Could Australian police soon be rounding up retailers who sell World of Warcraft and other massively multiplayer online games?
That's one possible scenario.
As reported by the Syndey Morning Herald, a controversy has arisen Down Under as to whether MMOs need to be rated for content under Australian law.
Government officials believe that - like all other video games - they do. Meanwhile, the Aussie game industry has taken the opposite view. Ron Curry, who heads the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia told the newspaper that MMOs do not fall under content classification requirement because they are hosted outside of Australian territory:
There are different classification requirements for games depending on how they are accessed by consumers. For instance, for a game sold off the shelf, where the media material is stored on a disk in the package, the classification requirements are straight forward and you will see the classification label on the box.
However, in some instances the box sold in a retail outlet contains an access key to the game which can only be accessed online. If such a game is hosted locally it falls under the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Services Act, but if it is hosted internationally, it’s classified in the country that hosts the game, rather than in Australia.
However, a spokesman for New South Wales Attorney-General John Hatzistergos (left) disagreed:
The NSW [game rating] legislation covers computer games bought online as well as those bought in stores, and treats single, multi-player and online games the same way... If there is any suggestion that any business is trading illegally, police need to know, and it should be reported.
Ditto, said a representative of Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland:
The National Classification Scheme does not distinguish between games based on whether or not they contain a single player component. Online games are computer games within the meaning of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 and are covered under the existing legislation.
In the North American market, MMOs are rated by the ESRB just as are single-player games. Time and money are involved in that process. Those factors are likely behind the stance adopted by the Australian game publishers.