of the game have an M rating from the ESRB, which under most circumstances would translate to an M or MA15+ rating in Australia and New Zealand. Under PEGI, which oversees ratings for content in Europe, Mother Russia Bleeds has an 18 rating.

The difference is pretty crucial and an indicator of Devolver's reluctance to sell the game locally. On the ESRB page, the content descriptors note "use of drugs" and "sexual content", along with nudity, blood and gore. None of these appear on the PEGI listing - only violence and bad language - but it's the drug use that, as always in Australia, is the kicker.

As enemies are killed in Mother Russia Bleeds, their bodies begin to spasm. The player can then take a syringe to extract a drug called Nekro from the corpses of those bodies, which can be injected into the player character to either go berserk or regain health.

Other drugs have different effects: Bloody Mary turns enemy corpses into walking bombs, White Russian increases player damage more than usual, Blue Lagoon heals more than other drugs, and so on.

Even though none of the drugs are based on real-life counterparts, it's easy to see why Devolver opted not to try their hand with the Classification Board. Mother Russia Bleeds, despite being available on Steam, hasn't been officially rated in Australia. And given the Board's approach to incentivised drug use, it's hard to see how this could fit under current guidelines.

I've asked Devolver and their local representatives to clarify what happened, and why the Steam version is available given the circumstances.


Comments

    Won’t someone think of the children!!!
    But seriously, fuck off with this nanny bullshit.

    Makes me wonder how on earth games like Bioshock managed to get through the process, tbh.

    Uh... but it's already been approved by the 'government folk'. It's available for sale on PC already. I own it.

      No. Not at all.

      Games can appear on steam and be available for purchase without our government's approval. Do you really think all those indie games and asset flips you can buy on steam applied to our government for a rating?

        It makes me wonder why they just don't try? Given the drugs are fictional, they'd probably find it'd get through? Just as Fallout 3 simply had to change it's drugs name to Med-X for example? Nekro? Noones going to be worried over that???

          I imagine there's a fee to submit something for classification. But other than that (and surely that's not that big a deterrent) I can't really think of any good reason not to...

            Indeed. To me, and it's just to me, I'm not an authority on this so I might be wide off the mark, but it just *seems* to me at least (how many bloody times can he say 'to me' they ask of him...) that they're riding this for the publicity. Ah well, it's no huge deal.

              Look, in my own honest humble opinion, that in no way reflects that of others, and is formed and presented through the only facts that are available to me at this moment at time, so I am not presenting it as gospel truth, and I reserve the right to change my mind if more facts come tonlike, but I personally believe that it’s possible that.......

            I imagine there's a fee to submit something for classification.

            If the information from the adress below is correct, it's surprisingly cheap at $430.
            http://www.classification.gov.au/Industry/Journey/Pages/CGA/Step3.aspx

            I really don't know why they wouldn't give it a go.

              That’s lower than I would have assumed, too. If you consider the risk of losing $430 vs. the large market of sales you open your product up to if it gets classified seems like a no-brainer. I’m with @weresmurf on this, it’s stinks of publicity stunt. Keen to hear an official statement about their reasons.

    But the punching is mutually CONSENSUAL!
    And aimed at a clearly adult audience who can pay for and enjoy products that safely displace fantasy from reality.
    Watching the widely advertised show Outlander-- a shown often called GOT for chicks, is far more challenging and disturbing than anything band in the videogames realm in this country.

    Pretty sure if they submitted it, it would be rated R. They're not even real drugs, there are games right now with real drugs in them that you can use for benefit that are rated here fine.

      Just look at Red Dead Redemption 2. There's actual incentives and benefits to smoking cigarettes and cigars, chewing cocaine gum, chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol. I think Devolver are just using this as faux-controversy for their hard boiled game, which seems exactly in line with their M.O.

      Yeah I think that'd be the real distinction - this seems a bit different from the player picking up 1mL insulin syringes and injecting heroin or something that resembles that.

    So a quick check of the Classification database reveals the game has never been submitted for classification here, so them saying that our "government folk do not approve of this video game" is a bit rich.

    Like yeah, sure, our censorship regime is bulldust and needs to die, but maybe actually submit the game before you make stuff up like this, you cowards.

      "Our game is too EXTREME for the Australian governm-..."
      "But you haven't actually submitted it for classification and it's available on Steam?"
      "Uh.. well, uh.. how else will people know how, uh... extreme the games we publish are if they aren't banned in at least one country?"
      "Self censoring isn't the same as being banned..."

        Weren't our guidelines going to be reviewed or something
        What's happening with that...?

          You mean after the We Happy Few re-classification? Or separate from that? I'm not exactly sure.

        Given the description of the game here, it certainly sounds like they might run afoul of the "drug use linked to incentives" prohibition.

        And while they might be able to get away with selling the game unclassified on Steam, that might be a bit more difficult if it was actually RC.

          That’s an interesting thought. If it was RC’d through the classification board, is there a risk that they’d then have to remove it from the Australian Steam storefront, which would lose them more sales? This game might be the Schrodinger’s cat in the sealed box that is Steam—neither classified nor restricted, until such time as it’s submitted for review.

            Makes me wonder why anyone bothers paying for classification when they very clearly don’t have to, to sell to us on Steam.

            I wonder if rating is required to sell physical copies?

              There isn't anything in the law that says games sold in physical retailers need to be classified and digital ones don't: it's more a matter of different levels of enforcement.

              Ever since the government backed down on getting Apple to comply with our laws for games sold on their app store (and instead introduced the self-classification option for mobile games), other digital stores have become more bold in selling unclassified games.

              But even if the IARC self classification system gets extended to PC and console games, it probably won't help for things like this: with borderline content, the survey is likely to tell you to seek proper classification.

            Technically a game can't be sold in Australia unless it's classified, and it's illegal to possess unclassified material as well.

            In other words, it's already illegal to purchase or own the Steam version of the game.

              It seems so strange to me that a company as big as Steam, a company that has appeared in front of the federal and high courts after criticism from the ACCC, is regularly selling unclassified games and, as you point out, looks like they're doing so against Australian law. Surely there got to be some loophole that allows it otherwise someone would have jumped on them by now? I guess maybe, as James points out above, they're kind of trying their luck and can point at precedent from digital storefronts like Apple's AppStore, if they come under scrutiny for it.

              I know WA has laws making it illegal to possess Refused Classification material (I think it's the only state with this), but I didn't think there was any laws banning possession of unclassified material. If there were, then anyone who has ever recorded a video would be a criminal.

    If only we had a 18+ rating for games. Oh wait we now do, haha didn't that turn out to be a damn scam!

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