When many gamers think of the South Korean gaming scene, the first images that jump to mind are of highly competitive real-time strategy games like Starcraft, or action-oriented MMORPGs like Aion or Lineage II.
But most gamers probably don’t think of South Korea as a home for mobile games, and according to a recent Korea Times report, there is a reason. South Korean law requires that all game content be approved by a board of censors before going out to the consumer marketplace. While that may work for full-release PC and console games, it is something of an outdated concept in the mobile arena, where the cycle of game development is often measured in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years.
Because of the restrictions, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace simply don’t let Korean subscribers access the games category on their respective stores, forcing developers to categorize their apps as "entertainment" rather than games, in order to be visible. But developers point out that the law isn’t effective anyway, because users simply can set up foreign accounts or access cloud-based digital distribution platforms to get around the filters.
A new proposed law would restrict the government’s ability to censor content and require certain "quality" games to be approved immediately, however due to turf wars between various branches of the South Korean government, the legislation has been stalled. Much of the debate between the two governing bodies, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, has centered over provisions of the legislation meant to prevent compulsive gaming by introducing time limitations on play, and in-game penalties for players exceeding the limits. Because of the conflict between the two departments, the proposed legislation is not expected to be addressed until the end of the year at the earliest.
Dan Rosenthal is lawyer and analyst for the video games industry