At last! Get paid to kill Nazis!

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/030304/latu045_1.html

YouPlayGames today announced that it has signed an exclusive deal with id Software™ and Even Balance, Inc. to offer Return to Castle Wolfenstein™ as the premiere title available through the company’s new skill-based online gaming service. YouPlayGames is pioneering the world of professional online gaming by bringing massively popular multi-player licensed titles into homes and providing everyone with the chance to make money while playing their favorite computer games.

Through the agreement, gamers at any skill level can play Return to Castle Wolfenstein and vie against each other over the Internet for the opportunity to win money and prizes.

Question: Is Return to Castle Wolfenstein allowed to sell in Germany? Are the swastikas removed? Are the Nazis changed into Scientologists?

I seem to recall the swastikas were removed. Not sure, though.

From what I’ve heard, German game retailers have an “index” of games they can’t sell. Also, German developers are apparently bound by all kinds of very weird constraints; for instance, they can’t, under any circumstances, make a game that features Hitler, Rommel, or any other famous World War II figures by name (most German real-time strategy games just have “The Germans” and “The Americans”).

Also, I believe that a lot of violent games back in the DOOM era used to get “censored” by replacing the people getting killed with robots (no joke). I don’t know what they do about it now, though.

No blood allowed. No swastikas or other Nazi symbology. German flags or the Iron Cross are OK. Definitely no SS.

No kids being harmed either.

Time for my semi-annual info post on German game laws…

…to minors. Unfortunately that law also bans any kind of mail order business for such games. That’s the same law that regulates stuff like porn videos (that’s what it had been created for actually). The film industry doesn’t care all that much because there are video shops all over the place which minors may not enter, and selling indexed stuff there is okay.

However, computer game sales are still driven by minors, no matter what fantastic claims about average ages of 30+ years the games industry likes to make up, so nobody sees any profit in setting up similarly restricted shops for computer games. So the any game on this index is effectively unavailable. Typically you have to import it yourself, or get to know someone who does.

There is also another issue about age rating. Violent games are likely to get a restrictive age rating, even if they aren’t put on the index, and once again this will kill sales since the target audience are kids, no matter what the industry says. So German versions of violent games resort to reducing blood, splatter effects, or outright replacing human enemies with robots to get a lower age rating and/or avoid the index.

Swastikas and other Nazi stuff are somewhat different because there’s a specific law against their use in publications, made at the request of the Allied occuption government after WW2 as I recall. This law is aimed at propaganda and explicitly excludes historical, scientific, or artistic productions, so technically you could say your WW2 game is historical or a work of art and that would be okay. The problem is that (a) nobody has yet tried to legally defend a game on these grounds, and (b) that’s probably because judges are rather unlikely to grant games such as RtCW either status. So while they aren’t actually Nazi propaganda they get treated as if they were because they don’t fall under the explicitly listed exceptions.

Moreover, even when a game with Nazi imagery wouldn’t get banned by a court decision, the industry rating agency is likely to raise the age restriction of such a game on grounds that such imagery is dangerous to minors, and the government agency that controls the index is also much more likely to put the game on the index for the same reason.

I’m not aware of the specifics of recent games with a WW2 settings because I only play import copies of such games, for obvious reasons. But usually stuff like swastikas, SS runes, a Himmler NPC or the like is indeed going to be removed for the German market, to make the game as un-Nazi-like as possible. If it got banned under the anti-Nazi law it would be removed from the German market entirely – no sales possible to anyone, and import would be illegal too.

“No blood allowed” is wrong. There is no specific rule or law against blood. It all depends on the context. If your game’s entire goal is to show as much blood & gore as possible it will be put on the index, or at least get a very restrictive age rating. However, if there’s some reasonably complex gameplay and killing is not the whole point of the game, red blood is definitely okay – for instance, in CRPGs.

“Definitely no SS” is also wrong. You can use any historical combat troops in a historical wargame played at an abstract level – at least I’ve never heard of such a game being challenged for its use of SS units. But put them as NPCs into a shooter, and you’re likely to get problems.

The German regulators are not completely mindless, they don’t just follow a list of bullet points. They consider any potentially offensive material for how likely it is to reach and affect youngsters. That depends both on the apparent target audience of the game, judged by its complexity and level of abstraction, and on the way the material is presented.

Points well taken.

Change my post to read: “Things US Marketing won’t allow you to put in your game if you want to sell it in Germany” then.

I wonder if German developers get a similar issue with sex and American games. Here I’m thinking of Wet Sexy Empire.

What would happen if someone was caught driving across the border with a trunk full of Castle Wolfenstein?

How would this apply to Combat Mission 2? I am a bit annoyed that I have to play with fake unit descriptions in a wargame where realism is at the core of the game’s design. Did the German distributor remove all SS references because a tactical wargame doesn’t abstract the units involved?

Quite basically, they didn’t want to try. As I said, German regulators don’t rely on a fixed list of bullet points. But you don’t want to get your game pulled from the shelves after release, so in practice it works just like Kevin said: publishers and distributors are making up their own list of things that must be taken out, just to be on the safe side.

Personally I wouldn’t know if German authorities would have an issue with SS units in a game like Combat Mission. Maybe the German distributor just didn’t want to take the risk, or maybe they contacted the BPjS inofficially and were told that their game would be put on the index unless they took out the SS units. Such inofficial statements aren’t legally binding but they’re scary enough to make the distributor remove those units.

In any case, realistic 3D graphics for individual soldiers will definitely cause authorities to scrutinize your game more closely than if it was an abstract hex-based wargame.

You mean the original Wolf3D, the one that was actually legally banned in Germany? You’d be arrested and your games would be confiscated, just as if you were smuggling illegal drugs. A single copy for yourself might be a different thing but a trunk full would definitely get you locked up.

The recent RtCW wasn’t banned in Germany because it was never released here in uncensored form. But customs would seize those games anyway because of the obvious Nazi symbolism. You’d probably get charged with attempting to distribute Nazi propaganda, and then you’d have to explain to a judge who doesn’t know shit about computer games why RtCW is perfectly wholesome.

All this crap is not an issue with games on the BPjS index, by the way. Personally importing such products is fine. It’s only an issue with Wolfenstein & Co because they (are seen to) fall under anti-Nazi laws.

Yeah, they want to be on the safe side so they just put everything that might possibly offend German authorities on the blacklist.

I wonder if German developers get a similar issue with sex and American games. Here I’m thinking of Wet Sexy Empire.

Heh, I don’t think there ever was a German sex game that was of good enough quality that you’d want to bother exporting it. IMO American censorship of sex is less of an issue than German (or European) censorship of violence because there are so many more good games and films involving violence than pornographic sex…

They would tell you “Hallo Mister, du haben der Junk in das Trunk!” (Then they’d gas you, apparently.)

Deep down inside, aren’t we all?

Yeah, they want to be on the safe side so they just put everything that might possibly offend German authorities on the blacklist.

I wonder if German developers get a similar issue with sex and American games. Here I’m thinking of Wet Sexy Empire.

Heh, I don’t think there ever was a German sex game that was of good enough quality that you’d want to bother exporting it. IMO American censorship of sex is less of an issue than German (or European) censorship of violence because there are so many more good games and films involving violence than pornographic sex…[/quote]

I think the hospital comedy Biiing might have sold a bit, but the promised translation never surfaced. (Probably because of the potential production costs; this came out in a era just before CD-ROMs. Mine came on -19- 3.5-inch disks!)

Peter

This was originally a subplot of The Sound Of Music (1965 Julie Andrews version). For some reason it was replaced with that scene of scary puppets singing “The Lonely Goatherd”.