US Supreme Court to rule on violent video games

The US Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the constitutionality of a Californian law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, according to the SCOTUS blog.  The case is expected to decide whether states constitutionally can ban the supply of violent video games to under 18s.  The
In a nutshell, it seems that the legal argument at issue here is whether anti-obscenity legislation/principles can be applied to the supply of violent games.  More detail on that at SCOTUS.
I don’t profess to have US judicial expertise, particularl not when it comes to the Supreme Court.  That said, in general terms:
  • Trying to use obsenity legislation to control the dissemination of violent video games, rather than using specific video games legislation, seems like quite a legal fudge.  The reason as I understnad is that previous attempts in the US to introduce bans on violent video games have been subject to constitutional challenge.
  • Using specific legal doctrines like obscenity in other contexts has had a pretty mixed record elswhere.  For example, in the UK there was an attempt some years ago to use old English anti-blasphemy laws to ban the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial book The Satanic Verses.  The court gave that argument little truck: the purpose of those antiquated laws was not to control the modern consumption of literature unless Parliament was expressly to decide it should.
  • Of course, the idea of any form of ban on the supply of violent video games leads quickly to the well worn debate of exactly whether and why violent video games are bad.  Everyone has their own view on this, so I shan’t impose mine on you.  I will say though that in Europe this is primarily a cultural debate rather than a legal debate, since most European jurisdictions already have laws regulating the supply of violent  or otherwise adult games to minors.  In the UK, for example, the Digital Economy Act has just amended the law on video game classification to require mandatory age ratings for games supplied to under 12s.  None of which excited any constitutional controversy at all (though we have a rather different approach to civil rights in the UK).
If any US readers have greater knowledge about this case than me (which won’t be hard!), please do get in touch…
Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Starcraft II to be rated 18 in South Korea

Starcraft II has been given an 18 age classification by South Korea’s Games Rating Board, reports
Although Starcraft II beta was given a 15 classification, the South Korean Games Rating Board reportedly justified the increased classification to a more thorough review than the beta had received.  Beyond that, no information has been released explaining the increased classification.  In other words, nothing to explain why Starcraft II – a RTS title, remember – is so violent it requires an adults-only rating.  Make of that what you will.
For Blizzard’s part, it told the Korea Times that “we have nothing to say at this point. We are discussing our official position on the matter as well as what would be the right reaction”.  GI reports that the company has a 30 day period in which to file any objection to the rating.
Clearly, if the rating stands then it would have some impact on the South Korean audience at which the game is targeted – but it’s unclear how significant that impact would really be.  That said, given the popularity that Starcraft I enjoys in South Korea, it will  be interesting to see what is the public reaction to this move by the government…
Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

South Korea to impose MMO curfew

The South Korean government intends to impose a form of curfew over MMO games in an effort to combat perceived growing MMO addiction, reports MCV.
Reportedly, the government plans to implement this curfew by blocking or incrementally slowing down the internet connections of those who spend prolonged periods playing popular MMO titles such as Maple Story, Dungeon & Fighter and Dragon Nest.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on Far Eastern MMOs or games ‘addiction’ (if that’s the right word to use), but there does seem to be a trend in that part of the world towards government imposing restrictions on the playing of online games – for example, recently Vietnamese authorities have proposed restrictions on online games as well. 

As for the actual means being proposed, this sounds similar to the ‘graduated response’ system proposed in the EU (and now enacted in the Digital Economy Act in the UK), albeit focused on combating online games addiction rather than copyright infringement.  Will we see gamers in South Korea and elsewhere voicing the same kind of opposition to these methods as gamers in Europe have? 

[Image credit:]

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Vietnam takes steps to control online games reports that the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) is working on a draft decision on managing online games in Vietnam.  This has interesting implications for the regulation and sale of games in Vietnam, one of the big games markets in the Far East.

Managing online games:


According to the draft decision, the Government will assign provincial governments to set opening and closing times for Internet cafes. In locations with no regulations, Internet cafes will not be allowed to supply online game service after 10pm.

For games that have interaction between gamers with servers, gamers are not permitted to play the same online game more than 3 hours per day. Those that have limited number of gamers and the interaction between them is simple and low-tension, such as chess, game providers are allowed to provide 24/7 service. Cultural and educational games are encouraged by permitting a gamer to play 4-5 hours/game/day.”

I’ll leave it to wiser heads than mine to comment on why the Vietnamese government feels it necessary to restrict the amount of time in which games can be played at net cafes, what effect that could have on games or, for that matter, on the Vietnamese games industry.  It does seem though to chime in with reports from other Far Eastern countries, such as China and South Korea, that governments are concerned about the effects of long gameplaying sessions on gamers.

The article goes on to state:

To restrict small firms with weak capital and technology from distributing online games, which makes the online game market scattered, MoIC and the Finance Ministry will issue licensing regulations. The draft also encourages Vietnamese firms to develop online games and restrict foreign game imports. Accordingly, game providers have to register games one year before they import the games.”

These measures, if adopted, look like a classic protectionist measures intended to benefit domestic games over foreign games – cue the classic free trade v protectionism debate, albeit in a games context.  It will be interesting to see whether (i) Vietnamese gamers/games industry support them; and (ii) whether legally Vietnam would be able to pass them, given the inevitable international competition issues it would raise (as a side-note, that kind of measure would never get anywhere in the EU due to EU competition rules).

Virtual goods:

This is the really interesting issue.  So interesting in fact that I’ve written a separate post about Vietnam and the battle for virtual goods here!

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Australia edges closer to an 18 games rating?

New South Australian Attorney General John Rau says he’s currently neutral on the issue of an 18 age rating for games in the country, reports

He told Gamespot AU that he had “no preconceptions about this issue and intend[s] to listen to the arguments” but that, until he has been able to read up on the issue, he “can neither support nor wisely argue against a position if I am not aware of the relevant factors“.  He also said that, “it is worth noting that ultimately, the decision does not rest with me alone…Any change would require the support of each jurisdiction’s attorney-general.”

We’ve written previously about Australia’s approach to games classification, which does not at present include an 18 rating.  This has led to games such as Aliens v Predator and Left 4 Dead 2 previously being banned for being too ‘violent’ for a 15 rating.  It was widely held at the time that the sole barrier to introducing an 18 rating was former South Australia Attorney General Michael Atkinson, who was said to be the only Attorney General actively opposed to an 18 rating (Australian readers, correct me if I’m wrong on that).

Since then, the Australian government has held a large public inquiry into an 18 rating and Mr Atkinson has stepped down.  Positive signs for an 18 rating for Australian games?  Watch this space…

[Image credit:]

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

FarmViller player runs up £900 debt, could be sued by mother?

The Guardian reports “a mother has warned of the risk of children spending hundreds of pounds on ‘free’ online games available through Facebook after her 12-year-old son ran up bills of more than £900 without her knowledge“.  This raises interesting issues about the extent to which she could recover her losses: in a nutshell, only if she sues her son.  (Which she won’t, obviously, but it let me write a slightly more interesting headline than usual.)

But seriously – the issue of recovering loss suffered through inadvertant spending on a social game is an interesting one and I think this case is just a taste of things to come.  The facts according to the Guardian are that “last month [the mother’s] son…spent more than £900 on FarmVille. He had emptied his own savings account of £288 and had used her credit card to the tune of £625 to pay the bills“.  She apparently tried to obtain redress from Zynga, who refused.  Facebook has disabled her son’s account.  She tried to call HSBC to ask for a refund, but she was “told she would only qualify for a refund if she reported her son to the police and obtained a crime number“.

Sounds rather sensationalist, I know, but HSBC were right: under consumer credit legislation, a credit card company is only obliged to offer a refund to a consumer if the card has been used fraudulently/for criminal purposes, so the mother would have to report her son to the police in order to be able to claim that refund.  Which, obviously, she didn’t want to do as it would involve her son being given a criminal caution!

There might be a bit more of an argument over Zynga’s receipt of the money, but I imagine they may argue that they’re right to have refused a refund on the basis that, while in fact they may have received the money without the authorisation of the owner of the money, they accepted that money in good faith without knowledge that the son did not have his mother’s authorisation to use her credit card.  Is that sufficient?  Hmm. One to think about…

Anyway.  The Guardian article goes on to say:

She does not blame Facebook, Zynga or HSBC, saying that her son was the one using the card and is entirely at fault. But she added: “I do think they need to shoulder some responsibility in this business and put systems in place to stop this happening again. The fact that he was using a card in a different name should bring up some sort of security and the online secure payment filter seems to be bypassed for Facebook payments.”

A spokeswoman for HSBC said that had the credit card been used on a gambling site it would have started alarm bells ringing for “unusual usage”. But because the card had been used to buy Facebook credits HSBC did not consider the transactions to be suspicious, even though £625 was spent in just two weeks

The idea that Facebook’s social games platform did not put adequate safeguards in place to ensure that a child cannot use a card in another person’s name is an entirely valid parental consideration, but is that really Facebook’s responsibility?  Perhaps the mother is right that there should have been some additional security involved which the son could not breach but ultimately, no matter how many levels of security you impose, if a child obtains all the relevant details from his/her parent then it it’s difficult to see why the games company/web site should be at fault.

This incident also may have implications for banks and other consumer finance providers – is it right that spending substantial and unusual amounts of money on social games in a short period of time should not qualify as “unusual usage“?  Looking at it another way, if your card is used to spend a lot of money on social games currncy in a short period with no prior record of such purchases, should your bank give you a friendly call to make sure you authorised the payments?  Answers on a postcard please…

Bottom line: money is pouring into social games companies, but it’s just a matter of time before they have to deal with real issues of consumer credit liability and fraud.  Best for everyone to get the proper safeguards in place now.

[Image credit: Zynga]

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Opinion: games and the Byron Progress Review

In 2007, Tania Byron was asked by the UK government to conduct an “independent review looking at the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games“.  This became the Byron Review in 2008, which made a number of proposals to better protect children online.  In particular, Professor Byron made recommendations regarding the UK games classification system, which went on to become a proposal for a single games classification system based on the PEGI standard.  Professor Byron has now published a Progress Review, which gives a status update on her thoughts on children and games.

Below is a summary of Professor Byron’s findings regarding games and our opinionated opinions on them…

Games classification

The new PEGI classification system is of course still waiting to be become law as part of the Digital Economy BillProfessor Byron recommends that “once the use of PEGI becomes law in the UK, companies associated with the video games industry, the online games industry, retailers, and the Government invest in raising public awareness of the new ratings system including through the UKCCIS public awareness campaign and UKCCIS one stop shop“.

The need to raise public awareness of the PEGI system makes sense of course, but Professor Byron doesn’t give detail on how that should work, beyond saying that everyone who is involved in or with the games industry should spend money on raising public awareness.  How exactly is that going to affect games devs/publishers and how would it affect their bottom line (if at all)?  Isn’t this primarily the responsibility of government? Clearly, this is going to need some further detail.

As for UKCCIS, this is the “multi-stakeholder body on child internet safety” that Byron recommended be established as part of her 2008 report.  I understand her recommendation that UKCCIS coordinate the PEGI public awareness campaign, but it isn’t clear is how this fits in with the Video Standards Council, which under the Digital Economy Bill will be in charge of the PEGI system itself.  I suppose this could be easily answered if the VSC was part of/partners with UKCCIS, but I don’t know is factually that’s correct or not (can anyone enlighten me?).  Or perhaps it is envisaged that the VSC will only be responsible for legal implementation/oversight of PEGI, not public awareness about it (the problem there though is that I’m not aware of any guidelines setting out exactly what the VSC will or won’t do regarding games classification in the future).

She goes on to say: “since my 2008 review, the video games industry has grown and new high-profile familyfocused games have raised the profile of the sector further. To reflect this, video games representatives should be prioritised when filling vacancies on the UKCCIS executive board.”

Fair enough, and I’m sure greater representation will be welcomed by the games industry.

Last point: Professor Byron notes that, since her 2008 Report, there has beenrobust legislation which makes it possible for retailers to be prosecuted for the sale of age-restricted products to underage children.  If the intention is to suggest that this has come into force since her 2008 Report, I think that’s incorrect: the Video Recordings Act 1984 already criminalises the sale of age-restricted products to underage children (with the caveat admittedly that there was a bit of legal hoopla a while ago about that the enforceabilty of that Act, but that’s not the point).  Until the Digital Economy Bill comes into force, the VRA 1984 remains the law.

Online and social gaming

Professor Byron says:

It is important that families have up-to-date advice about new ways to engage in gaming.. This advice should be built on to encompass publishers and hosts of casual online games (games which are free to users as they are hosted on sites funded through advertising) and to look at the issues of bullying and harassment via interactive gaming and casual online gaming…I recommend that the UKCCIS executive board commission the video games working group to examine and report back by September 2010 on whether a code of conduct supported by independent review for online and casual gaming is needed.”

Now, this I do not understand.  Is there evidence of a connection between “bullying and harassment” and “interactive gaming and casual online gaming” and, if so, where?  In asking that question, I’m not at all implying that Professor Byron is scaremongering, since elsewhere she has taken a considered approach to contentious issues of games, children and ‘violence’.  But where is the evidence for this link?  Perhaps there is more credible empirical evidence regarding online games, but social games?  This is particularly important because Professor Byron has recommended that UKCCIS commences research into whether a code of conduct supported by independent review is required.

IF there is evidence of such a link, and IF UKCCIS/government/the games industry support a code of conduct for online and social games, it will be interesting to see how the following issues are resolved:

  • Will it be a legally-enforced or voluntary code of conduct? 
  • Will it apply just to UK games companies or (more likely) any games company which operates in the UK? 
  • If the latter, how will you enforce adoption of the code of conduct?  How will you ensure that an online game based in the USA or China or India complies with the code?
  • If a games company doesn’t comply with the code, would there be any sanctions?
  • What is the code going to say about “bullying and harassment“?
  • Which games will it apply to?
  • Crucially, what burden will all of this place on games companies?  None of them actively encourage bullying or harassment and I would imagine most already have guidelines in place regarding them, but ultimately I would bet games companies would be loath to have actively to police their players to stop bullying or harassment. 
  • What is this “independent review” of the code of conduct to be? By whom?

Parental controls and games consoles

Recently the Home Office commissioned a report by Dr Linda Papadopoulos, entitled the “The Sexualisation of Young People Review”, which recommended that videogame consoles should be sold with parental controls switched on to reduce exposure to the sexualisation of young people and violent content.

Make of that recommendation what you will, but Professor Byron is not a fan.   She said:
I stand by my 2008 conclusion that switching parental controls on by default could contribute towards parents not engaging in, or considering, their children’s safety whilst using their games console and being lulled into a false sense of security that the default setting meant that their child was ‘safe’. Children and young people can just switch the parental controls off without their parent’s knowledge or understanding and play on an unsecured device. Instead, I believe parents need support in understanding how to set up controls carefully (for example, not sharing the password with the child) and how to talk to their children about digital safety“.

She recommends instead that:

By September 2010, in relation to all internet-enabled devices, the UKCCIS executive board commission the video games and industry working groups to:

a) decide whether we need minimum standards for parental controls, for example clear, understandable set up procedures, password protection;

b) examine whether there should be an independent review process for parental control standards; and

c) work with the public awareness working group to ensure that awareness of video gaming parental controls is included in the UKCCIS public awareness campaign.”

So now the government has two proposals on parental controls from two experts which it commissioned to look into the protection of children and games.  Which will it prefer?

Other aspects of the Progress Review

I should also add that the Progress Review does deal with other aspects of child internet safety, e.g. mobile access.  More on that in the Review itself.


As with her 2008 Review, it’s great that Professor Byron continues to look at the issue of child protection in games without any of the headline-grabbing but wrongheaded proposals we’ve seen in the past (though I’m somewhat bemused at the ubiquity of kids’ pictures and quotes from mums in the Progress Review!)  But I can’t help but feel that (perhaps understandably) this Progress Review sets up questions without giving detail, particularly regarding her recommendations regarding online/social games.  More work is needed, hence the September 2010 report date she suggests.

Moreover, in practical terms control now appears to be moving towards UKCCIS and it’s not yet clear how that will work or how the games industry will achieve full representation on it (as Prof Byron recommends).  It’s also unclear at this stage what additional burdens all of this will place on the games industry, which hitherto has focused on making the PEGI standard into law, only now apparently to be faced with a further series of enquiries.

Still, roll on September 2010…

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Games censorship and classification in 2010, part 1

At the end of last year, I wrote a retrospective on games classification and censorship across in the world in 2009, which – perhaps unsuprisingly – showed a totally inconsistent worldwide approach with different countries adopting hostile or progressive approaches to the regulation of games, virtually all of which was justified by reference to the ‘protection of children’.  Now, with the first quarter of 2010 almost gone, here’s an update on the state of play so far for games censorship and classification.


The Digital Economy Bill proposes a new games classification system based on PEGI.  That Bill is currently bogged down with other controversies and so (despite previous suggestions the games classification bit could be split off into a separate piece of legislation) at the moment we are stuck with the existing fragmentary system. 

Even if and when the new system comes in, will it really change anything?  Unlikely.  We’ll still have Keith Vaz speaking his piece on games violence from time to time.  On the other (rather more important) hand, at least the government doesn’t try to step in actively to intefere with the classification of games in the UK.


Although broadly games classification is based on a self-regulation model in the USA, there are also some legislative safeguards.  GamesPolitics reports that the FTC is consulting on whether amendment is needed to the Childrens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 

Says GamesPolitics: “COPPA focuses on how website operators or online services deal with the personal information of kids younger than 13. Currently, it requires that third-parties must notify and receive permission from parents before “collecting, using, or disclosing” such info. Additionally, it requires that the information be kept secure and limits operators from collecting “any more personal information than is reasonably necessary.”

One of the areas on which the FTC is consulting is the applicability of COPPA to games and interactive entertainment.  It will be interesting to see whether this consultation becomes a vehicle for any wider discussion of the protection of children regarding games (a pot which, as we know, politicians in the USA are just as fond at stirring as anyone else – take Hot Coffee as an example).


Venezuala has recently passed a ban on “violent videogames and toys“.  We wrote more on that here.  In a word, it seems a bit silly.


Australia has been in the games news a lot recently over its lack of an 18+ games rating, which has been used to reject several high-profile games for classification in Australia (examples of such attempts here and here).  Now, with a public consultation into introducing an 18+ rating, and Michael Atkinson – one of the most vocal critics of such a rating – having just announced he intends to step down from public office, there seems an increasingly good chance that Australia might get a 18+ rating after all.  Then our Antipodean friends can enjoy L4D2 action legally, joy!


Switzerland, not generally known to me as a hot-bed of games activity, has apparently passed a law banning violent video games.  The government has yet to publish guidance as to how the law will work in practice (which rather begs the question of how it was approved in the first place), but MCV reports that “the likeliest outcome seems to be an outright ban on the production, distribution and sale of any games deemed to be unsuitable – most likely anything with either a PEGI 16+ or PEGI 18+ certificate“.

IF that were true (and we don’t know that yet), then effectively banning games for 16+ year olds would be an extremely draconian system completely out of sync with the rest of Western Europe.  In fact, I wonder (without any legal work having been done on this) whether there might be grounds for an EU-level challenge over this?  We’ll have to wait and see what the law actually says first.


Quite clearly, there is no consistency between the games classification laws in these jurisdictions, meaning that games companies continue to face difficulty in marketing their games – which one developer I spoke with this week cited as an increasingly important problem for his company.  The answer lies partly in doing your research so you know the likely classification in the key markets you want to sell in, but ultimately that just gives you forewarning of potential future issues.  It’s not a cure.  An ideal solution might be a more standardised worldwide system that countries could join (either on a legal basis or a self-regulation basis), but really that falls apart on the simplest of analyses, because it’s been tried before (e.g. PEGI) and been shown that the difficulties don’t lie in the classification systems themselves, but rather the fact that at the moment any such system is subject to political whims and the prejudices of a generally ill-informed population (hence the continuing, and in my view baseless, controversy linking games to violence).

Anyway, I’ll stop before I start ranting.  We’ll write another update next quarter about the baffling world of games classification and censorship in 2010.

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Venezuala bans violent videogames and toys

Venezuala has apparently passed a law banning “video and war games and toys prompting violence to help improve child education and prevent misconduct“.
According to the Prensa Latina site (via Slashdot and TorstenFo), the new law “imposes a fine and 2-5 years in prison on the import, production, distribution, sale, hiring and use of video games and toys inciting violent behaviour“. 

Further, “this legislation defines as aggressive every audiovisual material promoting and inciting violence, the use of weapons and toys imitating weapons or stimulating violence and hate.”

Obviously there isn’t nearly enough detail in this press release to have an informed view as to what this new law does or doesn’t do.  BUT, it is interesting that the release is phrased in a way that suggests Venezuala has banned “violent video and war games” per se.  The approach in the US and Europe is rather different: games are age-classified but (other than the most extreme games) no games are banned just for being violent.  So, for example, Modern Warfare 2 was PEGI rated as 18+, making it appropriate for 18 year olds and over, but it wasn’t simply banned just for being “violent”. 

In the US, games classification is adminstered under the ESRB system and the majority of Europe now uses the PEGI system (the UK is due to adopt the PEGI system in the near future). 

How would the Venezualan system work and under whose control?  So far, the only information we have seen about that is the Slashdot source, which said: “Alberto Federico Ravell, former director of opposing news network Globovision, has already come on twitter denouncing the authorities for seizing imported Gameboy, Wii and PlayStation 3 consoles, due to considering them violent“.  Which, if true, speaks for itself really.

If anyone has any further info on the new Venezualan law, please get in touch.  In the meantime, here again is our summary post on censorship and classification in 2009.

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

Games censorship and classification in 2009

2009 has seen a fair deal of controversy regarding games censorship and classification.  Here’s some of the highlights:

Left 4 Dead 2:

The general release version of Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification by the Australian Classification Board, despite Valve’s attempts to appeal that ruling.  In a nutshell: L4D2 is a pretty…intense game in the zombie-killing stakes, Australia’s highest games rating is 15+ and they felt the game was beyond a 15+ classification, therefore the game was refused classification.  This meant the general retail version of L4D2 could not be sold legally in AustraliaValve was then forced to accept a compromise in which it issued a toned down version of the game in Australia (which appears to have been panned).

Why all the hoo-ha?  Rightly or wrongly, largely the internets blamed one person:  the Attorney General of South Australia, Michael Atkinson, who has publicly stated his opposition to violent videogames and has refused to countenance proposals to give Australia an 18+ rating.  For example, he has saidI see my children become physically and emotionally obsessed with games, and it is difficult to drag them away from the gaming console. The repeated act of killing a computer-generated person or creature desensitises children to violence.

It seems that, following further outcry, the Australian government announced that it would consider whether to introduce an 18+ rating into the Australian system – but some commentators are doubtful as to whether that will really happen.

Another minor L4D2 controversy: it seems that the US ESRB required Valve to tone down its promotional poster, meaning that the ring and little finger of the iconographic L4D hand were pulled back rather than torn off – the cheek!

Aliens vs Predator

Another one from Australia.  The game was initially refused classification by Australia’s Classification Board because it was felt to be too violent for a 15+ rating.  The Board was apparently uncomfortable that “the violence in the game causes a high playing impact due to its first-person, close-up perspective, conceptual nature and the level of explicit detail involved in the depictions“.

Rebellion and its publishers Sega then raised the ante by announcing that they would not release a toned down version and would appeal the refusal.  The Classification Board subsequently changed their mind and stated that the game could after all come within the 15+ rating.  As a result, AVP may now be sold officially in Oz – hurrah!

Still, query why AvP was suitable to come within a 15+ classification when L4D2 was not.  Could this show a crack in the sensibilities of the Australian censors?  We’ll know more the next time a major title is put before them for classification…

Modern Warfare 2

As we all know, there was a lot of controversy caused by that level in Modern Warfare 2.  And, of course, politicians and newspapers got involved all over the world.

For example, UK Labour MP Keith Vaz said about the game “I am absolutely shocked by the level of violence in this game and am particularly concerned about how realistic the game itself looks“.  He even raised the issue in Parliament, questioning what the government would do to ensure that the game could not be played by children (see below re the new UK rating system).  Also, predictably the Daily Mail gave the game a kicking.

On the other hand, Labour MPs Tom Watson and Sion Simon stepped forward to do battle with Mr Vaz, with Sion Simon pointing out in Parliament that MW2 already carries the appropriate rating/warnings in line with current games classification legislation.  Tom Watson went on to found a pro-gamers pressure group called Gamers’ Voice, which (so far) has proven very popular.

Oh, and Michael Atkinson had another pop at games thanks to MW2.  At one point, he said he intended to appeal against MW2’s 15+ rating in Oz.  As far as I know, you can still buy it in Oz, so go figure (as our American friends would say).

None of which has changed the fact that the game has been a roaring success all over the world (as well, apparently, as being the most pirated game of 2009).

The FTC loves games (ish)

Speaking of politicans, it has not been all bad in 2009.  On a more positive note, in 2009 the FTC published its seventh report on “Marketing Violent Games to Children”.  From GamesPolitics: “The FTC review labeled the games industry the ‘strongest’ of the three entertainment sectors (games, music and movies), when it came to self-regulation.  Additionally, compliance with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) code within the videogame industry washigh in all media‘ “.

In other words, the report endorsed the self-regulation model for classifying games and protecting minors which has been adopted by the US games industry.

New games classification regime in the UK

For the UK government however, self-regulation of games classification by the UK games industry is no longer the way forward.

The UK Government’s Digital Economy Bill proposes for the first time a single UK games rating system, based on the PEGI system, under the control of the Video Standards Council (the previous practice was that some publishers used either the BBFC and/or PEGI systems).  The Bill is being debated in Parliament, but it is expected the new rating system will become law some point next year.  We’ve written about this in detail here

What does this mean for UK games classification/censorship?  Well, the Government says that the new system is intended to give better protection to minors, but we’ll have to wait until the new system is in place before we can see exactly what new actions the Govt intends to take to achieve that in practice…

And there will be more censorship controversy in 2010…

There are already signs that governments and regulators will be keeping a close eye on games censorship and classification into 2010, whether on grounds of protecting minors or simply on pure political grounds.  Here are a few examples which we’ve already heard about:

  • Censorship authorities in Dubai have suggested that they may investigate 2K’s forthcoming game Spec Op: The Line, which (says the LA Times) “follows a U.S. Army captain and his team of elite special-ops forces as they launch a suicidal rescue mission after Dubai is destroyed by a series of cataclysmic sandstorms”.  In particular, the game features a destroyed Burj Al-Arab.  Off the top of our heads, we can’t think of many recent games that allow you to explore post-apocalyptic real-world cities or countries (can you?), so this game could set an interesting precedent.
  • China has recently “placed more than 4.65 million computers at some 80,000 Internet cafes under watch in a bid to crack down on violent or pornographic online games” (according to ABS-CBN).  This information was derived from a recent state media announcement, so we don’t know yet if there is any published supporting info/evidence behind this action.

    The fact that the Chinese Ministry of Culture made this announcement may be the most interesting thing about this development.  Why?  Because there appears to be an ongoing battle between that Ministry and an entity called the General Administration of Press and Publication, which in 2009 announced that it was now in charge of Chinese games regulation.  The Ministry of Culture then responded tartly that it remains in charge.  Since then, these two Chinest govt entities seem to keep treading on each others’ toes.  So, have these internet cafes really been placed under watch and, if so, by whom?

  • A Senator in Brazil has drafted a games censorship bill with the intention apparently to “curb the manufacture, distribution, importation, trading, custody, and storage of video games that affect the customs and traditions of the people, their worship, creeds, religions, and symbols” (source: Boing Boing).  Now, so far as I am aware Brazil has not hitherto a high-profile games consuming country, but apparently that is no good reason not to have censorship laws, although query whether it really needs to be as widely drafted as the above sugggests – why would you want to censor a game that “ affect[s] the customs and traditions of the people”?

As always, we will be keeping an eye on games censorship and classification in 2010, particularly their legal implications, so watch this space…


Modern Warfare 2: