When it was announced that New Zealand would receive the same edited version of the hit video game Grand Theft Auto IV that was destined for the Australian market, there was anger in the local gaming community. There has never been an official announcement by publisher Take-Two Interactive about the reasons behind this, but logic suggests it was because it would be easier to supply the “Australiasian” region with a single version of the game. So New Zealand, which does have an R18 rating, received a version of the game which was watered down to please the censors in neighbouring Australia, where the highest possible rating for a game is “MA15+”. Anything deemed unsuitable for this rating is effectively banned in Australia.
The lack of any official comment from Take-Two, or the game’s developer Rockstar, about their actions or detailing the changes made in this “special edition”, frustrated gamers who had waited anxiously for months to play this game. New Zealand laws prevented the sale of parallel imported “grey market” uncut games (any game of this nature must pass through the appropriate censorship bodies prior to being sold), but did not prevent individuals from importing “for personal use”. However the thought of waiting even longer for an unedited version from overseas was too much to bear for many.
One man who was not happy with situation was Stan Calif, founder and director of First Games. Stan was not only annoyed that New Zealand would be receiving an edited version of the game courtesy of Take-Two - he also thought it was more than a bit cheeky that New Zealanders would be paying “full price” for a cut-down game. He was determined to give Kiwis the right to buy the “uncut” version locally.
As Geekpulp has previous reported, in order for the “original” GTA IV to be sold legally in New Zealand, it would have to be submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) - a process that could take as long as 6-8 weeks. Any individual has the right to make this submission, although a significant fee of at least NZD$1400 (USD$1080) is payable. With First Games committed to selling games at below the recommended retail prices of $120, it would take a large number of games to recoup the costs.
Undeterred, Stan filed a submission to the OFLC in the week after the release of GTA IV. Had Stan been able to provide the OFLC with a list of differences between the two games, the entire process would almost certainly have been expedited, as an urgent application could be requested. When urgency is granted by the Chief Censor, a decision may take as few as 3 working days. However due to lack of co-operation from Take-Two, Stan was resigned to a 6-8 week wait before he could sell the game legally to New Zealand gamers.
Time was costing Stan money. Every day passed without classification was another day where his games sat unsold, while gamers that could wait no longer purchased edited copies from local retail outlets. It was an understandably anxious wait, and the worse case scenario probably never even entered Stan’s determined mind. Had the OFLC deemed any aspect of the game to be “objectionable” (likely to cause injury to the public good if it is made available to the public), the game would have been banned for sale in its current form in New Zealand. Worse still for New Zealand gamers - this would also ban subsequent “personal use” imports of the game from overseas.
This week Stan received word that the OFLC may be nearing a decision regarding classification, only 2 weeks after submission. Sleepless nights followed, as his excitement at the news of a possible early decision was tempered with nervousness about what decision would be made.
Today Stan’s efforts and perserverance were rewarded, when the OFLC gave the “uncut” version of GTA IV a classification of R18, paving the way for First Games to sell the game legally in New Zealand. An elated Stan told us:
“First Games are proud to be able to deliver GTA IV uncut to New Zealanders. We have been committed from the outset to provide Kiwi gamers with the freedom to purchase an unaltered version of GTA IV. After much hard work and expense we are now able to deliver GTA IV in the way that Rockstar originally intended”.
The “uncut” GTA IV is now available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 from www.firstgames.co.nz for the price of $99.50 and carries a NZ classification of R18 (contains violence, offensive language, and sex scenes).