The Australian Government wants to make some changes to how the classification system works in Australia, lots of these changes are common sense changes for things like the difference between 2D and 3D movies and festivals. The change we’re interested in is to do with video games naturally and it could stop (among other implications) the problems we Nintendo fans face with missing out on eShop games.
Jason Clare, current minister for home affairs presented a raft of changes last week at the Standing Council on Law and Justice meeting. The second of which was to “Enable the use of automated classification decision making systems, starting with a pilot for mobile and online computer games.”
What this means is that the Australian Classification board and their classifiers will not need to rate every single video game or app (or elements of games such as DLC) that is released in Australia. There is a tremendous cost for this classification and it’s stopping a lot indie developers get their games on the eShop as well as every other console marketplace as well. Games like Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2, Mighty Switch Force HD and even Cave Story go unreleased in Australia due to these costs.
So how much is this fee? We asked Australian independent developers Nnooo for the inside word. “Australia’s classification board is currently the most expensive ratings board we deal with,” says Bruce Thompson from Nnooo. “Their fee is AUS$890 or AUS$1,210, depending on how much information you provide them with.”
There are cheaper options though, but not by much. “They also have an Authorised Assessor scheme where the OFLC can train someone from a publisher or developer to assess games. The assessor’s licence needs to be reviewed annually by the OFLC. We don’t know how much this is but this scheme is run for large developers and publishers, not indies like us. If we’re lucky, we can find an Authorised Assessor to help and submit our application for a reduced fee of AUS$430.”
That’s still a big hunk of money, especially for an independent developer who could be selling their game for as cheap as $2 a copy.
Is this a problem with the rest of the world then? Unfortunately Europe isn’t much better, with a 250 Euro fee to both PEGI, the European ratings board and USK, the German ratings board each. You also have to classify for each system if you’re releasing on more than one system. You don’t have to in Australia.
So what about America then? Well, just like Australia is experimenting with, the US ratings board, the ESRB has just recently changed to an electronic self-rating model Bruce tells us. Which “for the size of studio we are and the types of games we develop, costs us nothing.”
“We can sell a game in the Americas (with a population of about 1 billion) for no ratings fees, in Europe (with a population of over 700 million) for 500 Euros per platform and in Australia (23 million) for AUS$430,” explains Bruce, “considering that only 2% of our revenue comes from Australian sales you can see how ridiculous this is. “
This is the very reason most independent developers can’t or won’t release their games to the Australian eShop or any other digital console platform. Steam and iOS get around this with loopholes but if you want to release on the eShop, Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network you have to classify your game.
So what if these proposed changes come in, how would it help local developers? “Changing the current classification system in Australia to a self-rated, no-fee model like the one operated by the ESRB would be a big help for small devs like us where every dollar counts.” Says Bruce.
“The current Australian ratings system increases the cost of making games for the Australian market and prevents many small developers from releasing their titles here. “
Since this announcement was made on Friday, we’ve learned that this pilot program for automatic classification may only start with online and mobile games (which currently don’t have classification) with the program to be extended to all digitally distributed titles such as the ones released on the eShop.
Let’s hope they don’t take too long. Ten plus years of fighting over the R18+ rating have meant other crucial classification laws have been stuck in the past for far too long.