Australia May See iPhone Game Ratings

There are more than 80,000 applications available within Apple’s iTunes store. While games that make it in do go through an approval process, the occasional undeserving title makes it through. As such, the Australian Classification Board, according to iTnews, is expressing concerns to the national government that mobile applications do not go through a game rating system.

“I recently wrote to [Commonwealth Censorship Minister Brendan O’Connor] regarding my concern that some so-called mobile phone applications, which can be purchased online or either downloaded to mobile phones or played online via mobile phone access, are not being submitted to the board of classification,” said Australia’s Classification Board Director, Donald McDonald.

The task of classifying the myriad of iPhone apps, in and of itself, is not an easy undertaking and hardly a decision to take lightly. In 2008 – 2009, the ACB received 4,792 film applications, 1,095 games, and 197 publications; a small number when compared to the deluge that is the Apple AppStore. The concerns are emulating pushes made by the Entertainment Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board here in the United States. It was just this summer, with the 3.0 OS released, that ratings via age appeared. However, this was a sort of “self-policing” policy for developers and the ratings would not go through the ESRB themselves (as the organization would like).

“ESRB ratings empower parents to do their job,” said organization president Patricia Vance. “Considering the fact that the vast majority of parents are already aware of and regularly using ESRB ratings, Apple’s adoption of them for iPhone games seems like a no-brainer.”

Reasoning behind such pushes by these organizations is attributed to a number of factors: Many apps are games yet are not treated like them rating-wise; they are easily accessed by anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch; the iPhone is becoming a gaming platform in its own right and, in fact, is comparable to both the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS; and occasionally, apps that should never be released get through the Apple screening process.

A prime example of an app to make it through the submission screen was a “game” by the name of Baby Shaker. All ready you can see the censor flags flying, and for good reason: The object of the game was to shake a crying baby to death. Thankfully, the app was removed shortly after its approval, but it’s the sort of thing that gets rating boards’ attention.

When asked about the game by iTnews, the Classification Board stated that it had to determine if Baby Shaker was a “game,” and could not pass judgment “without seeing the application in its entirety.” However, they did reiterate that “the Board will classify films, computer games and publications upon receipt of a valid application.”

Regardless, according to Apple spokesperson, Fiona Martin, “[Apple will] do what the Australian Classification people tell us to do,” and that the company would be prepared to make any changes needed, in accordance to Australian law. This marks another point of interest: In talks with iTnews, Martin noted that there were currently “no laws” mediating the mobile space. He seemed to suggest that all mobile games will be receiving more scrutiny in Australia.

What does this mean for iPhone game development? Well, should legal precedent be set, it will likely add a great deal of fuel to the ESRB and ESA’s pushes for their ratings on these mobile applications here in the U.S. In turn, this requires more hoops for developers to jump through and a significantly increased time on approvals.