Fallout 3 Team Frustrated by International Variations on Censorship

The product manager for Fallout 3 has told CVG that content restriction variations from country to country are frustrating.

Pete Hines (left) said:

The frustrating thing for us is that the standards and rules can be so varied across territories, that we work with five or six ratings agencies and each one has different ‘hot buttons’.


In one place nudity is a big deal but violence is fine, and in another place drugs are a problem but nudity is fine. I guess that’s the way of the world – not every country is the same. You’re not aiming at one target, you’re aiming at six different ones, worrying about how each one will feel about different things.


We just go through and make the game that we want to make. We have our eyes wide open, mindful of the things that could be flagged up and how we’re going to resolve them if that becomes a problem.

As GamePolitics reported earlier this year, Fallout 3 was refused classification (i.e., banned) in Australia over in-game depictions of drug use. The ban was subsequently lifted following edits by Bethesda.

In 2006 Bethesda suffered through an ESRB re-rating of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the U.S. market following post-release concerns about the game’s level of violence as well as a user-created mod which rendered female characters topless.

GP correspondent Colin McIness served up this terrific interview with Oblivion modder Maeyanie at the time…

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  1. Karsten ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The only place Fallout 3 were banned before morphine was renamed to ‘liquid happiness’ or some similar were in Australia. Other countries in the world, such as Germany or the PEGI-countries (this includes Denmark) just slap an 18+ rating on Fallout 3. As far as I know Russia do not have ratings at all? – while the only country were nudity is a concern is in fact: the US of A.

    The reason Fallout were refused classification in Australia first is simply because Australi do not have an 18+ rating for games, only a 15+ rating. PEGI, the BBFC and the USK in Germany all have this as have the ESRB. However, the AO ratings the ESRB uses are not similar to the 18+ ratings of the PEGI rating board. I still haven’t quite worked out the difference between the Mature rating the ESRB uses, the 16+ rating, the AO rating and the 18+ rating.

  2. TBoneTony ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It’s hard enough trying to get INTO the Videogame Industry in the first place, yet making a game is one really hard and exhusting challenge for many Videogame Developers.


    And to top it all off, if you try to be creative and make a game that you want that reflects something about society, you will have governments, media groups, psychologists, unproffeshional lawyers, family groups and all wanting your head and that is enough to make your heart break but to have to try and please EVERY Game Classification rating system is like trying to please everyone with one game….

    Not to mention being hated by gamers if some of them hate your sequel of your game.

    Seriously, our Videogame Developers have one of the hardest jobs in the world besides from politics.


    And Videogame Developers deserve better than to be treated like trash by certain parts of society.


    But I guess to be a Videogame Developer, you need to have a love for Videogames no matter who says what about you, because your love for Videogames will pull you though many challenges.

  3. Blunt says:

    In Australia, game classification is not optional.  Unrated games are not able to be sold and banned games can be seized by customs if imported.

  4. "..." says:

    Edited to add:

    Unless you believe the ESRB is in the pocketbook of the console makers, the AO ban is not the fault, or a flaw, of the rating system. Indeed, a well defined and unified rating system would be impossible if game designers got to "rate" their own games. There is no "age prohibition" in the ESRB system – again, that is the policy of the retailers who insist on carding M games and not carrying AO or unrated games. And by its definition, since the ESRB is not a government body, it can’t violate the First Amendment – just like GP banning JT from posting here is not a violation of the First Amendment.

    If you think ratings systems stifle creativity, fine. But there is nothing inherent in the ESRB stopping the development and sale of video games with mature content – unlike some other government-created/run systems with an actual "Banned" rating.

  5. otakucode says:

    Also very important to recall.  Before the ESRB existed, no one was harmed by videogames.  Ever.  Not one.  Not even in a minor way.  They didn’t spring into existence out of need, they sprang into existence because game publishers (NOT game creators) wanted to create a MARKET that they felt was threatened.  They don’t give a shit about artistic expression.  They were afraid the government might step in and regulate.  That is a ridiculous fear as it has been tried with every other form of media and has NEVER been successful in the US and we’ve seen with the laws all being struck down as unconstitutional that it never would have happened.  Also, don’t forget that it costs TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS to get a game rated by the ESRB.  They make *BIG* money off of this, AND they get to control culture.  Authoritarians have been trying to get that kind of power for CENTURIES.  If only they could get ahold of movies the way they have videogames.  R would turn into AO, PG-13 into M, PG into T, etc.  DVD players would not play unrated movies.  They wouldn’t play movies rated AO.  In fact, it would be illegal to find a way to get them to play!  They’d never have a chance with movies.  Why have we let them shit on us like this with gaming?  Because some publishers wanted to make money quick without defending a new major artform in our culture.

    Note that since the ESRB is so strict and their verdict so entirely total in the console market that it makes it exceptionally risky to try new ideas.  This is called a "chilling effect" on free speech and is how lots of laws get declared unconstitutional.  However, since the ESRB is all "voluntary" and was created by the gaming industry, they get to violate the constitution all they want as long as they have the consent of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.  And they will only consent so long as we gamers keep quite and act content with the shit they dish out and don’t do anything to push them to push the envelope.  Encouraging risky content means things like big hits out of nowhere, or huge flops out of nowhere.  Both of those things scare publishers.  The ESRB providers a very high barrier to entry for publishers in the industry and guarantee no envelope-pushing games even make it past the planning stages… and if they do, the ESRB ensures they get edited to be within the nonthreatening (to the market) guidelines everyone else is going by.


    By the way, that reply down below marked as Anonymous, that’s me too.  Forgot to put my proper name in once I got home.

  6. Anonymous says:

    You need to evaluiate game ratings OBJECTIVELY and take yourself out of the ESRB ultraconservative bubble.  Grand Theft Auto IV?  If you translated that game into a movie, the only thing that would get it an R rating would be the prevalence of the word "fuck".  Overall, M-rated games are equivalent in graphicness of violence or sexuality to PG-13 movies, not R.  R-rated movies would be rated AO if faithful games were made of them.


    Take a look at the IMDB Top 250 movies of all time list.  Of the top 10, only 2 could be made into a FAITHFUL game and escape an AO rating.  Violence as graphic as that of Godfather would be much worse than what was seen in Manhunt 2.  The rape scene from ShawShank Redemption?  The torture and nudity of Schindler’s List?  Keep dreaming!  Those kinds of artistic messages are completely impossible in a world where the ridiculous ESRB rules.


    2)  The ESRB has no power?  Did you miss how Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all absolutely REFUSE to sign the code of any game not rated by the ESRB or rated AO?  They have absolute and complete power in the console gaming market.  Their effect is, thankfully, not as strong on the PC gaming side, but that is only a matter of someone attacking Steam for carrying a "too adult" game and Steam buckling and banning the same things the big console manufacturers do.


    3)  Yeah, game makers make money by making games people play.  The people who made The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, etc are all doing QUITE well finnancially and, most importantly of all, our culture is MUCH more rich for them as well.  The ratings systems around videogames and the lack of fight against it is COMPLETELY unprecedented in ANY other form of art.  Game makers just bent over and took it out of fear of laws.  Did that stop them from passing laws?  Fuck no.  Did the laws stick?  No.  But the ESRB ratings did.  Those laws would be no less unconstitutional if the ESRB did not exist or if the ESRB only provided content rating and NOT age prohibition which should be completely left up to the parent.


    Please, if you’re going to respond to this, THINK before you write.  Don’t come back with "Nuh-uh, GTA is, like, wicked graphic!".  Go watch Saw or Hostel and come back and tell me you’ve EVER seen a game that presented gore that graphic, zoomed in on and lingering, as a primary feature of the experience.  It doesn’t exist.

  7. Overcast32 says:

    Just put it all in there and let it get banned in some places.

    That of make 1 ‘real’ one, and another ‘tame’ one – call the tame one, Fallout 3: Puritan Version.

  8. Jeff says:

    That should actually read as regulating the content of their own games rather than regulating themselves. My bad.

    Actually… They still do regulate the content themselves but before it was the game companies job to make sure it was suitable without a ratings organization.

  9. Dark Sovereign says:

    Your post fails because 1) Ultraconservative ESRB? What?; 2) The ESRB has no power; 3) Game makers have to make money somehow.

  10. otakucode says:

    If videogame makers would start standing up and acting like actual artists instead of bending over and taking it from every single censorship organization they run into with not even a peep of protest (they actually BEG for censorship from ultraconservative organizations like the ESRB), then maybe they’d have a leg to stand on.


    But until game makers start aguing for the complete destruction of the ESRB and all similar organizations and defend their medium as an artform, we’re going to continue having to deal with any petty point of contention that arises anywhere int he world.  You can’t open yourself up to SOME censorship and still be able to fight against ANY censorship.  Either your craft is a potential danger to kids or it isn’t.  Get a spine and fight the moral fight – censorship is always wrong.  Ideas and images do not cause harm.  Ever.  Never have.  Never will.

    Put in all of the content that you feel is integral to the experience, Fallout guys.  If you want us to understand your insights into what living in a post-Apocalyptic world would be like, you might have to include sexual content because we are human and human beings, even pre-natally, are sexual beings.  Leaving out the sexual side of things, or the physically violent side of things, or whatever you cut out for the benefit of some immoral soccer moms who wouldn’t know a scientifically rigorous study if it bit them on the tit, weakens your story and destroys part of the experience for the player.  Don’t do it.  Give us the full experience.  Don’t even submit it to them for rating.  Fight for your right to label your content yourself and leave it up to parents to decide what is or is not suitable for their children.

  11. Brokenscope says:

    The oblivion rerate wasn’t about the topless mod. It was about the randomly generated dungeons, they were in some cases… rather gruesome.

  12. Jim says:

    If Oblivion was rated M for topless girl mods, why isnt WOW (World OF Warcraft) the same M rating? There are a few out there that show FULL exposure to the females.

  13. BlackIce says:

    If you’ve never played the first two, you should love it.

    ~You Could Be Mine, But You’re Way Out Of Line..~

  14. Clever says:

    And user-created mods shouldn’t affect rating at all in my opinion.

    If I convert Oblivion into Hugsblivion and give everybody teddy bears by their logic the game should be rated E…

    While I want to support GAMETRADERS ROBINA with a purchase I know I’m going to end up downloading the copy I actually play just so I can get the experience as was intended…

  15. lordlundar says:

    Sadly, the rating systems seem to be less about protection and guidance than it is stifling creativity. Sadly, development costs are also part of the blame. It used to be that you simply needed to cater to one market to make one hell of a profit, but now, it needs global saturation just to break even. Combine that with having to appease EVERY rating system in the world, and the choice is either take a hit in the incoming money or take a hit in the content. Now consider what most execs demand you take the hit on…

  16. sqlrob says:

    Actually, it could be Bethesda’s fault. ESRB doesn’t play the game, they rate based on gameplay videos and information supplied by the publisher. If Bethesda gave that informaiton, it’s ESRBs fault. If they didn’t, it’s Bethesda’s fault.


  17. Anonymous says:

    The thing is, every other developer has to jump through the same hoops. Personally, I see it as nothing more than localization issue because it depends heavily on the culture of different regions. Granted, it’s a bit more involved than translating dialog, but it’s the same principle.

    Also, I agreed with the re-rating fiasco but I also feel that the ESRB dropped the ball and should have been the ones to pay the cost. I remember playing through Oblivion and thinking that several of the quests (particularly ones involving necromancy or the Dark Brotherhood; there were some very gruesome moments there) were definitely beyond what you should find in a T-rated game. Again, that’s not Bethesda’s fault. All of that content was out in the open and should have been caught by the ESRB.

  18. sqlrob says:

    What is so hard about adding the notice "User modifications are not rated by the ESRB". Just add it to the network disclaimer that’s already there.


  19. JB ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Well, you can’t please everyone.

    I remember the Oblivion re-rating fiasco. Besides the little bit of blood I really don’t see how that game deserved an "M" rating. And user-created mods shouldn’t affect rating at all in my opinion.

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