Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wait . . . What? WoW is Illegal in Australia?

So WoWInsider today pointed me to this Massively article revealing that every copy of WoW so far sold Down Under was actually illegal. Apparently, game ratings in Australia are not voluntary like they are here in the US. Since WoW (and most other MMOs) never applied for nor received ratings from the Aussie government, they are not supposed to be legally sold there.

I'm very interesed in the chain of events here. Apparently, no one in Australia had noticed this was a problem for all these years that WoW has been on the shelves selling like gangbusters. Then, Massively's Tateru Nino somehow catches on to this and starts working on an expose [sorry, can't figure out how to make an e with an accent mark]. Nino contacts the Australian government, effectively alerting them to the fact that WoW can't be legally sold. It appears that as a direct result of Nito's article, the internet at large and the Australian mainstream news picked up on the story.

So basically, WoW sales were chugging along peacefully, with no accusations of criminality, until Nito's "investigative journalism" got everyone in trouble. I wonder if Nito was also the kid who reminded the teacher just before the bell that she had forgotten to give homework.

The punishment for selling a single copy of an unrated computer game is AU$27,220.80. There have been a lot of copies of WoW sold in Australia. I seriously doubt the government is just going to let that kind of revenue go, especially in our current financial climate. Don't expect some sort of safe harbor period for MMOs to submit applications to be rated before anyone gets fined. The only question in my mind is: precisely who will be fined? Blizzard, gaming stores, or store employees? Tateru's article explores this question, but doesn't answer it.

Hope things get worked out for you soon, Australians!

UPDATE: Tateru Nino follows up on Massively: no action has been taken against sellers of these games, and there are no signs that there will be. This is great news, and I'm very happy to be wrong! I'm very cynical about politicians. :)

It sounds like the fallout has been pretty limited, and the games are still on shelves. And it sounds like Nino's main intent was to expose the flaws in the ratings system and its oversight, which, as the article suggests, will hopefully lead to these "unrated" games being integrated legally into the system or see the system overhauled. There are also apparently a number of single-player games with rating labels that were, in fact, never reviewed by the ratings board at all!

In response to the more thorough explanation in this new Massively post, I'd like to apologize for my snide remarks to Nino.


Raitin said...

Nooooooo! Don't take my WoW away from me! I just got my account restored and my new computer yesterday! /sob

Don't pick on us little convict-kids... it's not our fault! :(

Hatch said...

Luckily, I think you are OK if you already own your copy of the game. Good luck!

I'd be interested to hear if you've noticed this story on your local news or anything

Raitin said...

Haven't heard a single blip on the news. But then again, I don't read the paper or watch the news on TV... my dose of the news is the 30-second condensed version on the radio while I drive to work. I might look into it this weekend and let you know the dealy-o!

Tateru Nino said...

As of yesterday, no action has been taken to restrict or reduce sales of unrated MMOGs in Australia, insofar as we're aware (though it has been more than a week since we published the story, and actually almost three months since we began speaking to the government authorities and retailers about it).

I'm due to talk to EBGames and the state minister for police later today to confirm that.

As for the story itself, it was verified by the SMH, and has appeared in most of the national newspapers since.

WoWInsider's headline was just a little bit wrong -- legally, nothing has yet changed.

Hatch said...

Thanks for the update, Tateru. You've got class. I'll update my post.