Should NZ have its own classification labels on games?

Late last week, Stuff ran this story about the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification suggesting that New Zealand had its own labels for all video games rather than just R-rated titles.

Under current legislation only games that contain restricted material have to be submitted to the OFLC, so if  a game is rated G, M, or PG then in Australia then it doesn’t need to be submitted to the OFLC for classification.

I wrote a blog about the OFLC’s  suggestion here, and said that I was kind of in favour of what the OFLC was proposing – but after talking to Sidhe Interactive managing director Mario Wynands on Thursday about the issue, I’ve changed my mind. I’m not sure requiring publishers to submit all games for classification is actually the right thing to do. Not for gamers and definitely not for small publishers.

Here’s what Mario had to say.

“While I support ratings standards and the work that the OFLC has done to date, I believe that requiring the OFLC to rate every title would limit the number of games released in New Zealand. “There are a couple of key reasons for this. “Certainly the additional costs cited for publishers would be a barrier, but the actual logistics of organising and liaising with the OFLC from overseas is going to be an additional disincentive.

“Publishers currently generally already have to deal with the ESRB (NA), PEGI (Europe), USK (Germany), CERO (Japan), and the Australian Classification Review board, each with different standards, submission requirements, response timeframes and costs. Preparing and managing an additional submission to the OFLC at the same critical stage of the project may not be worth either the time or the effort (much less both combined) compared to the small size of the market, especially for smaller publishers or independent self-publishing developers.

“As NZ is a relatively small market, publishers benefit from being able to leverage the benefits of aligning packaging, shipping, advertising and classification submissions with Australia, using NZ as an incremental revenue opportunity. Introducing additional packaging, advertising, and classification restrictions/requirements on top of what is already in place may drive up the cost and hassle factor further.

“To give a sense of the market, even top-selling games in New Zealand mostly only reach “thousands” rather than “tens of thousands” of copies, and runs of custom packaging and marketing materials that small become prohibitively expensive.

“The OFLC, to my knowledge, only has limited resources available for games ratings and currently only deals with a very small number of games out of the overall volume released here. I would question whether this would be able to be effectively ramped up to deal with an exponentially greater volume in a manner which did not produce either a backlog of products waiting for classification or a drop in standards of assessment.

“To be honest, I think the bigger issue is the existing usage of classifications in New Zealand. Parents aren’t well informed or choose to ignore classifications because their child is “mature enough” (supplying their kid with an age-inappropriate game is actually a crime), and I imagine the enforcement/standards at retail is inconsistent given the lack of policing of the issue.

“We should work out where the standards currently are, where we want them to go, how the market can be better educated, and how the law will be better enforced before we worry about or change how the games themselves are going to be rated.”

Mario has a point: perhaps more effort should be spent on actually educating parents who willingly buy R-rated games for their underage children (and it happens: I know of friends of my son who are allowed to play games such as God of War – and they’re aged 12), rather than forcing publishers to submit every game for classification.

What do you think?