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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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Censorship
By Paj on 8/19/2010 10:57:02 AM , Rating: 2
This is one of the few examples where I support the notion that government should stay the hell out of peoples lives. The government needs to have a hand in regulating many things - energy, defence, education, health, taxation - but saying what media people can and cant enjoy in their own privacy is ridiculous in this day and age.

Rest assured, many Australians feel the same way:

http://www.r18games.com.au/




RE: Censorship
By Schrag4 on 8/20/2010 3:38:17 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
This is one of the few examples where I support the notion that government should stay the hell out of peoples lives.


The only way I could agree with you less is if you had said the government should be sticking its nose into people's video game choices.


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