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Is WoW Illegal?

5th February 2009, 11:18am
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That's the question on everyone's lips today, after a post on the Massively blog yesterday prompted a flurry of discussion. The author of the post, Tateru Nino, suggested that the act that controls how rated and unrated games can be sold applies almost entirely to the party selling the product, not the person buying it. Sales are governed by the appropriate legislation in the location where the sale takes place.

Nino suggests that you can sell any game, regardless of classification status, through an online portal like Steam or Direct2Drive if neither the sale nor seller are in Australian jurisdiction. From what I understand, classifications in the US are not the law but are done anyway to help consumers, so technically you could sell any game to an Australia if the transaction is happening in America. Obviously, we're not lawyers, but that makes sense, right?

Here's where the issue gets muddy. The Sydney Morning Herald then asked why online MMOs are going unrated in stores. According to the SMH, Ron Curry of the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia believes that they do not have to get a game classified if it doesn't have a single player component. This seems pretty surprising. According to Curry, if the game bought off the shelf contains a disk with media, it needs to be classified as per normal. If it just a key with an access code for an online-only game, as described above, then it does not need to be rated.

The confusion here seems to be between a physical disc-based game that you use to play online with other people (like an MMO), and a game that you buy or play purely online. The IEAA seems to think that MMOs are the latter, but since you get a disc in the World of Warcraft box, surely it is the former?

MMOs are clearly computer games under the Classification Act, and don't appear to be exempt from classification because they don't fall somewhere in this table. The only other alternative seems to be receiving a certificate stating they are exempt as described in this section. Again, this just based on a cursory read of the act, but unless companies got an exemption certificate ages ago or continue to do so for each MMO they release, it's hard to see why it wouldn't need to be classified.

The Attorney-General of NSW, John Hatzistergos, believes that there is no loophole in NSW legislation and that all games, both online, offline, single and multiplayer, are treated the same. Similarly, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland's spokeswoman believes they are computer games at a Commonwealth level too (see the previous paragraph).

This could cause some serious trouble. The NSW Police Minister wants members of the community to contact police if they see retailers selling games illegally. It's a nice wholesome "GAMES ARE TEH BAD" sentiment, but the fact is we have no idea if they are or are not legal yet. Activision-Blizzard have not yet commented on the situation, but don't expect them to ignore the issue. We'll keep you posted when they fill us all in.

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Reader Comments:
Posted by G-Train 05/02/2009 3:22pm
Here we go - do gooding tards who think they know better then everyone else whats good for humanity have found a loop hole and have run with it.

The ONLY thing this kind of BS is going to hurt is the Aussie dollar. Gamers won't stop buying MMOs like wow, they'll just stop buying it from Aus shops.

GW to the ignorant, and as stated "Games are teh bad", nut jobs with no life.
Posted by moodycj 05/02/2009 3:29pm
Seems like they should be rated. Can they not just get them rated now? Then put that experience may change online thing on it.
Posted by admeister 05/02/2009 7:24pm
Simple, just "rate" (judging by the main objective of the game/type of content) them all, then put "Game experience may change online" on the box/in the game.
400 Turtles
Posted by 400 Turtles 05/02/2009 7:33pm
I think that would only apply to games that also feature a single player component.
Posted by admeister 05/02/2009 7:58pm
Not really, the content is still there, single player or no single player. The OFLC rates judging by content, right? So they can rate an online game easily enough, then stick a little notice on there warning that the experience can (and will) vary online.
Posted by nshady 05/02/2009 10:42pm
Point being, can you play the game offline? No? Then you can only rate online content, which varies.
Posted by admeister 05/02/2009 11:14pm
Yes and no, it depends on the game. A game like Spore is a tricky one since it relies on a lot of user contribution. A game like WoW however, is largely limited by what is on the game's disc, and that content is easily enough rated.
Posted by Julz 06/02/2009 7:05am
I agree with admeister. You can easily rate WoW based on the content. You're able to run around an solo things during the game so surely the experience there can be rated. E.g. levels of animated violence and the themes built in by Blizzard.
400 Turtles
Posted by 400 Turtles 06/02/2009 7:39am
I'm trying really hard to explain why I think it wouldn't be able to be classified but it's too hard to make myself sound right.

So I give up.

I'm still Batman.
Posted by karaoke 06/02/2009 8:10am
The NSW Police Minister wants members of the community to contact police if they see retailers selling games illegally.

Hmmm,I can just see it now : the police raiding the local video game store & arresting people for illegally selling copies of WoW. lol
I'd be really surprised though if there'd be many people who'd actually report something like that to the police.
Posted by G-Train 06/02/2009 12:47pm
I agree that online games can easily be rated. Take WoW:

Animated Violence: You run around hackin things up.
Mild Supernatural Themes: You do talk to and kill ghosts/ghouls etc.

Theres no language, drug use etc.

Then just put a V on the bottom (While core game experience is rated (M), due to the atmosphere imposed by the exclusive online setting, players may experience language, adualt themes, drug & sex references, please be advized this games content at times may not be suitable for childen).

OMFG! That waz so hard! I needs to go lies down before my heads explodededz.

PS: WoW features an adult theme filter, which blocks basically every swear word, drug word and sexual refence known to man. But then again, that would mean christian d*ckheads would actually have to do something to parent their kids - OMFG WHAT TO DO!??!

400 Turtles
Posted by 400 Turtles 06/02/2009 1:01pm
I can understand saying "game experience may change online" if it also has a single player component. You can't experience any the content of the game without the influence of... onlineness. With an MMO, the game experience will change online. There's no way around it. There's no way to experience the core content by itself.

Game experience will extremely change on RP servers.
Posted by G-Train 06/02/2009 7:39pm
Turn off chat? You can leave and block all chat channels in wow.
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