Monday, October 26, 2009

Australia’s Dangerous Proposal to Classify Mobile Games

For gamers still reeling in frustration that yet another high profile game has fallen victim to Australia’s antiquated Classification System comes the news that the Australian Classification Board wants to classify iPhone and other mobile games. Itnews is reporting that the Classification Board director Donald McDonald wrote to Censorship Minister Brendan O'Connor “regarding [his] concern that some so-called mobile phone applications, which can be purchased online or either downloaded to mobile phones or played online via mobile phone access, are not being submitted to the board for classification.” If the proposed internet filter demonstrates the Australian Government’s failure to understand the nature of the web, then this demonstrates their inability to understand the changing face of video games and the distribution of media in the 21st century.

This desire to classify all mobiles games is preposterous, dangerous, and ultimately proof of the Classification Board’s increasing irrelevance in modern culture.

According to data from tracking site Apptism and reported on by Gamasutra, there are nearly 18000 games available for the iPhone – a system has only been available for little over two years. All the while the number of iPhone developers increases every day and the total number of games continues to climb at an even more frequent pace. By contrast, in the 2008-2009 year the Classification Board processed only 1095 games (out of a total of 4792 submissions across film, games and literature).

It would not be unreasonable to expect the number of games to more than double in the next year alone, and that’s just games for the iPhone. How the Classification Board hopes to process such massive numbers of applications is anyone’s guess.

That is of course if they even receive many applications at all - and this is why the proposal is dangerous. McDonald shows a complete lack of understanding as to who is developing these games in the first place. These aren’t large companies with millions of dollars to spend on development, advertising and distribution, the majority of developers are small teams of very few people – many just one or two people working in their spare time on their home PC. They are working on incredibly small budgets, and some on no budget at all. It costs over $1000 to submit a game for classification, to expect most of these developers to be able to afford that is ludicrous. Furthermore $1000 is more money than most iPhone games ever hope to make, which makes the idea of being over a grand in the red before the game is even released dumbfounding.

I see one terrible outcome from this: developers simply don’t submit their games for classification, which in turn means they are not available on the Australian store, which in turn means the number of Australian releases dries to a trickle. This is my greatest fear if mobile game ratings became required by law: that it would essentially kill the Australian market for mobile games. Even if the Board charged as little as $100 to classify a mobile game I would still expect to see a severe drop in local releases.

This preposterous idea is yet another indication of how embarrassingly out of touch the Australian Government has become with our place in the modern online, global community. It exposes our Classification System’s increasing age and irrelevance in the modern world by highlighting for all to see its inability to adapt to new forms of media and the changing face of media production and distribution. Trying to shoehorn a fifteen-year-old system into a modern media environment is what has resulted in the cumbersome, inconsistent mess we have today, it’s time to scrap it in favour of a system better suited to the 21st century before we embarrass ourselves further with this idiotic idea.

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