It took them awhile to get around to it, but Australia's Classification Board has finally issued a rating for World of Warcraft, Blizzard's megahit MMOG that was released in 2004.
You didn't even know this was an issue, did you? Amazingly, in classification-happy Australia, the most popular videogame in history has never actually been classified, floating along instead in a kind of limbo in which everyone apparently just pretended not to notice it was there. A report in June that Australia was planning to begin filtering websites that offered game content beyond the MA15+ rating brought to light the fact that MMOGs had an "exemption" from the rating system, although how or why that exemption came about was never made clear.
But it doesn't matter now, because the Classification Board has finally decided that it likes the game, so it's going to put a sticker on it. The board issued a classification for World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King yesterday, giving all three games an M rating (recommended for mature audiences) for "fantasy violence" and variable online content.
A Blizzard rep told Gamespot that it has been working at getting this business wrapped up for quite awhile now, but the Australian system just wasn't equipped to handle online games. "Back in 2004, we were advised by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) that the online-only nature of World of Warcraft was unclassifiable under its definition of computer games at that time," he said. "Recent changes at the Classification Board have led to their ability to classify online only games such as World of Warcraft."
The board declined to comment on what those changes might be, however, saying only that it "has been following developments in online gaming."
What could have suddenly "developed" in a half-decade-old MMOG is completely beyond me but a search of the Classification Board database indicates that this may not be a matter of evolving standards so much as sheer randomness. Despite the suggestion that something has changed in the rules, the Classification Board issued a rating for the MMOG World War 2 Online all the way back in 2001. Star Wars Galaxies was rated in 2006, while the Eighth Anniversary edition of Ultima Online was classified in 2005. Other MMOGs, meanwhile, like Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and Planetside, remain unclassified. That's not exactly what I'd call a cohesive and functional rating process at work.