It's been a while since the National Classification Scheme in Australia was created in 1996. Needless to say, it's outdated now.
Today, a bill passed through the Australian Senate to allow games to be classified using Classification Tools.
It's a long overdue streamlining method which aims at circumventing unnecessary and costly submissions to the Australian Classification Board, a board made up of people who determine the age rating for each and every game to be released on these shores.
Needless to say, not every single game which is released here goes through this process.
Grey imports notwithstanding, the millions of digitally downloadable titles on smartphones and tablets, PC, Mac and more simply aren't going through the 'correct channels'. Rather than try to make that happen, the government here has wisely chosen to reform the way the National Classification Scheme (begun in 1996) works to better accommodate the flood of downloadable titles.
In 2010, the Australian Law Reform Commission undertook an examination of the Classification Scheme and ended up recommending a series of sweeping changes, of which today's bill is a direct result.
From the Explanatory Memo:
It has been almost 20 years since major classification reform was undertaken. During this
time the technology for delivering content, and the sheer amount of content available, has
changed dramatically. In 2010, Ministers responsible for classification matters
(Classification Ministers) agreed to refer the NCS to the ALRC for review in light of these
technological advances. The ALRC recommended fundamental changes to the architecture
and regulatory framework of the NCS.
Develop spoke to Ron Curry, the CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, to explain the changes further:
The Bill passed today will allow for a ‘tool’ to be used for the classification of digital content. More specifically, the Bill will allow for the pilot of the International App Rating Coalition (IARC) tool. This will make it possible for a developer to have one point of entry of information that will then produce territory specific classifications. Currently these territories cover Nth America, Brazil, Eurpoean ‘PEGI’ countries, Germany and now Australia. The tool is free to use and interfaces with the Australian Classification Board. This makes the process of classifying digital content essentially cost free and friction free.
Another part of the change recognises that additional content may not have to be classified if it doesn’t change the classification of the original game. For example, today you would need to reclassify a game if you add new maps, additional characters, new weapons or even new player strips in sports game. The government are currently working through the definition of what will be exempt.
Many of these changes are a welcome relief to an industry which has been heavily lobbying for classification reform for over a decade. The push for the use of classification tools like the IARC alone has been going on for three years.
Curry says the IGEA 'generally supports' the 2012 ALRC recommendations on classification and is very happy with today's changes, and that he will continue to aim for 'further deregulation and the establishment of a new, national, industry-led classification scheme'.
These reforms are the first of many to come, as noted explicitly in the bill, for which Curry is also understandably very pleased.