Australian Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has promised to extend Australia's proposed network-level content filtering regime to block games, online games, downloadable games, and websites that sell or allow download of games that are deemed not to be suitable for a 15-year-old audience. This, despite research by the IEAA (the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia) that the average age of Australian Gamers is 30.
Even though Australian Federal and State laws say otherwise, some MMO titles exceeding that classification are already sold on Australian store shelves, by simply bypassing compulsory classification. Australian Federal and State authorities refuse to respond to any enquiries about the topic.
The matter becomes even more confusing and complex, however, as it introduces a new, defacto classifications body to the mix.
Right now, games that will be sold in Australia (that is, where the actual sale takes place in Australia) need to be classified by the Australian Classifications Board (a division of the Federal Attorney General's office). Games sold by various download services (such as Steam, Direct2Drive, Impulse and so on) do not require classification for sale, as the sale isn't taking place within Australian jurisdiction (only the purchase. There's a difference).
Alternatively, if you're an MMOG publisher, you can choose to skip the compulsory ratings process entirely – especially if you do not think your product will pass it – and everyone just looks the other way, based on an assumed technicality that does not actually exist in law. A seeming conspiracy of silence surrounds the practice among government agencies.
Now we'll complicate the mix by introducing the ACMA (The Australian Communications and Media Authority), who will also get to do game classification for games online, downloadable, or otherwise being sold beyond the present jurisdiction of the Australian ratings system and Classifications Acts.
It is not known if the ACMA's classifications will have parity with the classifications employed by the Australian Classifications Board. Likely it will not – while different government organizations all ostensibly use the same Classifications, how those organizations interpret what should fit into each classification varies. The Australian Customs Service, for example, has been known to impound items that the Classifications Board has found acceptable.
Now, Senator Conroy's plan throws the ACMA's interpretations into the mix. What is currently acceptable for sale may not be acceptable for play or for download. The list of what is actually blocked and why it is blocked is to be kept secret from the public (though in March a version was leaked to Wikileaks, which is now itself on the blocklist).
While Senator Conroy refers to 'games', this appears to just be the spoonful of sugar to make it easier to swallow. Does anyone think that virtual environments like Second Life will be exempt from the proposed network-blocking? We don't. Some sources are reporting that environments like Second Life and games like Age of Conan or World of Warcraft are confirmed as being banned outright, but at this stage, nobody official has actually said that.
Currently nine ISPs are trialling the network-filtering plan until next month, which has already proven to block some quite unexpected things:
"Alongside child porn, bestiality, rape and extreme violence sites, the list also includes a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.
Other Australian sites on the list are canteens.com.au ("Tuckshop and Canteen Management Consultants") and animal carers MaroochyBoardingKennels.com.au.
The dentist, Dr John Golbrani, was furious when contacted to inform him that his site, dentaldistinction.com.au, appeared on the blacklist." – Sydney Morning Herald
In Britain, Senator Conroy was nominated for the annual internet villain award "for continuing to promote network-level blocking despite significant national and international opposition", George White, press officer with Britain's Internet Services Providers' Association, said.
We'll be contacting Senator Conroy's office for additional information during Australian business hours.