In an e-mail interview, Daniel Gleeson of the department was unambiguous — MMOs must be rated because they are classified as video games. The commonwealth government is working with its states and territories to clarify the ratings laws and how they apply to online-only games.
But is there enforcement? “We are not aware of any police actions targetting MMOs,” Gleeson said.
And since the department is consulting other bodies regarding the law, including an industry group that’s repeatedly said that MMOs don’t need ratings, it’s unlikely that any push for enforcement is on the immediate horizon.
“One thing is clear – if a person is buying a computer game in a retail outlet, whether or not that game is played online makes no difference to the requirements in State and Territory legislation that it must be classified,” Gleeson said.
Well, at least something’s clear.
The whole flap over “World of Warcraft” and other MMOs’ status in Australia began with this story, posted to Massively.com by blogger Tateru Nino. Nino reported that MMOs were being sold in Australia without a rating, despite the fact that it’s illegal to buy or sell games there without a one. It only took a couple of days for the story to be retold across the Internet with broad headlines like “Australia Bans ‘World of Warcraft.’” Of course, Nino never claimed Australia had banned the games (though the situation was essentially an unenforced ban on the market).
The game ratings are determined by the Australian government’s Classification Board and denote content. While the IEAA, a video-game industry group, told Nino that there was an exception in the laws for online-only games, she was told point blank by a spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Department that no such loophole existed.
(The IEAA is also the group that Gleeson said the Attorney-General’s Department is talking to.)
When we contacted the IEAA, we were told by Paul Hunt that the de facto ban on games like WoW would be “a 180-degree turn around from all advice previously provided on the issue by the Australian government” (Read Hunt’s earlier response in ”Australia’s ban may be somewhat overblown“). This is supported by Nino’s own research — as reported in her follow-up, she was originally told by the Classification Board that MMOs did not require a rating. Later, the Attorney-General’s Department contradicted that claim and the board retracted it.
Hunt said that conventional wisdom — and government advice — had been that online-only games were not covered by the ratings law, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, because its definition of a video game didn’t include online-only games. (The law was written in 1994, before any online-only game had reached Australia.)
The debate centers on whether what’s sold is a computer game or access to a computer game, Gleeson said.
“While this distinction makes little practical difference, it may affect how the State and Territory legislation operates, which is why the Attorney-General’s Department has sought advice from the States and Territories on the extent of the requirements in their legislation,” Gleeson said.
The different levels of government have to come to an agreement before they can enforce anything, he said.
More on the Australian ratings law:
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