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Australia may lose most of its smart phone games, if the government's censorship plan moves ahead. Under the plan mature titles would be banned outright and developers would have to pay as much as $2,000 to have their games classified.  (Source: Ken Irwin/Sydney Morning Herald)

Fallout 3 was among the popular international titles to be banned outright by Australia's censorship board.  (Source: Aeropause)
In the land down under, if a 15 year-old can't handle a game, it's banned outright

At times the concept of banning violent or sexually explicit video games has floated around the higher echelons of the U.S. government, but has always been shot down as too gross an invasion of civil liberties and the free market.  However, Australia for some time now has been exercising a hard moralistic policy of censorship that would make even infamous anti-gaming ex-lawyer Jack Thompson proud.

Current Australian law mandates that video game-makers go before the Classification Board to receive a rating.  As there's no 18+ rating, any game that's too explicit for a fifteen-year-old will be banned from sale under the strict guidelines.  Recently banned titles include 
Fallout 3 (for digital gore, sexual innuendo, and simulated drug use) and Left 4 Dead 2 (for digital gore).

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor, who acts as the Commonwealth Censorship Minister, isn't satisfied with the current provisions, though.  He identified a loophole that currently allows smartphone app makers to sell games without review.  Currently Apple's iTunes store, Google's Android marketplace, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion's App World, and Nokia's Ovi store all sell classification-free smartphone game titles in the Land Down Under.

Under O'Connor's plan, smartphone game-makers would be forced to pay between $470 to $2,040 USD in fees to get their title classified.  And they could see their game rejected outright.

Many smartphone game-makers already operate on slim profit margins per sales region, and are saying that if the plan is implemented they will simply pull out of Australia's smartphone market.  

Marc Edwards, founder of Australian smart phone game studio Bjango, calls the plan deeply flawed, stating:

I understand that there's certainly a desire to treat [mobile game apps] in the same light [as PC-based games], but I think they're built and consumed in quite a different way and I think iPhone games may be a little closer to flash games on websites, certainly in some cases where they're small titles rather than [blockbuster] titles with large budgets and large timelines.

The sheer volume is going to make it very, very difficult.  The Classification Board is certainly going to have to put on a large amount of staff to be able to handle the iPhone app store, the Android [marketplace], as well as other platforms like Nokia's Ovi and other emerging platforms.

It's very difficult to define what's an app and what's a game.  What about if a utility has some kind of game as an Easter egg? Does that mean that all of a sudden it becomes a game? And what about desktop applications? They've never been classified.

Despite being a proud Aussie, Edwards says that if the rules are rolled out, he will likely pull out of the Australian market; after all, only 4 percent of his sales comes from his home country.  Other game developers, including other locally-based smartphone studios, are promising to following in suit.

The government, though, is likely eyeing the massive revenue it thinks that classification could bring.  Assuming a $2,000 classification fee, the scheme could, in theory, rake in $345M USD from game developers selling products on Apple's iTunes App Store.  And that's not to mention revenue from the Android developers and others.

Unfortunately, that move may largely kill smartphone gaming in Australia, blocking out all but the biggest titles.  That would leave Australia's 200,000+ smartphone users lacking the entertainment enjoyed by their more freedom-endowed colleagues elsewhere about the globe.

A final decision was postponed at the May Standing Committee of Attorneys-General meeting and will be delivered at November's meeting on censorship and other issues.

A full list of Australia's censored films, video games, and more can be viewed here (Note: The list contains some "erotic" films, but no hardcore adult entertainment. Nonetheless, it is probably not safe for work.)

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The only remedy for Australia...
By Motoman on 8/19/2010 10:05:19 AM , Rating: 5 for the citizens to:

1. Organize protests and make sure the media is involved

2. Letter-writing campaigns to elected officials (and remember - form letters and/or the internet things where you just click a button are UTTERLY WORTHLESS. Either write your own, short letter or don't bother...from a politician's view, if you can' spend 2 minutes writing your own paragraph, you don't actually give a rat's ass).

3. Form a PAC (or whatever does the same thing in Australia). Endorse candidates that aren't pro-Big-Brother.

4. VOTE. The people can remove elected officials from power by voting someone else in. But you actually have to mobilize the populace to get off their asses and get to the polls. And remember...there's going to be a lot of Luddites and curmudgeons who *like* this censorship and will be voting FOR you have to outweigh them.

RE: The only remedy for Australia...
By MungaIT on 8/21/2010 7:50:43 AM , Rating: 2
4. VOTE. The people can remove elected officials from power by voting someone else in. But you actually have to mobilize the populace to get off their asses and get to the polls. And remember...there's going to be a lot of Luddites and curmudgeons who *like* this censorship and will be voting FOR you have to outweigh them.

Unlike the US voting is compulsory in Australia, so getting people to the polls is not the issue, over 99% of people vote in Australia and about 2%->4% of votes are then invalidated either because the forms are incorrectly filled out or left blank, so in essence over 95% of Australia votes.

I am watching the Australian federal election right now and there is a very good chance at the moment that we will either have a hung parliament or a change of parliament that will invalidate this entire story. Seems like poor timing on this one Jason...

The issue of Australian Censorship gets a lot of coverage on this site for some reason, strange considering that Australia only has a population of ~22 million people and many other non-english speaking countries around the world have much more aggressive censorship laws.

On the issue of media coverage, this issue has been getting quite a bit of coverage, however it is not really one of the issues that is having an effect on the outcome of the election, we simply have more important things to talk about(Mining tax, Emissions Trading Scheme, Government paid parental leave, National Broadband Network ect...).

Fortunately the BEST solution as far as I can see, which is not to stop vetting the media that is freely available but to extend the classification system to include an R18+ rating for games has been gaining a lot more traction in Australia at the moment and there is a good chance this is something that we will see instituted in the not so distant future. In the main time there is always rapidshare....

Regarding the concept of PAC's they do get formed in Australia, however they usually gain traction with the help of union leaders, and the union leaders are all backing the current government due to their position on Industrial Relations issues.

The people who are willing to do serious protest in Australia are currently protesting about, frankly, more important policies regarding things like climate change and even more important civil liberty laws such as same sex marriage.

There will be change, but I very much doubt it will be done by eliminating censorship completely. We will see...

RE: The only remedy for Australia...
By Motoman on 8/21/2010 10:26:27 AM , Rating: 2
I find it strange that voting would be compulsory in a democracy...that implies a lack of free will about the issue, and indeed, refusing to vote can be considered a form of speech that should be protected ("I refuse to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich").

The reason that Australian censorship gets so much coverage is precisely because it's an english-speaking democracy...for all intents and purposes, "just like America." So while it's not all that surprising to see a theocracy in the middle east censor the hell (heh) out of it's citizens, it's very surprising and even disturbing to see it happen in Australia.

While I agree that there may be "more important" issues than whether or not you can buy Diablo III when it comes out, the root of this issue is highly alarming...censorship can spread like wildfire, and if a society starts accepting it as "ok" in one area, it will spread like a cancer to others.

By eldakka on 8/22/2010 11:54:01 PM , Rating: 2
Actually it's not really compulsory to vote.

You have to turn up to a polling station (or send in a postal vote) and get your name crossed off the register. Once you've had your name crossed off you can turn around and walk out without having voted.

Or you can submit a blank, unmarked voting form if you'd prefer to not be so obvious about not voting.

I'd say it's a better way to ascertain people voluntarily not voting (a protest vote) by having them turn up at the poll-booth and not cast a vote than it is to just have people not register.

Not registering is less-reliable in my opinion because you also get people who just couldn't be bothered registering. i.e. they are not 'protesting' about anything, they are just too lazy.

Also, the penalty for not voting is like a parking ticket. They send you a letter saying you have to either:
1) pay $20 (OMG $20, that'll hurt!)
2) give a reason why you didn't vote (Once I said I was overseas and wasn't even aware an election was on...never heard back. Which was true btw, I saw post-election results on the news in a pub in London, was a surprise to me) (or could even say "But I did vote, prove otherwise". Since they just cross your name off, it's not really possible, without witnesses coming forward to claim otherwise, that you didn't vote)
3) contest it in court.

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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