P1020841At the Sony booze up I took the opportunity to abstain from alcohol (as usual) and play with some sacks that I have had my eyes on for quite some time. LittleBigPlanet already has a near cult following well before its release and after having a good sit down with it I can see that it is totally warranted and my lofty expectations are all not in vain.

The first part of our play time entailed completing some of the pre created levels. The code is fairly recent but a lot of the levels are missing so we only had the chance to play through 3 proper levels that will be appearing in the retail build of the game.

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When it was announced that New Zealand would receive the same edited version of the hit video game Grand Theft Auto IV that was destined for the Australian market, there was anger in the local gaming community. There has never been an official announcement by publisher Take-Two Interactive about the reasons behind this, but logic suggests it was because it would be easier to supply the “Australiasian” region with a single version of the game. So New Zealand, which does have an R18 rating, received a version of the game which was watered down to please the censors in neighbouring Australia, where the highest possible rating for a game is “MA15+”. Anything deemed unsuitable for this rating is effectively banned in Australia.

The lack of any official comment from Take-Two, or the game’s developer Rockstar, about their actions or detailing the changes made in this “special edition”, frustrated gamers who had waited anxiously for months to play this game. New Zealand laws prevented the sale of parallel imported “grey market” uncut games (any game of this nature must pass through the appropriate censorship bodies prior to being sold), but did not prevent individuals from importing “for personal use”. However the thought of waiting even longer for an unedited version from overseas was too much to bear for many.

One man who was not happy with situation was Stan Calif, founder and director of First Games. Stan was not only annoyed that New Zealand would be receiving an edited version of the game courtesy of Take-Two – he also thought it was more than a bit cheeky that New Zealanders would be paying “full price” for a cut-down game. He was determined to give Kiwis the right to buy the “uncut” version locally.

As ButtonMasher has previous reported, in order for the “original” GTA IV to be sold legally in New Zealand, it would have to be submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) – a process that could take as long as 6-8 weeks. Any individual has the right to make this submission, although a significant fee of at least NZD$1400 (USD$1080) is payable. With First Games committed to selling games at below the recommended retail prices of $120, it would take a large number of games to recoup the costs.

Undeterred, Stan filed a submission to the OFLC in the week after the release of GTA IV. Had Stan been able to provide the OFLC with a list of differences between the two games, the entire process would almost certainly have been expedited, as an urgent application could be requested. When urgency is granted by the Chief Censor, a decision may take as few as 3 working days. However due to lack of co-operation from Take-Two, Stan was resigned to a 6-8 week wait before he could sell the game legally to New Zealand gamers.

Time was costing Stan money. Every day passed without classification was another day where his games sat unsold, while gamers that could wait no longer purchased edited copies from local retail outlets. It was an understandably anxious wait, and the worse case scenario probably never even entered Stan’s determined mind. Had the OFLC deemed any aspect of the game to be “objectionable” (likely to cause injury to the public good if it is made available to the public), the game would have been banned for sale in its current form in New Zealand. Worse still for New Zealand gamers – this would also ban subsequent “personal use” imports of the game from overseas.

This week Stan received word that the OFLC may be nearing a decision regarding classification, only 2 weeks after submission. Sleepless nights followed, as his excitement at the news of a possible early decision was tempered with nervousness about what decision would be made.

Today Stan’s efforts and perserverance were rewarded, when the OFLC gave the “uncut” version of GTA IV a classification of R18, paving the way for First Games to sell the game legally in New Zealand. An elated Stan told us:

“First Games are proud to be able to deliver GTA IV uncut to New Zealanders. We have been committed from the outset to provide Kiwi gamers with the freedom to purchase an unaltered version of GTA IV. After much hard work and expense we are now able to deliver GTA IV in the way that Rockstar originally intended”.

The “uncut” GTA IV is now available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 from www.firstgames.co.nz for the price of $99.50 and carries a NZ classification of R18 (contains violence, offense language, and sex scenes).

oflc So you’ve already heard the news – those Aussies have shafted us yet again and we are getting the Australian version of GTA IV. Though we love to dig the boot into our poorer cousins, in this case we have to feel sympathy for them, as it is their politicians that are making these decision rather than the general public. Australia gets some cut down game version because current censorship laws do not include an “R18+” classification, so anything that doesn’t meet the MA15+ standard (analogous to R16 in

New Zealand) simply gets banned. Changes to these laws must be agreed on by the Commonwealth and all state and territory attorneys-general, but South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson (pictured below) continues to be opposed to changes that he argues would allow children easy access to “potentially harmful material”, meaning that there is no end in sight for the current situation.

What can New Zealanders do about this? I contacted the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) in New Zealand to clarify points of law surrounding censorship as it relates to GTA IV.

The OFLC classifies video games in New Zealand. They were established by the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

Under section 8 of the Act, video games (any video recording that is designed for use wholly or principally as a game) are exempt from labelling requirements, and don’t have to be classified – unless the game would be likely to be restricted if it was classified.

This means that games already classified in Australia as G, PG, or M, are generally not reclassified in New Zealand. However anything rated MA15+ in Australia does get submitted for classification, and depending on the content an R13, R16 or R18 classification may be given (even though there is no R18 classification in Australia). It is illegal for any game that requires classification under law to be sold without an New Zealand classification label.

We already know that GTA IV (in some form) was submitted for classification, and was given an R18 rating in New Zealand. However, as already mentioned, an R18 rating does not necessarily mean that it was a different version to that rated MA15+ in Australia. What is clear is that Rockstar can only release in New Zealand, the version that they submitted to the OFLC.

Just to reiterate: they cannot submit the “rest of the world” version to the OFLC, obtain a classification, and then distribute a different version – even if that version is supposedly “cut down”. That cut version would need to be submitted individually for classification before it could be legally sold.

Therefore, the fact that it is now confirmed that New Zealand will be receiving the Australian version of the game means that Rockstar knew all along that we would be supplied with a cut version of the game. Ease of production and distribution has been favoured over delivering us the full version of the game as intended by the game developers – gee thanks!

So what are the options for the disgruntled NZ GTA fan? Importing is the obvious solution that comes to most people’s minds, but some are cautious because they are unsure about the legality.

You can import GTA IV is the short answer. The long answer is that as an individual, you are legally entitled to import whatever you want for personal use as long as the material is not objectionable. From the OFLC website:

An objectionable publication is defined by section 3 of the Act as one that deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in a way that is likely to be harmful to the public good.

The website has more detail but here are some things that would be deemed objectionable: sexual exploitation of children, sexual violence or coercion, torture or extreme violence, bestiality, necrophilia, urophilia, and coprophilia. If you were to import something deemed objectionable (such as Manhunt 2), it would be seized. But GTA IV would be unlikely to be deemed objectionable (in my opinion) given that it has received classification without “excision” elsewhere in the world.

So what about the rest of New Zealand? Is there any hope for those buying in retail outlets?

Anyone can submit anything for classification. While you do not need a classification and label to import something for personal usage, one is required if you wish to on-sell it. Similarly if a distributor wanted to sell “uncut” GTA IV in New Zealand, they could import the game themselves and submit it for classification – if given a rating in New Zealand the game could then be sold legally.

Submitting a video game for classification costs $1400 plus $100 per hour (how many hours gameplay does GTA IV offer?), but you may apply for this to be waived if you are an individual and do not have any financial interest in the classification. There are no set criteria for this waiver that I was informed of, and each case is considered on its merits. However once someone (anyway) has submitted the game and had it classified, all New Zealanders benefit from those actions as the game does not need to be reclassified ever again. See the hypothetical example below:

Mr. Joe Bloggs submits GTA IV for classification. He either pays $1100 or gets it waived. The censor (theoretically) classifies the game R18 and does not request any cuts (”excisions”) to be made from the game. Now EB games or anyone else can legally sell the game, after they obtain R18 labels from the Film and Video Labelling Body (who provide labels and are in charge of ensuring that those labels match the intended game). It’s a long process, but theoretically possible. However if the censor deems that excisions are required from the game, that would be the end of the story given that we don’t have the ability to make those excisions from the game before they are sold.

In summary, here are the ways you can obtain the real GTA IV:

  1. Import from overseas (for personal use only, not able to be resold in NZ)
  2. Obtain and then submit GTA IV to the OFLC for classification
  3. Wait for someone to do (2) and then buy it from a retail store selling it
  4. Lobby Rockstar and T2 to do (2)

So there you have it. An idiot’s guide to how to get GTA IV uncut. Good luck Mr. Bloggs!

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