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The Lawbringer: WoW launching in Brazil

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

In the near future, Blizzard will be launching a localized World of Warcraft, complete with language localization and specific servers, in Brazil with a Portugeuse version of its signature virtual world. This localization accompanies a potential Japanese release, with servers for both Japan and Brazil, much as there are already US, EU, Oceanic, and Chinese/Taiwanese servers. The World of Warcraft gaming community and Blizzard especially are excited to welcome these two markets into the fold with their own local servers.

We're talking all things Brazil this week on The Lawbringer -- well, not everything Brazilian. I think all of the waxing and juijitsu questions are better left for The WoW Insider Show or perhaps The Queue. No, this week is all about the video game climate in Brazil, why Brazil is a huge up-and-coming market for MMOs, how a Portuguese localized version of WoW benefits a huge number of gamers, and the potentially pitfalls of the anti-video game sentiments in the South American powerhouse market.

Rating in Brasil (correctly spelled once for my fans in Brasil)

A lot of information can be gleaned from the types of categories and comprehensiveness of the rating system of any particular legislative body. By looking at what these bodies deem important enough to control, we can get a general sense of the way of things, as it were -- what is important dictates people's concerns.

Video games in Brazil are rated by the Department of Justice, Rating, Titles, and Qualification, or the DJCTQ, which is the same ratings board responsible for rating television shows and movies. It is part of the Ministry of Justice. Ratings are varied from "Livre" for everyone, up through age increments such as 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 anos (years). Each numbered rating corresponds to an increasing amount of explicit sexual content, graphic violence, language, and illegal drug consumption. The Livre rating contains little to none of these elements, whereas an 18 anos rating is intended purely for adults and is also used in rating pornographic content. Descriptive elements, much like how the ESRB does things here in the United States, are also present.

Much as in America, no rating from the DJCTQ means your game is effectively banned at retail in Brazil. In America, the big box stores, Gamestop, EB, and others will not sell games unrated by the ESRB. It's all part of the self-regulating system that the video game indusry has set up for itself. In Brazil, however, selling banned games (not unrated games) could get you a fine, and rating is absolutely mandatory for all games sold.

So, much like every other nation with a rating board, we're looking at three main factors in rating video game content: sex, drugs, and violence. These are the usual suspects, no? World of Warcraft has always been in a wonderful position when dealing with ratings boards over sexual content and violence; the former is barely present in the game, and the latter is usually dismissed as "cartoon mischief or violence," as opposed to obscene or lifelike violence. As for language, neither WoW nor Blizzard and its development team has ever seen a reason to use profanity to a great degree because it doesn't usually fit in the universe. Sure, Deathwing's dropping an F-bomb might be hilarious during the final battle (in fact, I would imagine a great achievement for killing a certain amount of something before his F-bomb goes off), but sometimes profanity doesn't push anything forward. Profanity has its place, after all.

Illegal drug use is not represented in World of Warcraft, as far as I know. There is that picture of Neltharion and Thrall with the hookah from the unreleased Warcraft Adventures game, but I'm sure Metzen can just retcon that little incident out by saying Thrall didn't inhale during college. You're my big damn hero, Metzen. Now that we mention it, however, Silvermoon City is full of hookahs and other various smoking apparati, and the troll out in Blade's Edge who is mad at the ogres for stealing his bong. Maybe we're on to something here...

All in all, it seems like WoW passes the ratings test -- or should, at least -- fairly smoothly. Nothing, however, is easy.

Banning Counter-Strike and EverQuest

In 2007 (and finally enacted in 2008), Brazil's justice department outright banned Counter-Strike and EverQuest from being sold in the country. Did it have a huge impact on the actual playing of the games? Probably not. While Counter-Strike was banned for the predictable reason of inciting violence, EverQuest's ban was much more troubling. One of the reasons cited for the class MMO's ban was that it was harmful to the health of consumers. Because of EverQuest's potentially addictive nature and the nature of the MMO genre in general, EverQuest was banned.

Obviously these two games, being at the head of their respective classes for a good long time, were banned as symbols. Banning these genre classics sends a clear message to content producers about what is tolerated. With Counter-Strike, again, we can reasonably see the argument. The EverQuest decision confounds me and makes Brazil a potentially dangerous market for the substantially larger World of Warcraft.

By banning a game like EverQuest, you set up a guidepost for developers about what is acceptable content and what is not. EverQuest in and of itself does not have much offensive content (unless you count AA points, and I definitely do). World of Warcraft is walking into an environment that does not have a problem with banning an MMO because of its potentially adverse effects on consumer health, substantiated or not.

I don't know the whole story. All of my research turned up some very cursory articles on the ban and the reasoning behind it. However, we can always make up hypotheticals. World of Warcraft is already widely played in Brazil, but opening up region-specific server clusters is something new. Blizzard is essentially moving in to Brazil. Will this been seen as another opportunity for Brazilian legislature to flex its censorship muscles for the good of the population and the welfare of citizens? It doesn't seem like it is averse to taking on the big guy, admittedly a few years too late.

Counter-Strike's ban was lifted, but the message was loud and clear -- Brazil is not afraid to ban, symbolically or not..

The fourth factor

World of Warcraft may in fact be burned by the secret fourth factor, one that exists invisibly alongside sex, violence, and drugs: addiction. EverQuest was called "EverCrack" by so many people for so many reasons, but even if the claims were insubstantial, the public perception was of a game that was like a job, EQ widows, and grown men in basement dwellings. Brazil thought so and banned the game based on the fact that an addiction to EverQuest could be harmful.

This elusive fourth factor could very well be a problem for WoW. World of Warcraft's numbers are immense and don't get to hide under any blankets. There is an omnipotent quality to WoW that permeates the culture more than EverQuest did -- we call it being mainstream. When mainstream Brazil's story is "World of Warcraft sets up shop in Brazil," who knows what the public opinion or that of potentially uninformed legislators will be? It's a metaphorical minefield.

Massively multiplayers are by no means all banned, shunned, or otherwise unwelcome in Brazil. It's quite the opposite, with more and more Brazilian game companies and developement houses popping up over the last few years. A Brazilian-born, homebred MMO would be a wonderful boon to the game industry and probably bring a bunch of great talent to the country. The problem is precedent, and it seems a bit scary when you consider EverQuest's banning.

An elephant trying to fly under the radar

World of Warcraft is more EverQuest than EverQuest was and more transparent than Counter-Strike. How, then, can Blizzard deal with the potential issues of opening up shop in Brazil amidst a stigma of unhealthy MMOs and the occasional game ban? What can Blizzard do to be proactive?

To be honest, it's probably already done something, and I just don't know about it. Presenting the facts to the ratings board and accumulating the data that is already available through Brazilian WoW players is a start. Tracking and applauding the Brazilian WoW community as being healthy, happy individuals who just have a love of their game is another great spot. Being proactive instead of reactionary allows Blizzard to stay financially safe in the region and keep players happy with a connection to their game of choice. Make the case against addiction, against destructive behavior, and against the stupid stereotypes we try every day to overcome.

Brazil is in no way any more hostile toward game development or video games than most other nations. Believe me, that is not the point I intend to make. However, classic titles like EverQuest's being pegged for its potential ability to harm consumers through addiction or whatever produces a type of chilling effect. I want to see WoW in Brazil. Brazilian WoW players want to see WoW in Brazil. Let's hope Brazil welcomes WoW without too much of a fuss.

Soon, Brazil, you too will be able to say "seu dano é horrível" in the dungeon finder.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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