Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023
Hundreds of mobile games deemed ineligible to receive one of these ratings will be effectively banned in Australia from tomorrow.

Hundreds of mobile games deemed ineligible to receive one of these ratings will be effectively banned in Australia from tomorrow.

By now, we’re used to platform owners like Apple refusing to put games and apps with questionable content on their digital storefronts. We are less used to national governments deciding which apps can and cannot be downloaded within their borders.

However, that’s exactly what Australia will do tomorrow, as a new pilot program will ban hundreds of mobile titles that are “denied classification” in the country on platforms like Google Play. Those titles will be effectively banned in Australia from July 1, according to an ABC report.

The Australian government announced in March that it was working with the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) in an effort to assess the hundreds of thousands of games being added to digital stores. Under the IARC system, developers fill out a questionnaire detailing in-game content such as violence, crime, sexuality, gambling, language, discrimination, controlled substances, “crude humor,” and “scary elements.” Those answers are then automatically converted into local age ratings using standards set by the individual rating boards in participating regions, including Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, Brazil and much of Europe. IARC content ratings are subject to retrospective adjustment or change based on player complaints.

Since announcing that test months ago, the Australian Classification Board said it has searched a back catalog of more than 150,000 games and has “denied classification” for more than 260 listed on the Australian Classification Board’s website. The board said it would “check a large number of classifications from the IARC tool to ensure they reflect the expectations and standards of the Australian community. The council also has the authority to review classifications generated by the IARC tool made to withdraw it if it decides that it will reclassify the game.” After an initial 12-month test, the Australian government will decide whether IARC’s digital ratings should become a permanent part of the Australian game rating system.

So far, Google Play and the Firefox Marketplace are the only major digital stores to support this IARC rating system, and the vast majority of games that have declined a rating to date have come from Google Play. The international organization says it expects Microsoft’s Xbox Live, Nintendo’s eShop and Sony’s PlayStation Store to join “at a later date”. Apple, whose iOS apps are rated by an internal content review program, is not part of the IARC system and so far seems unaffected by Australia’s experiments in banning mobile games.

Some strange choices

Although the Australian Classification Board said the IARC system is intended to “ensure[e] users, especially parents, are better informed about what kind of games are being played on mobile devices,” the Classification Society’s website does not provide specific details as to why any of the hundreds of mobile titles were denied classification. That’s not a glaring omission for many of the selections; it’s not too hard to guess why like titles Mushroom Tycoon 2, 9mm Simulator, Pharaoh Queen Cleopatra Slotsor Charming cheerleader girl clashed with the classification society’s views on drugs, violence, gambling and sexual content respectively.

But there are some confusing inclusions on Australia’s list of newly banned games. A series of Sherlock: criminal case investigative games are not rated in Australia, despite having received E10+ ratings from the US Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Color-matching puzzle game Checkcute match 3 title Doll petand puzzle game Japanese puzzle are also on Australia’s banned list, despite being given E ratings in the US.

Some other games now banned in Australia seem to have international IARC ratings that don’t fit most of their content, at least on the surface. Simplistic tic-tac-toe game TicTacpinky gets an Adult Only rating in the US, thanks entirely to “Crude Humor,” according to the Google Play listing. Dress up app for kids Fairy Creator gets an M rating for “suggestive themes” in the US, possibly because screenshots show the little fairies in swimsuit-style underwear before you dress them up. Animal hunter 3D gets an AO rating in the US despite content completely resembling the T rating Big Buck Hunter games (although we suppose it’s possible there’s a naked lady hidden somewhere). While these reviews don’t have the force of law outside of Australia, they’re still a bit baffling.

Before expanding into mobile games, the Australian Classification Board had since 1995 denied classification to about 80 retail video games, leaving popular titles like Fallout 3 and Aliens vs Predator from sale in the country. That process eased a bit in 2013, when the country finally introduced an 18+ rating to allow the sale of adult-only games. That new assessment didn’t help Hotline Miami 2although earlier this year it was denied classification in Australia due to an implied rape scene (leading the developer to urge Australians to “just pirate it”).

While titles denied classification “cannot be sold, rented, advertised or legally imported into Australia”, as the Classification Board states, there are limits to how well this scheme can be enforced in the world of digital distribution. Android users can sideload APKs of banned games found outside of the Google Play Store, and determined users can hack their phones to spoof their location to access the store available to other regions.

By akfire1

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