A Short-ish and Curious Tale
So, you’ve got Deadly Premonition, a game with a pretty patchy history – announced under one title, then disappearing for an extended period only to pop up with a new name – that launches to a pretty mixed set of reviews. It’s also a budget game, so the chance of high returns isn’t great – US sales were pretty good, but Japan sales tanked and overall the sales of it are less than 90k units worldwide. (Rough calculation is 90K x $20 = $1 800 000 in revenue… which might be good enough to make a profit on a budget title, but it might not too.)
The question comes up: does this title launch in English-speaking Oceanic countries? Probably isn’t going to shift a large number of units there either and getting budget Xbox 360 games on the shelf could be a hard ask, given it is a minor title. So what happens?
Here’s where things get murky-ish. GameSpot AU runs a story that Deadly Premonition has been refused classification in Australia. It’s an easy story and one that generates page views as Australian players go, “I’m outraged I’ll never play a game I’ve never heard of before just now”. One of the article’s authors indicates that it is the first game to be refused classification within Australia for this year, so it is kinda news. (Also, ‘banned’ may be shorter for Twitter, but it’s wrong – it isn’t banned, you just can’t sell it legally in Australia.) Local distributor All Interactive Distribution says they don’t know why the game was banned and they are looking into it. That’s government for you, right? Banning things and then not telling you why.
But then the Australian Classification Board pipes up to say that they haven’t refused Deadly Premonition classification, mainly because they’ve never seen it before.
Rising Star Games, the Western publisher, announces that they actually never submitted the game to the ACB because they don’t think the game would get an MA15+ rating and don’t plan to launch it in Australia. Europe may be getting a PAL version launch at some point, so obviously Rising Star doesn’t have a concern with censors in those countries.
The Blame Game
I’m curious where the fault lies in this story, because it’s fairly serious (well, for video games) when sites like GameSpot AU throw around claims that a game is refused classification when it really isn’t. Did GameSpot jump the gun on a story and get it wrong, or was it misinformed by the Australian distributor? (I’ve asked and hope to get a reply.) Did AID – who appears to work as a pure middleman in distribution – just get their information mixed up? Did Rising Star Games tell AID one thing and do another, believing that merely citing ‘censorship’ was enough to cover their decision not to publish Deadly Premonition in Australia? Was it just a publicity grab – is ‘Banned in Australia’ enough to sell a few more copies elsewhere?
It could certainly be a mix of the above things, but it’s interesting why Deadly Premonition wasn’t even submitted for classification. Deadly Premonition might not get that MA15+ rating (I’m taking this video as something that might run close to the line) but it only costs something like AUS$2040 to find out (plus shipping a copy to Australia, where they already have AID as a distributor). The ACB do let through quite a bit of violence within the MA15+ rating, with the censors paying attention to explicit gore, as well as sex and drug use. I’ve got no idea if Deadly Premonition contains sex and drugs – although clearly drugs were involved somewhere, given this cut scene – but it obviously does contain horror and violence. However, just because it does contain those things doesn’t automatically guarantee refusal of classification – I’ve got my copy of Dead Space on the shelf and had bought legally from an EB store.
Although Australia does have a history of refusing classification for video games – you can see a reasonable summary of RC case findings here or look at the Classification database for just the names – I’d certainly prefer it if any claims made are accurate.