Despite what everyone outside Russia thinks, there is no official censorship in games industry of any kind or, at least, it never happened so far. Russian age rating system works a little bit different from most age rating systems in other countries.
Ratings are mandatory by law
There is a special law that regulates all age ratings in media, including games, movies, news, shows, books and even blog posts. You should read it. There are also fines applied for failing to rate your game properly or selling adult games to minors.
How do you rate your game?
There is no PEGI or ESA to give ratings for you. You should rate your own game yourself. Easy-peasy, just stamp something on a box (or a frontpage) and you’re good to go! But there is a catch (there is always a catch in Russian laws) – if someone challenges your rating, there will be expert hearings by authorised experts. If they find your rating wrong you will be fined.
How bad it might be?
There is no strict definition for which kind of expert is authorised in the law, so it’s opened for interpretation. And experts are defined by several government entities, so you might run into different experts in Novosibirsk or Moscow. Fines for companies range from 20 000 to 50 000 rubles ($600-$1400). All your incorrectly rated games will be confiscated and your company might have to stop doing any business for up to 90 days. There are also fines for store clerks that sell those games – from 2000 to 3000 roubles.
Are there any examples of companies that got fined?
This law is relatively new (2012), so there were no examples of expert hearings or fines so far. Although in 2013 1C-Softclub announced that they would stop selling “Company of Heroes 2″ in retail stores because of user-signed petition. There were no legal requirements to do this. Still, there are rumours about threats from Russian officials to enforce the law and fine 1C-Softlcub for selling “Company of Heroes 2″ to minors. Meanwhile, game is available on Steam and still can be found in retail stores in Russia half a year after “halted sales”.
So, what are the ratings?
There are several age categories “0”, “6+”, “12+”, “16+”, “18+”. Russian age ratings are generally compatible with PEGI – you might read Russian descriptions in the law itself. Laws are stricter on what might be considered “gay propaganda” or “denying Red Army’s role in WW2″, but if your game doesn’t contain same-sex marriage or doesn’t involve WW2, you should be fine with your PEGI issued rating. If you do have same-sex couples or WW2 you’d be much safer with 18+. If you don’t have anything like this, but still feeling a little bit uneasy, just notch a PEGI rating up for Russia – go from 12+ to 16+ or from 16+ to 18+. Right now it won’t change anything.
How do I indicate age rating in my game?
Are ratings really enforced in retail or online?
Short answer is “no”. Legally you shouldn’t sell adult games to minors, but it happens all the time and nobody really gives a damn about it. You’re expected to have a reasonable age gate for 18+ content, but simple “state your date of birth” is enough. Of course, it might change in the future.
What about other CIS countries?
Ukraine technically has a law about age ratings, but since local retail is dying, nobody bothers with it. There is also a “National Moral Commission” in Ukraine, that might issue a ban on your product. They “banned” several games, including Far Cry 3, but they don’t actually have any legal power to stop those games from selling. So it’s like your grumpy neighbour cat lady “banning” you from watching too much Star Wars at your home – she might scream, but there is nothing she can do about it. I’m not sure about what’s going on in Belarus. There is almost no retail market for games in Belarus and I’ve never seen or read about age ratings specific for Belarus. Most of the time they just go with Russian age ratings.
What might change in the future?
Games with 18+ might get a special treatment in stores if new laws are implemented – you’ll have to store them in a dedicated area and keep kids out of even taking a peek. Like porn. “18+” label might increase in size as well, like it happened in Germany. Russia might add new changes into what allowed and what is not. I’ve already mentioned recent bans on “gay propaganda” and “incorrect portrayal of Red Army’s role in WW2″.
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