Since we broke the story on the unlawful sales of unrated MMOGs in Australia last week, there has been a fair bit of coverage, from Australian newspapers to assorted gaming blogs. Much of what you've probably read since the original story covered here and later in the Sydney Morning Herald haven't really had much in the way of new information, and like a game of Telephone, the tale has grown somewhat in the telling.
So, here we're going to set it out for you, so you can get the information straight.
Firstly, Australia has not suddenly banned MMOGs, nor has any law related to their classification or sale been abruptly changed. The regulations have been in place since at least 1995, and there's nothing new in that regard.
To the best of our information so far (we're still waiting on responses from some key retailers and government authorities that we hope to get early next week), no action has been taken in the little-more-than-a-week since the matter became public. That is not to say that there won't be any action taken, but no enforcement action has happened so far, that we are aware of. Unrated computer games are still on shelves, and no product has been reported to have been seized.
Over the last few days however, many World of Warcraft and Wrath of the Lich King freestanding displays have been removed from their places near the entrances of gaming stores and are now nowhere to be seen, though the games themselves are still being sold on shelves.
We have spoken to the retail staff at a number of stores, and they remain unaware of the recent headlines relating to this topic, or that the computer and console games that they are selling require ratings.
You may see references to the OFLC (the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification), an body that provided administrative services to the Classification Board. The OFLC however, no longer exists, having been disbanded in 2007, and its functions absorbed into the Federal Attorney-General's office.
A number of Australian consumers have reported purchasing MMOGs in the last few years that have had Australian ratings labels, despite not ever having been submitted for classification. It isn't clear as to how or when those labels were added to packaging. We're attempting to find out more about that.
Ron Curry, chief executive of games industry body the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia said he believed that online games without a single player component did not require classification by the Classification Board, however the Australian Federal Attorney-General has already made it clear that this is incorrect.
Indeed, contrary to some reports, there was no 'loophole' that allowed these games to legally go unrated. Australian authorities report that they were unaware that unrated games were being stocked and sold on retail shelves. There are no questions of MMOGs sold within Australia being out of the jurisdiction of the Classification Act, or in any way being unclassifiable or that they did not fall under the definition of Computer Games, as defined by Australian law.
However, it does appear that games sold by overseas digital download services (where the sale takes place outside Australian State and Territory jurisdictions) may actually be exempt from the requirements of classification entirely.
The sale, demonstration and storage of unrated computer games are restricted in the same fashion as games which have been Refused Classification (banned). While no action has been undertaken by the authorities yet, we expect that something probably will happen. Selective enforcement of the regulations is not in the interest of commerce or of the public.
We are looking forward to additional comment from the State Government authorities (who are responsible for any enforcement actions that might take place), as well as further information from retail organizations, and we hope to have that in the coming week.
We'll add in one more data point.
When we spoke to the Classification Board initially, during our research, the advice they gave us agreed with the position of Ron Curry of the IEAA.
We asked for an official statement in writing, and the subsequent official response came from the Federal Attorney-General's office on behalf of the Classification Board -- and directly contradicted what we had been told by the Classification Board initially. Additionally we received an apology from the representative at the Classification Board indicating that their initial advice to us (that MMOGs were exempt from the requirements of classification) was in error.