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New scheme brings classifications to mobile and online games

As more mobile games come to the market and online gaming grows in popularity, the Federal Government has announced a new scheme to classify these games based on a questionnaire.

Image by Claire Reilly/CNET

Mobile and online games released in Australia will now receive classifications as part of a trial program being introduced by the Federal Government -- a move designed to ensure gamers and parents are "better informed" about the content of games they download.

As part of a 12-month trial program announced by Minister for Justice Michael Keenan, Australia has joined the International Age Rating Coalition -- a joint government and industry body that includes members from the United States, Canada and Europe.

Under the scheme, Australia will use the IARC's classification tool to help process the huge number of mobile and online games that are brought into the Australian market. According to Mr Keenan, game devs are required to certify a title when they submit it to participating online game and app stores 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 Minister said.

"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."

Still in its early stages, the trial will last for 12 months and the Classification Board is set to audit a large number of classifications handed down by the IARC "to ensure they reflect the Australian community's expectations and standards". The Classification Board will also have the power to revoke or change classifications on games.

The move has been welcomed by the gaming industry body, the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, which has lobbied extensively for reforms to Australia's game classification system.

"The IARC tool, which is a global industry lead classification solution, will help developers keep pace with classifications and ensure that games are classified appropriately for Australian gamers, with Australian classification symbols," said CEO of IGEA Ron Curry.

According to a recent report from IGEA on the growth of gaming in Australia, the mobile games market grew in value by more than 50 percent in 2014, now accounting for more than a quarter of the total value of gaming software and hardware sold in Australia.

Under this new trial, a vast array of mobile and online titles will be introduced complete with classifications, going someway to tidy up the digital gaming space and giving Australians a better idea of what they're downloading.

It's the latest step in a series of reforms for content classification in Australia, which included the introduction of an R18+ rating on January 1, 2013.

Speaking at the time, Ron Curry said this move was a step towards establishing "a truly modern classification scheme that is flexible and nimble enough to inform parents and care givers, reflect the real concerns of the public and is designed to keep up with rapid changes in content and content delivery".