EA courts controversy with Medal of Honor ‘Taliban’ playability

News has emerged that the next Medal of Honor game, EA’s wannabe answer to Acti’s Modern Warfare, will permit gamers to play as the Taliban in multiplayer mode.

At which point, various people (including me) raise an eyebrow and conclude that this is quite deliberately intended as a media stunt (as was Modern Warfare 2’s infamous airport level).  So no doubt there will be a media firestorm, which apparently has already been kicked off by Fox News.

But – and this is the reason for me writing this post – it does make me wonder whether games companies are fully conscious of the fact that, by using these kinds of stunts, they are courting increased regulatory scrutiny of games in the future.  Yes, there may well be a valid explanation within the context of the game, and in any event you can always point to that old hoary old chestnut, the “it’s just a game” argument, but most non-games playing people won’t understand.

And generally it’s non games-playing people who write the laws and regulations by which games have to abide.  One of the most important of those are games classification laws, which govern how and when a game may be given an age rating and sold in a country.  More importantly, they are also the people who will apply those rules to actual games.  Now, in the West these days games classification rules are unlikely to ban games altogether, but they add a further level of necessary bureaucracy for devs/publishers.  And things can be quite different elsewhere in the world, where games classification rules are increasingly being used for political purposes.

In brief, as I’ve written about several times before (see here and here), there is a rising tide of hostility to games when it comes to classification regimes, and I don’t think this kind of behaviour helps.  Here’s hoping therefore that the furore over this latest stunt is muted.

Image credit: EA/Softpedia

Follow us at http://www.twitter.com/gamerlaw 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 http://www.twitter.com/gamerlaw 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 www.twitter.com/gamerlaw 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…


L4D2: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/ba/Left4Dead2.jpg
AVP: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/30/Aliens_vs_Predator_cover.jpg
Modern Warfare 2: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/db/Modern_Warfare_2_cover.PNG