There are many cultural and legal issues that can have a major impact on the process of adapting a game for a new territory, in some cases these issues can even prevent a game from being released. Games developed for a mature gamer often need to undergo changes necessitated by censorship regulations in other territories. Sometimes the changes are based on a marketing decision to get a lower rating, but the primary reason to change is the prospect that your game could be banned. Even if your game passes the censors and gets released, public/media opinion could still go against you and large retailers pay close attention to what the public is thinking.
Violence, Blood and Gore
Violence that does not have a purpose, that is directed against innocent bystanders and violence that is particularly bloody and gory will not endear your game to the censors. If you do have a lot of violence in your game then don’t shoot yourself in the foot, just keep track of all gory textures, models, death animation cycles, violent sounds and carnage environments so you can easily make changes if necessary. Astute tracking of violent and gory assets could even let you create two SKUs, a teen version and a mature version.
Germany is often cited as the country that requires most change, but Australia, New Zealand and South Korea will also closely scrutinize violent games, even the US is even getting in on the act with fines for game sales to minors in some states.
Sometimes crime doesn't pay as easily as you would think, and you find yourself in the courts defending your game against lawsuits and doing time making changes to your game. Crime is illegal and is a dangerous occupation, if your game features a lot of crime then expect collateral damage.
Despite the popularity of drugs, the censors may take a dislike to any overt use of drugs in your game. If your game features overt use of drugs that are illegal in your country then it is likely that these drugs are also illegal in other territories, but some territories may take a more serious view of the depiction of their use. Games with mild drug use usually experience light-headedness and a queasy feeling brought on by the positive/negative marketing impact of a sticker on the box, but more serious games can expect to experience weird and unexpected feelings of disconnection.
History, Nationality and Religion
Historically based war games will naturally be more popular in some of the featured territories than in the others, but censors in the rest of the world will take a dim view of anything that could be construed as insulting or racist. Even something that you believe is innocuous can cause negative public opinion and give rise to changes to your game, as Microsoft encountered with a number of different products.
If your game is a fictional story, but is based in real countries, you need to be careful not to enflame local opinion through the depiction of their country in your game or any overt statements or inferences about their country in your story. Recently, for just such a reason, Sony removed Bangladesh from one of their games.
Things a Designer Should Anticipate
When designing a mature game you are trying to give your audience what they expect, but keep in mind that the people who will never buy your game can have a big influence on whether your game can actually go on sale. It is better to anticipate change than to find your game in an unexpected media storm without an exit strategy.
Be prepared to make the following types of change …
- changes to blood color
- toning down of blood splash sprites
- changes to gory textures
- dead bodies fade away
- bystanders cannot be shot or killed
- toning down of death animations and sounds
- clean up of carnage environments
- changes to the story to diffuse negative public opinion (and satisfy large retailers)
- changes to the story for political reasons
Designers should also look at the internationalization section to see some of the technical issues that can affect your game.