Google refuses Korean game rating system

I did not intend this blog dedicated to Korean ICT policies. But all of my posts till now are about the conflict between technology and regulations.

Maybe it’s because we, Koreans, suddenly began to recognize that we have been in IT Galápagos Island. Well, anyway, here’s another post on conflict between Korean policy and global IT business practice.

Google refused to obey the Korean law that requires every game for service in Korea should get ratings from Game Rating Board (GRB), the Korean equivalent of ESRB or PEGI (but under control of government). About 4400 games are being distributed in Google’s mobile app store, the Android Market in Korea. These games are all illegal according to Korean law because they don’t get rated by GRB, though they have no problem in all other countries in the world.

On 10th March, GRB officially recommended Google to follow the Korean law. GRB referred possible blocking access for games category of Android Market from Korea. Accusation is also an option on the table for for when Google will not change their mind. “Every company operating in Korea should obey the Korean law,” said an official of GRB.

But it seems Google does not want to follow the Korean system. “Google operates Android Market in the same way in every country. We can’t offer different service only for one country,” said an official of Google Korea. “Developers are responsible for their games and if somebody reports games for their offensiveness or other problems, then we can handle the matter. Blocking game service in Android Market will not protect the users,” the official added.

The same controversy aroused for Apple AppStore when iPhone was officially released in Korean last November. Apple cleared the issue by shutting down the game category in Korean AppStore. A few GRB-rated games are distributed in Entertainment category. Korean gamers cannot play most of charged games in AppStore. How poor they are! Please offer warm consolations when you happen to meet Korean iPhone users.

And Google took one step further. No ratings, no voluntary shutting down the game category. “And I did it my way.”

Is it possible to block the access only to games category? Not technically impossible, but “it is difficult to shut down only one category of one country,” said another official in Google Korea, according to a report. Even if Google chooses to shut down the game services, it takes time to adjust system and may result in temporary closing down of the whole market.

Moreover, even if Google change their mind to follow the Korean law, it creates another problem. If Google (or Apple) decides to let the games in their mobile markets rated, how can GRB handle the process? They estimate that GRB can rate 3000 games a year, but thousands of games are registered in these markets every year. You simply cannot deal with them.

That’s why Korean game rating system is out of date, failing to respond to the change of technology and gaming environment.

As mentioned before, every game must be rated by Game Rating Board for distribution in Korea. Every single game!

The system has had some problems, of course. Basically, rating is good  for concluded contents such as movies, songs and video games. But most of the games in Korean are on-line games that need continuous series of patch and updating. Online game developers offer patches several times a day, and they all need re-rating.

The government managed to keep up the rating system, backed-up partly by the public sentiment that are negative to games and required the tight regulation on games. But smart phones and mobile convergence environment have caused big cracks in the system. First iPhone, and now Google Android Market did it.

The government is also not happy with this situation. Government wants individual or small group of developers create their own success in these mobile app eco-system. They regard it as a possible solution for recent unemployment problem. But compulsory rating for every game (even if the game is just a simple flash game) is burden for most of venturous developers with less resources.

ps. one more thing. Microsoft closed its ‘Window Mobile Market Place’ in Korea on January over the concern that games without ratings in the market violate the Korean law.  They submitted the games to GRB for rating. Other Korean AppStore run by phone makers or telcos also let their games rated. Unfair?


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