Is our ratings system so screwed up that publishers prefer to just ignore Australia? Is that where this whole mess is going to culminate? I know it’s all apparently going to change with R18+ in the future, but this is the now, and now is when the symptoms are beginning to show.
It’s not going to happen with a Call of Duty or a Skyrim. Don’t worry about the big names electing to boycott us, with the exception of Left 4 Dead 2, which was intentionally terrible to prove a point: that our classification laws are the laughing stock of the universe.
However, big name games are totally last year. 2012 has seen the emergence of the indie scene meeting a more mainstream audience. Then there are the smaller professional studios, like Telltale Games, who have given me a reason to write this article.
The Walking Dead was released on Steam today and is already heralded as one of the developer’s best. Probably because it is based on the awesome comic, and not the dreadful television series, which like any hater, I haven’t actually seen.
Despite playing it on Steam all morning, we soon learnt that Telltale has scrapped plans to release it on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 in Australia. It hasn’t been refused classification, they just aren’t going to even try and get it past the classification board that thought Mortal Kombat was inappropriate for its citizens.
From what I’ve seen, it would probably sneak in with an MA15+ rating under the current incoherent system. However, nothing’s a certainty with the inherently inconsistent OFLC, so Telltale has decided that it’s not worth their effort. They’re better off just putting it on Steam, and not worrying about the tiny market that is Australia on PSN and XBLA.
That drags us into a dangerous grey area that undermines the whole classification system. It hasn’t been submitted for classification, so it can’t be refused (and in essence banned), therefore there’s no immediate reason to remove it from Steam in Australia, besides the fact that is doesn’t have a local classification.
Technically, it can’t be sold without an Aussie rating. But Steam sources its content from America and doesn’t seem to need to wait for a colourful Australian logo to legally sell it to us. As far as I can tell, it’s totally legal for Steam to allow The Walking Dead’s sale into Australia, as long as it hasn’t been RCed, even though it hasn’t been granted permission either.
If that’s the case, talk about a loophole. Surely it will either be removed from Steam in Australia, or eventually brought to consoles with the classification it is forced to apply for. Although, this is exactly why we invented a word for loophole.
If nothing comes from this and The Walking Dead is permitted to be sold through Steam without an Australia classification, then why would smaller publishers bother messing around with our system? They’re much better off just ignoring consoles and exploiting what could be a massive loophole. Even if it is eventually removed from Steam, that will happen days or weeks after everyone who wants it has already downloaded it. We’ll still have access to it, no matter what happens, and Telltale won’t have to waste time dealing with our awkward cousin of a classification system.
By Ben Salter - Tweet @Ben_Salter