Australia’s Classification System Is Finally Being Reviewed

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Australia’s Classification System Is Finally Being Reviewed

The Federal Government has announced that the classification system in Australia, including the guidelines for the classification of video games, will formally be reviewed “to modernise it for different content and delivery platforms”.

Paul Fletcher, the minister of Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, announced in a release that the current chair of the Press Council and a former secretary of the Department of the Communications and the Arts would leave a review of the current classification guidelines.

“The current framework was established in the age of dial-up internet – well before the rise of the online streaming or gaming services we now use daily – so we will be looking at how to modernise it for different content and delivery platforms,” Fletcher said.

The terms of reference for the classification review include:

The review will cover:
1. Opportunities to harmonise the classification of, or restriction of access to, content across different delivery platforms including broadcasting services (commercial free to air, national broadcasting and subscription television), online stores and services, cinema releases, and physical product (e.g. boxed video games and DVDs).

2. The design of a contemporary Australian classification framework, including:

a. What content requires classification
b. Consistency of classification categories, standards and access restrictions across media formats
c. Classification decision-making processes, including mechanisms for review, and
d. Governance arrangements, including the suitability of the current cooperative scheme.

3. Opportunities to update classification decision-making standards, including a comprehensive review to update the National Classification Code, the Films Guidelines, and the Games Guidelines.

A report on the state of classification system will be delivered to the government by April next year. The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, representatives for the gaming industry in Australia, sent a short statement to Kotaku Australia welcoming the news.

“We obviously welcome the review and will have something more substantive to say when we see the discussion paper which is due for release 2020,” IGEA said.

More to come…

Comments

  • Anything less than the abolition of the Classification Board and a move to industry-based ratings schemes will be a complete waste of time.

    • What do you believe an industry body would achieve that the current government body doesn’t? And if it is an industry body working under the implicit threat from the government of “regulate yourselves or we’ll regulate you”, what makes you think they wouldn’t be more conservative in their decision making?

    • Why? What would be the great outcome from an industry regulated system? They’d never legalise voluntary classification, so a mandatory classification paid to an independent board that fits into the currently understood ratings system nationwide….so the current system we have, but paid to a not-for-profit organisation with major publisher big wigs on the board collecting another big pay check.

        • I wouldn’t really describe PEGI as independent of government. They have a “PEGI Council” made up of representatives from various European national classification/censorship bodies, and acts as an advisory board for the organisation. This is the thing that makes many European governments feel comfortable about writing PEGI classifications into their legislation.

          So you’re essentially trading off a system that acts as a compromise between all the Australian states and territories for a system that acts as a compromise between 35+ different countries.

          If the goal is just to make it easier for developers to make their games available in Australia, doesn’t IARC cover that?

          • Yeah sorry I didn’t get to finish my comment before I was interrupted. The thing I actually want is the complete dismantling of Australia’s censorship regime, and I believe that replacing the current system with industry mandated systems that can be backed with legal force is a way to make this palatable to those segments of our society that get upset when something has a few too many uncovered breasts in them.

            More generally, I’m a big fan of properly creating a right to free expression in Australia (we have a limited right already through legal precedent, but there’s a strong push to create a bill of rights for Australians that would enshrine freedom of expression). Removing our current censorship regime is necessary for this to occur.

            I actually find it a little odd that a lot of the people who bleat incessantly about “freedom of speech” in the media forget this detail. It’s almost as if they only care about their own personal freedom of speech and not actual freedom of expression for everyone.

          • I think the only first world country with that kind of system is the US, where the government is constitutionally limited in what it can do. But that’s not exactly a panacea either.

            You’ve got an industry game classification system where most retailers won’t stock any games that receive the most extreme “AO” classification, which essentially makes the commercially unviable. You see a similar thing happen for film with many cinemas refusing to screen “NC-17” titles. In both cases, this leads to extreme works being modified to meet one of the more profitable classifications, or extreme works never receiving the funding needed to get off the ground.

            It’s not at all clear that the general public wants a system where everything is available with no restrictions. So the question then becomes: what is the fairest way to implement such restrictions? For all its faults, at least a government system is transparent and (indirectly) under control of society as a whole.

    • the fact that the current industry based rating schemes refuse to tag lootboxes as gambling and rate games accordingly makes this a hard no from me

  • 1. Opportunities to harmonise the classification of, or restriction of access to, content across different delivery platforms including…Why do I get the feeling that the second part is what they’ll be focusing on most?

    It’d be nice if they reduced the costs of classification while they’re at it too. We miss out on things quite frequently because of the prohibitive cost of classification.

    • That was pretty much my reaction, too. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, say, they decided to make any freemium game with gatcha (or however it’s spelled) style loot boxes R18 because of it being somewhat akin to gambling. In fact, I’ll be thoroughly surprised if anything beneficial actually comes from this at all.

    • I suspect this is related to IARC classifications. At present if you want to distribute your game digitally through various participating store fronts, you can get a classification for free by filling out the IARC questionnaire. If you want to distribute the same game physically through retail stores, you need to pay to have it reviewed by humans on the classification board.

      As another example, media shown on broadcast television is generally self assessed (with ACMA handling complaints about misclassification), while media shown on streaming services is covered by the classifiation board. Netflix has a special deal for classification, but if you were to start up your own streaming service you’d need to make sure all the content was classified.

  • This doesn’t even sound all that promising in theory tbh – not for gamers anyway. There’s plenty of scope for this to have no impact in terms of lessening how restrictive things are for us.

      • well for one, the currently R18+ is just the old MA15+ rating with less restrictions on Violence. Drug use and Sexual Content is stillat the same level for MA15+

        Secondly there is no “precedent” when it comes to ratings for video games which strongly ties into the first issue. Its why We Happy Few was banned at first and then (thankfully) overturned, its why saints row 4’s ban was not over turned( ive said it enough times but ill repeat it again, the board was fine with the analprobe being removed and sold as DLC, they were fully against shaundi’s loyalty mission that involved fictional alien drugs that only worked in a simulation) after fallout 3 was originally RCed because med-x was named morphine and was buff, even though it had a high addiction rate which would make your character worse unless cured.

  • Agree with other comments, rather think this will affect/tighten up restrictions on the online storefronts. Old PC so I only get the occasional retro title on GOG. But have seen indies that never made it on PSN/ps4.
    Not just due to PSN yet to sdopt IARC but RC’d stuff too.
    I just can’t forsee any particular side of politics saying to match R18 games & movies….If anything they’ll probably add lootbox/gambling warnings next!

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