Ask anyone on the street about a proposed R18+ rating for video games and you’re bound to get an opinion positive or negative. The reality is that until recently the majority of Australians are unaware that unlike other developed countries, Australia has no R18+ classification and it could be argued that many of the voices opposing the classification are naïve to the complex issues at play.
A national survey of 1600 homes conducted by Bond University revealed that two-thirds were unaware that Australia didn’t have a R18+ Classification, yet a staggering 91 per cent believed we should adopt the adult rating for video games.
Under this very backdrop, Espresso Communications in their ongoing role as the public relations agency for the video and computer games peak body, Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA), developed and managed a media and stakeholder campaign aimed at educating and influencing government policy makers, mainstream media, parents and the gaming community to support an R18+ classification. The iGEA represents 14 companies such as Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and EB Games that publish, market or distribute computer and video games in Australia.
For the past two years, Espresso Communications has successfully assisted the iGEA in engaging with its stakeholders and bringing what is often considered to be a ‘niche gaming issue’ into the public arena.
In the 1990s, when Regulators and Censorship Ministers created a classification system for interactive games they excluded an R18+ rating because at that time the medium was considered to be only for children. The sophisticated nature of the consoles meant that many parents couldn’t monitor what their children played, plus numerous academics and the general public believed interactive adult-themed games were potentially harmful.
Fast forward to today and interactive entertainment has moved beyond ‘child’s play’, with 68 per cent of Australian households enjoying video and computer games and the average Australian gamer 30 years old (Interactive Australia 2009 Report). What was once thought of as the domain of teenage boys, interactive entertainment now rivals the film industry in revenue and the range of diverse content it produces. The traditional methods of delivering both gaming and entertainment content are rapidly morphing, leaving in its wake an outdated classification system.
A decision to introduce an R18+ classification must be made unanimously by all of Australia’s Attorney-Generals, yet for the past six years, former South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson (who under pressure has since resigned from the front bench in March 2010) has maintained a long-running opposition.
In March 2008, the Standing Committee of Attorney-Generals announced the decision to move the issue into public consultation with the release of a discussion paper. It was nearly 21 months later amongst growing public pressure in December 2009 when the discussion paper was released and the public were given a month and a half to provide their feedback to the Home Minister of Affairs.
As the industry association for interactive entertainment, classification is central to the iGEA’s mandate. An R18+ classification is needed to harmonise the national classification scheme and create a uniform system that allows Australians to make educated decisions on their entertainment choices, regardless of the medium or delivery method. With technology advancing in leaps and bounds, an adult rating is also important to future-proof the industry in light of technology convergence that is blurring distinctions between different types of media.
To combat this issue and engage with the media and public community, the iGEA engaged the services of Espresso Communications.
While specific research was not conducted prior to the campaign (given that the classification issue is nearly 10 years old) it was conducted throughout the first year of the campaign to help shape and form specific activities.
For example, Espresso assisted the iGEA in commissioning a research paper with Professor Jeffrey Brand of Bond University, Queensland. Interactive Australia 2009, is the largest study on interactive games in Australia, involving over 1600 households. The report provided data on player demographics and behaviours, and explores key issues including the introduction of an R18+ classification. The research uncovered that almost two-thirds of adults were unaware of Australia’s lack of an R18+ classification and 91 per cent of gamers and non-gamers believe an adult rating should be introduced.
In 2009, Espresso also undertook a Newspoll study with over 500 parents to gauge the level of awareness surrounding parental controls on consoles. The results highlighted that just 26 per cent of parents are aware controls existed on the popular consoles; Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii and 49 per cent were unaware of built-in classification locks.
The research findings were vital in understanding the misconceptions surrounding video games and the greater need to educate parents to help them manage their child’s gaming habits.
There were several targets for campaign.
Parents were a key target as they often posses a kneejerk reaction to R18+ classified media and consider it to be associated with excessively violent or sexual content. It was important to help parents dispel the negative connotations often surrounding video games and educate them about the benefits of a uniform classification system can bring, and their role in using the guidelines to manage gameplay within the home .
Another key target was gamers. Whilst most gamers understand and are in favour of an R18+ classification, most aren’t proactively involved in furthering the issue. Throughout the campaign our focus was not on education but to facilitate positive dialogue between the gaming community and government, making sure made better use of the political process to have their voices heard.
Stakeholders targeted throughout the campaign included gaming and multimedia academics and psychologists, The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Office of Film and Literature Classification (now called the Classification Board) and opinion writers within the media ensuring our message was heard from a range of voices
Central to the campaign was the development of comprehensive document outlining the iGEA’s policy statement on an R18+ classification debate. The document was shared with the iGEA’s members, ambassadors, academics, spokespeople and other third-parties to ensure consistency and clarity in messaging.
The key messages of the campaign were;
· The perception that the lack of an R18+ classification is protecting children from inappropriate content is incorrect
· Australia needs consistent classification to ensure consumers make educated decisions on their choice of entertainment
· Parents and adult gamers need to get involved and have their say on the issue to bring Australia into alignment with the rest of the world
Espresso also established a series of media relations activities on R18+ aimed directly at mainstream and political media, ensuring the debate remained throughout the year and was voiced by a mixture of spokespeople and case studies.
A selection of these activities included:
· The release of the IA9 Report – the media launch yielded picture stories in every major Sunday paper around the country, educating mainstream media and millions of Australian’s about the industry and Classification guidelines
· Newspoll parental controls research – utilised family Ambassador Stephanie Brantz to talk directly to parents and secured picture stories in Sydney and Melbourne media plus online news channels
· Industry sales figures – reinforced the value of the industry across news and business press whilst reinforcing the fact that Australia doesn’t have an R18+ Classification
· Family Ambassador for the industry – introduced a family spokesperson who could speak directly to parents and the similar issues faced with children who play video and computer games
· Response to Government’s Discussion paper and iGEA submission
· Espresso also responded to the changing media landscape whenever R18+ was discussed in the media; editorial opinion pieces, letters to the editor, specific statements to journalists or letters to industry and government stakeholders
Espresso collaborated with third-party spokespeople including academics and technology experts to help tell their story effectively and spark general community discussion;
· Built a strong alliance with existing community groups and equipped them with resources to share to their members.
· Created online viral video content to help drive numbers and awareness of the Classification issue. The video was posted on gaming and social media sites.
· Collaborated with gaming groups including Grow Up Australia to help support a grass roots lobby campaign, syndicate key messages and share breaking news and industry developments.
· In December 2009, the Government released a discussion paper appealing for community submissions on the proposed R18+ classification. In the lead-up to this, Espresso worked closely with community group Grow Up Australia to create a viral video to highlight the need for an adult classification and encourage individuals to sign a petition supporting the change. Our strategy was to support and nurture existing community groups rather than initiate and drive a separate grassroots campaign. The approach earned the industry the respect of traditional gamers who in return were more receptive to incorporating consistent messaging into their own lobbying and media relations activities.
· Espresso conducted a Newspoll study to understand the level of awareness around parental controls. We assisted in engaging with Stephanie Brantz to become a celebrity ambassador and champion the wider issue of helping parents make educated decisions about what games content is suitable for their child.
Espresso has closely monitored the discussion on the R18+ debate in the media and compiled a comprehensive analysis of the coverage that has appeared since March 2008. It was at this time that the South Australian Attorney-General agreed to a public consultation process on the matter, which prompted a dramatic increase in media attention on the issue. We have also aggregated coverage that does not directly cite the iGEA, as one of the key indicators of our success is witnessing the debate move from the niche gaming community into mainstream society. We cannot claim our coverage is exhaustive, however we believe it is a true and fair representation of the media coverage on the issue.
Coverage highlights (a selection of coverage is included in Appendix A)
· Since 1 March 2008 – 24 February 2010, the R18+ classification issue received approximately 235 pieces of coverage in Australia across radio, television, print and online media;
· 58 per cent of media coverage appeared in News and Current Affairs media outlets, 26 per cent in Gaming specific outlets, 13 per cent in broader Technology outlets and the remaining 3 per cent in Business and Lifestyle
· 81 per cent of coverage covered the debate in a positive light and highlighted arguments for an adult rating;
· The positive coverage was consistent and largely reflected the key messages of the campaign.
· 7.30 Report interview with iGEA’s spokesperson Ron Curry
· Launching the IA9 study and securing picture stories in every Sunday paper
· Peter Beattie’s opinion piece in The Australian calling for politicians to review the current system and introduce an R18+ Classification
Espresso Communications also worked closely with Grow Up Australia to encourage 16,055 individuals to sign the petition for an R18+ hosted on their website.
Objective # 1: Raise the general perception of the previously marginalised video and games industry within mainstream media channels
- Extensive coverage achieved highlighting the diversity of gamers and the rapid growth of family and social gaming.
- 61 per cent of coverage appeared in news, current affairs or business media
Objective #2: Educate the general public about the benefits of an R18+ classification, and the importance of harmonisation across all forms of media and;
Objective #3: Encourage the public community to get involved and have their say on the issue
- The outcomes of four mainstream polls or research (News Limited, Fairfax, Channel 7 and Interactive Australia 09) all showed support of between 91 and 97 per cent from the general public of an R18+ classification.
- The viral video received approximately 7,000 views on YouTube and was an effective medium in raising awareness of the classification issue and directing people to sign a pro-R18+ submission
- The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General received approximately 68,000 submissions for the public consultation process; of these submissions 98 per cent supported the introduction of an R18+ classification. The R18+ classification has generated the second most number of submissions, with the first being the WorkChoices public consultation
Objective #4: Lay solid foundations for productive dialogue at senior government levels
- Extensive top tier coverage achieved in among other outlets, The AFR, The Canberra Times, the 7.30 Report, ABC Online, Sky News, and the Adelaide Advertiser (the paper read by Atkinson’s constituents) raising the visibility of the issue amongst key decision makers.
 News Limited, 2010, ‘Do you want an R18+ for games?’ <http://www.news.com.au/technology/eb-games-petitions-for-r18-video-games-classification/story-e6frfro0-1225826969923>
Fairfax Digital, 2009, ‘Should Australia introduce an R18+ for video games?’, <http://www.smh.com.au/polls/results.html>
Yahoo7!, 2009, ‘Would you like R18+ rated games permitted?’ <http://post.polls.yahoo.com/quiz/quizresults.php?poll_id=50754>
4 Interactive Australia 2009, National Research prepared by Professor J. Brand, Bond University for the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, 2008, <www.igea.net/category/industry-research>
 Australian Government, 2010, ‘R18+ Classification for Computer Games Consultation Report Released’, <http://www.ilsac.gov.au/www/ministers/oconnor.nsf/Page/MediaReleases_2010_SecondQuarter_7May2010-R18+ClassificationforComputerGamesConsultationReportReleased>