Aussie review calls for voluntary game ratings

Australian Law Reform Commission proposes only games with MA15+ content or above to be classified by government; suggests voluntary industry ratings for other lower content.

The Australian Law Reform Commission's (ALRC) review into Australia's classification system has proposed that only games likely to be rated MA15+ or above should be officially classified by government.

The review, commissioned late last year by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, aims to reform Australia's classification laws in light of recent technological changes, media convergence, and the global distribution platforms of media content. As part of this review, the ALRC released an Issues Paper in May this year, providing an overview of the current classification system and inviting the public and industry groups to respond to its strengths and weaknesses and outline what should change.

Following public response to the paper, the ALRC has now drawn up an official discussion paper--released today--which puts forward 43 proposals for reform to Australia's current classification scheme.

When it comes to video games, the ALRC proposes that only titles "produced on a commercial basis and likely to be MA15+ or higher" should be referred to the Classification Board for classification. This is because "these are the games that parents and guardians arguably most need to be warned about--the games with strong or high levels of violence, coarse language, and other content".

The ALRC is calling for voluntary classification of all games likely to be rated under MA15+.

According to the ALRC, the classification of games likely to be rated G, PG, or M, should become voluntary.

"The classification of most other media content--for example, books, magazines, websites, music, and computer games now likely to be G, PG, and M--should become or remain voluntary. However, the ALRC proposes that industry bodies should develop codes of practice that encourage the voluntary classification of some of this other content, such as lower-level computer games, using the categories, criteria, and markings of the National Classification Scheme."

The ALRC says that content providers (that is, publishers) may choose to classify lower-level games voluntarily using authorised industry classifiers. According to the body, the rationale for this proposal stems from the high cost of classifying and regulating content, as well as the number of games released each year.

"There are arguably too many games developed and released each year, and developed by too diverse a range of persons, to formally classify before they are sold or distributed in Australia. Hundreds of thousands of small games, often played online or on mobile devices and developed by small developers or individuals, are now available for sale."

This new system, argues the ALRC, will allow for an industry classification that reduces costs of regulatory burdens, considered particularly important for independent developers and publishers of niche products.

The discussion paper also points to the R18+ debate as an example of why the current system that calls for the unanimous agreement among the Commonwealth, states, and territories before any changes to the National Classification Scheme can be made is a "poorly designed" and "time consuming" process.

"The ALRC has heard loud and clear that the current system is broken and no longer fits with how people are consuming media content," ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher said in a press statement. "It is poorly equipped to deal with the challenges of media convergence, and the case for reform is strong. The ALRC is proposing reform that can be phased in to allow time for industry and the community to adapt to the new scheme. Responses to the paper will help inform the development of final recommendations for reform."

The Commonwealth has also responded positively to the proposed reforms.

"The government is committed to modernising Australia's classification system to address the challenges created by rapidly changing media technology," Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and Federal Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, said in a joint press statement today.

"The ALRC last reviewed classification standards 20 years ago. Australians need to be confident that our classification system will help them make informed choices about what they choose to read, see, hear, and play. This is especially important for parents who rely on the National Classification Scheme to make sensible choices for their children."

The ALRC invites both individuals and organisations to read the discussion paper and make their submissions to the ALRC before November 18, 2011.

The discussion paper is available on the ALRC website.

The final ALRC report into Australia's classification scheme is due early next year. The Federal Government says it will consider the ALRC's recommendations once it receives the final report.

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Discussion

8 comments
t_biggin
t_biggin

jdeb9: This government is the first to make any real moves toward modernising the rating system. If it wasn't for Brendan O'Connor personally taking charge of this it wouldn't be an issue at all. As the ALRC said, unanimous agreement among the Commonwealth, states, and territories is "poorly designed" and "time consuming". Don't get me wrong, I think the current government is the second worst in Australian history but on this issue they've been very proactive.

jdeb9
jdeb9

The Australian Government originally said this new system would be UP & RUNNING by the end of THIS YEAR, though now it seems to be early next year. It annoys me greatly that the government are still post-poning this system, even if they are making progress, it is still happening much slower than it should be. This also post-pones all the games like Mortal Kombat 9 and Left 4 Dead 2 that have been confirmed to going to be re-submittted to the Australian Government for an R18+ classification. I think that no matter what this incredibly irritating government says, the fact is its probably gonna be QUITE A WHILE before we see any of the games with R18+ on their cover.

CamoBullo
CamoBullo

I'd do it, but only for Mortal Kombat.

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

@ Devils-DIVISION from my understanding, the American market because it is the biggest is what dictates what can come into the PAL market. And from the PAL market, Australia has to wait to get most of their games avaliable in Europe first before coming to Australia. And because of highly detailed sexual intercourse is in the AO18+ category and therefore not able to be marketed in the USA, that would put most of the other markets off from bringing it into Europe and therefore not being able to come into Australia, even 'IF' Australia did manage to bring in the X18+ rating for Videogames, it is not marketable unless if the Americans could approve of it in their market since the American market is the largest. The Japanese market is however in another castle because of the differences of culture and of course the language. It does not stop adult PC games from being made, but it only just makes them not being able to be commercially sold in western countries.

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

@Gelugon_baat It's really not a good thing. The R18 rating has been accepted. But the R rating doesn't cover everything. Games can still be banned if it contains material that offends against the standards of morality and decency. So what's stopping the industry from rating a game that features a combination of violence and sexual intercourse?

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

@qubeley True. Though at least it's for M15 & under. But I suspect that once this direction is made, eventually the other category will become unregulated by the government.

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

I say scrap all the things to do with government calssification, and get an independant system involved so the decisions made are in favor of making the information clearer for parents and also adult gamers can play what they want without the risk of getting anything banned. Also the impact test and the interpretation between interactive and non interactive entertainment should be scrapped too. Bring in an ESRB style of system, scrap any government involvement, and we will all be fine.

qubeley
qubeley

That is a stupid idea. Relying on the industry to regulate themselves?