Australia and the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC)

The aim of this page is to provide a brief history of Australia's relationship with the IARC.

 

 

March 2015: Australia joins the IARC

New trial for classification of online games
10 March 2015
Minister for Justice Minister
Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter-Terrorism
The Hon Michael Keenan MP

Australia will trial a new classification tool to keep pace with mobile and online games—ensuring users, particularly parents, are better informed about what types of games are being played on mobile devices.

Australia has joined the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), a partnership of government and industry content classification authorities from around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe and Brazil.

As part of this partnership, Australia is preparing to trial the use of IARC's new tool for classifying mobile and online games.

Participating online storefronts that use the IARC tool require game developers to obtain certification by completing a questionnaire about the content of their games.

The IARC tool then assigns games with local classifications for each member country or region based on standards set by the relevant authorities.

The use of this tool will help keep the National Classification Scheme up to date with the pace of growth of mobile and online games.

Australians who download these games through participating storefronts will soon start seeing familiar Australian classifications. Parents will also be better informed when making decisions about what their children play on their devices.

Today's announcement follows amendments made by the Government last year to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 that allow the Minister to approve classification tools for classifying publications, films and/or computer games.

After close collaboration between the IARC and my Department over many months to ensure the tool meets Australia's requirements, I have approved the IARC classification tool for an initial 12-month trial period to begin next month.

As part of the trial, the Classification Board will audit a large number of classifications made by the IARC tool to ensure they reflect the Australian community's expectations and standards.

The Board also has the power to revoke classifications made by the IARC tool if it decides it would have given the game a different classification.

 

 

June 2015: First IARC titles revealed

Over the weekend of June 20th to 21st, the results of the first three months of the IARC trial were dumped into the Classification Board's database. They revealed censorship on a scale never before seen in Australia.

The first mobile game/app was listed as being Refused Classification on March 18th. Approximately 240 were banned in the subsequent three months. In comparison, only 77 games have been rated RC since 1995.

 

 

July 2015: Background to Australia joining the IARC

Classification Board Annual Report 2014-2015
Director's Overview
Lesley O’Brien
Director, Classification Board

One of the major developments in this reporting period was the approval by the Minister for Justice, the Honourable Michael Keenan, for a one-year pilot of a new tool for the classification of mobile and online games. The tool was developed by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), a partnership of government and industry content classification authorities from around the world including those responsible for the United States and Canada, Europe, Germany and Brazil. Australia joined IARC as a member during the reporting period.

The Minister’s decision to commence this pilot follows amendments to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, which received royal assent on 11 September 2014. The amendments represent the first tranche of reforms agreed to by Commonwealth, state and territory classification ministers in response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2012 report on the National Classification Scheme. Other reforms also commenced during the reporting period, including for example that the Board must determine consumer advice for all films and computer games classified G.

The IARC tool will be used for online and mobile computer games only. Online and mobile computer games are computer games that are distributed electronically, such as computer games that can be downloaded onto mobile devices and computer games that can be played directly through a website.

Participating online storefronts that use the IARC tool require game developers to complete a questionnaire about the content of their computer game. The IARC tool then assigns the computer game with local classifications for each member country or region based on standards set by the relevant authorities. The IARC tool means Australians will see Australian classifications and consumer advice on computer games sold through participating online storefronts. Classifications made using the IARC tool will be published on the Australian National Classification Database at www.classification.gov.au.

An Australian pilot of the IARC tool will be undertaken in the 2015–16 financial year. Audits of classification decisions made by the IARC tool will be undertaken during the pilot. The Board has the power to revoke classifications made by the IARC tool if it decides it would have given the game a different classification and/or consumer advice. I have introduced new Board systems and procedures to accommodate the commencement of the IARC pilot.

 

 

July 2015: Twelve month IARC trial begins

IARC pilot begins
July 1 , 2015
classification.gov.au

Today marks the start of the Government's 12 month pilot of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) tool for classifying mobile and online games.

Australian consumers will see Australian classifications and consumer advice prominently displayed when they look for games on the Google Play store.

The pilot will allow the Government to monitor how the tool works in practice and to ensure that it meets the needs of industry and the community.

Minister Keenan says, "Computer games have been classified in Australia since April 1994. Since then, approximately 15,000 computer games have been classified by the Classification Board. All computer games, including mobile and online games, are currently required to be classified before they can be published in Australia.

Despite this, due to the online explosion, there are hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of games currently available online. It is not realistic or practicable for the Classification Board to manually classify each of them.

That is why the Australian Government has decided to participate in a pilot of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) tool to classify online and mobile games. Games classified using the IARC tool will have Australian classifications and consumer advice made available on participating online storefronts—starting with the Google Play store.

The IARC tool pilot is one of the key changes being made to help the Australian classification system keep pace with technological changes whilst still ensuring the Australian community has access to classification information that reflects the standards and norms we value.

The pilot will formally commence on 1 July 2015. In preparation for the pilot, a large 'back catalogue' of games have been classified, more than 150,000 to date. Further details about specific classifications relating to games available on the Google Play store should be directed to Google.

Of the games classified by the IARC tool, 219 have been Refused Classification (as at 23 June 2015). Since 1994, the Classification Board has classified approximately 50 games Refused Classification. That means the rate of Refused Classification decisions using the IARC tool is broadly consistent with the rate of decisions made by the Australian Classification Board – both are under 0.5 per cent.

As part of the pilot, classification ministers from across Australia agreed on an audit program to 'check' that decisions made by the IARC tool are consistent with decisions made by the Classification Board. That means, between now and 30 June 2016, it is intended that all games classified Refused Classification will be checked by the Director of the Classification Board to ensure the tool is working as intended. If it is found a game has been 'over-classified' (i.e. Refused Classification) its classification will be changed and it will be made available to Australian consumers. Other games will be randomly checked and high profile games audited as well. The results of the audit will be reported to Ministers at the conclusion of the pilot.

In addition to this, a game developer or publisher can request a 'ratings check' if she or he feels a game has been wrongly classified by the IARC tool. When that occurs, the Director of the Classification Board will also review a game's rating and change it if need be.

The Attorney-General's Department will be overseeing the pilot and its evaluation and this will include an analysis of potential cost savings of permanent implementation.

After 12 months, classification ministers will determine whether the IARC tool should be a permanent part of the Australian classification scheme."

 

 

Banned videogames: a frightening statistic with a banal explanation
abc.net.au, July 2, 2015

Ultimately, the IARC isn't really a new model of classification so much as it is a new method of applying the existing method to a far greater range of games than ever before. The extension of any form of government regulation is always worthy of scrutiny, to be sure. Yet, while the statistic certainly makes for a frightening headline, it doesn't point to a scary new world of regulation, but just to business as usual in how Australia classifies, regulates, and evaluates videogames (which, arguably, is already scary enough).

In understanding that the IARC is not some scary new model of censorship but just a continuation of the old model, it's worth noting that the recent implementation of IARC was largely pushed for by the Australia Industry, in particular the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA).

At the same time, however, it is worth stressing that many of these newer videogame developers pushing their small games to Steam or the App Store might not consider themselves as members of an 'industry' represented by such an association any more than the friends recording a YouTube movie in their garage consider themselves part of the movie industry. The implementation of the IARC does throw such quandaries into the light.

 

 

January 2017: IARC approved for use

IARC classification tool approved
classification.gov.au, January 13, 2017 

The Minister for Communications has approved the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) tool for ongoing use in Australia following the successful completion of a 12 month pilot. The pilot was conducted by the Department of Communications and the Arts in partnership with the Classification Board, games industry, community groups and State and Territory Governments.

The tool is currently operating across the Google Play, Nintendo eShop, and Microsoft Windows App Store portals. During the pilot, it classified over 500,000 online, mobile and downloadable games that would otherwise not have been classified.

The Department and Classification Board will continue to monitor the performance and accuracy of the tool.

 

 

What are the reasons the IARC games are Refused Classification?

Normally, the Classification Board publishes some basic reasons why a title has been banned. However, this is not the case under the IARC system.

For example, HOTLINE MIAMI 2: WRONG NUMBER was Refused Classification in January 2015 (pre-IARC) as a Multi-Platform game. The reason for the ban was listed as:

Reason: Games 1(a) The computer game is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Computer Games Table, 1. (a) as computer games that "depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified." 

In September 2015, HOTLINE MIAMI 2: WRONG NUMBER was Refused Classification again, this time under the IARC system. Instead of providing the reasons for the ban, the Classification Board instead stated.

Reason For further information regarding the reason for this decision, please contact us.

 

In August 2015, @timchuma did just that, and enquired why the game POLICE DOG: CRIME CITY CHASE had been banned. Their response basically came down to; don't ask us, ask the developers, as they were the ones who completed the IARC online questionnaire.

The full reply from the Classification Board is as follows.

 

Thank you for your email of 26 June 2015 in which you enquire about the classification of Police Dog: City Crime Chase.

On 1 July 2015 the Australian Government started a 12-month pilot of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) tool to classify online and mobile games. This enables games developers to generate a legal Australian classification for their game by completing an online questionnaire about the game's content. For more information please see the IARC fact sheet at
http://www.classification.gov.au/Public/Resources/Pages/Fact-sheets.aspx

A selection of games classified by the IARC tool will also be audited by the Classification Board (the Board) to check the IARC tool is generating decisions that are consistent with Australian classification standards. In all cases, if the Board disagrees with the IARC tool's classification then the Board will change the decision that appears in the National Classification Database and on online storefronts.

Your enquiry about the content of this game would therefore best be directed to the game’s developer.

I hope this information is of assistance-.

Yours sincerely,
Justin Barrington-Higgs Enquires Officer
4 August 2015

 

 

Are the IARC ratings being checked and reviewed by the Classification Board?

Note, details for the following titles are correct as of 13 September 2015. Please contact us if you notice any changes.

 

The Classification Board have stated that:

A selection of games classified by the IARC tool will also be audited by the Classification Board (the Board) to check the IARC tool is generating decisions that are consistent with Australian classification standards.

We can see that a few games are being reviewed, and their ratings adjusted accordingly.

 

However, this still leaves the vast majority of games with RC-ratings, even ones that obviously should not be. All of these titles remain banned in Australia.

 

 

What happens when a game receives an RC-rating under the IARC system?

It appears that once the game is listed as Refused Classification, then it immediately gets removed from play.google.com in Australia. Other sites are not so IARC compliant, so all these RC-games are still available for download in Australia from somewhere on the web.

A search of DUCK HIGH, JAPAN PUZZLE, NAIL ART JIGSAW and  TICTACPINKY in the USA shows them listed in play.google.com.

 

Duck High in the Google Play StoreJapan Puzzle in the Google Play Store
Nail Art Jigsaw in the Google Play StoreTicTacpinky in the Google Play Store

 

A search of DUCK HIGH, JAPAN PUZZLE, NAIL ART JIGSAW and TICTACPINKY in play.google.com from within Australia shows them as not found.

In the case of TICTACPINKY, it is a game of noughts and crosses which is rated as suitable for everyone in the US. However, in Australia under the IARC system, everyone is being denied access to it.

 

Google Play: Not Found

 

 

Note, many games are initially listed in play.google.com, but are then removed for breaching their terms of service. They too will show up as not found, but this applies worldwide, and not just in Australia. This was the case with FAIRY CREATOR, TIC4TAC, 2048 TIMO and  4 PICS 1 CITY.

Again, they are all still available for download in Australia and worldwide from somewhere on the web.


 

 

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