Why Does Apple Get Special Treatment When it Comes to Video Game Classification?

The Australian Classification Board is renown worldwide as the most ham-fisted, civil liberty crushing classification group on the planet.

Daily, video games and movies that are in mass production for other countries are outright banned in Australia because of extreme violence or sexual themes. This is done under the intention to protect children from seeing or experiencing themes beyond their years. Currently, the Board’s job is to classify games, DVD’s, Blu-Rays and movies shown at the cinema. For years, television has been unregulated by the ACB, meaning that Channel Nine, Ten, Seven, SBS, etc have all been classifying programs shown on TV themselves.

Most use the same logos, etc, so that their viewers can easily understand the meaning of the rating and while the same rules generally apply, each station is allowed to set out their own rating guidelines. Sure, there are occasions when the television industry has slipped up, but in general, this system works pretty well. It may mean, however, that watching a show on TV may be rated ‘PG’ on TV, but ‘M’ on DVD.

The Australian Classification Board has also allowed Apple and their iPhone App store to self-regulate the games they sell. Currently, the way this works is that a developer will make the game, send it to Apple for approval who then pass down their own classification and either accept or deny the sale of the game.

This is okay in theory, but I have a very big problem with this, especially since our government is dragging their feet on the R18+ issue for video games. The problem is that Apple is given an unfair competitive advantage by being in total control of the games they classify for the App Store.

Today, the process of getting a game classified is costly. It can cost thousands of dollars and months of time to get a game classified, which has undoubtedly attributed to the shockingly poor development industry in Australia. This means that small studios will likely never bother to get their game on shelves, or on other consoles such as WiiWare or Xbox Live Arcade. It’s easier and cheaper to just get the game classified and released on Apple.

Of course, any gamer will tell you that games on Apple mostly suck. This isn’t really the fault of the developers, it has more to do with technical limitations of the Apple hardware (but also the abundance of massive publishers trying to cash in on games like Angry Birds, etc).

So, I put this question forward; why does a game like, say Plants Vs Zombies have to go through the timely and costly process of getting classified in Australia if it’s released on WiiWare or PlayStation Network, but not if it’s released on Apple? In many cases, it’s the same game, so why should small Aussie and international studios – which these services like WiiWare, etc, were designed to cater for – suffer with this extra financial burden?

This unfair advantage of the Apple store also leads to a surpression of creativity, but I’m realistic – I’m sure that there are more reasons than simply getting the game classified for why many games aren’t being released on these other platforms, but I would be surprised if there wasn’t small one developer out there who didn’t bother releasing a game in Australia because of the ACB.

To make my point clear, I’m not saying that the Government should censor the Apple Store (they’ve censored enough already), I’m saying that Apple is no better than Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Sega, Square Enix, etc – who would all love to save $1200 per game release.

But this isn’t the only advantage Apple has as a distributor. If you go into your local game retailer and there are a bunch of wrong prices littered around the store, the Australian Government can issue a fine to that retailer for “misleading advertising”, amongst other issues. Every day, there are hundreds if not millions of Applications on the App Store that claim they are being sold at 80% off, or that they’re “Only 99cents” in the description, only for that not to be the case at all. This kind of ‘retailing’ would be illegal in Australia, yet it happens daily on the App Store.

Sure, it’s digital, but why is our Government selecting what rules apply to which companies? Every day we hear of a video game studio closing in Australia, or jobs being cut, or sales falling, or smaller retailers going out of business. The video game industry in Australia is crap. We spend over $1 Billion a year on video games in this country, however homegrown games are so rare, it’s almost pointless looking for them.

Our Government needs to pull their finger out and stop favouring companies that drive a truckload of iPhones to Parliament House, and start nurturing the video game industry in Australia. If it’s safe enough to trust Apple to classify video games, then it should be safe enough to trust Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft to do the same.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Sound off below.

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  • Anonymous

    My thoughts exactly!
    This is one of the reasons we seem to pay a premium price for the same product compared to the app store. Isn’t this the same case with Android?
    I’ve even had my brother questioning me why things are cheaper on the app store. Once I told him what happens he realised the dodginess of it all. The thing is that a lot of people don’t realise what’s going on and just think that Apple is the best for having what ‘appears’ to be cheaper games.

    • Anonymous

      You’re quite right about Android, too – I didn’t bring it up simply because I haven’t had too much experience with that platform.

      But I guess the main problem is the adverse affect it has on the industry… Since any pile of crap can appear on the App Store very cheaply, it makes the whole game industry look like arse… People are actually comparing Angry Birds to Super Mario… It’s not their fault; “casual” or “new” gamers have been shown bucket loads of cheap crap being called “games”.

      These titles never existed in mainstream rotation before because publishing and classification costs were so high – some kid in his parent’s garage couldn’t afford to release Angry Birds in the 90′s, now he can.

      But this method is bringing down the whole gaming landscape, which is probably an article for another time though I will say this; “garage developers” are in no way similar to “indie developers”. I think the distinction should be clear; indie developers are, or should be, professional game developers who aren’t signed to an exclusive publishing contract. This means they’re free to make the game they truly invision.

      Garage developers are just a bunch of nerds in a garage, modding games or stealing source code and changing some graphics. There’s still a place for this, sure, but I think the App Store would be a place of better quality should they be subject to the same rules/laws as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.