Germany has strict rules governing video game content that large studios and indies need to comply with before publishing or advertising a game in Germany. Breaching these rules is costly as fines may total $550,000 USD in addition to (in some cases) constituting a criminal offence. Often, the laws result in modified video game content just for the German market (see: Half-Life, Wolfenstein).
By factoring these rules into development you can facilitate a smooth release in Germany.
1. What Content is Unlawful in German Video Games?
It is unlawful to display violations of human dignity, propaganda material of unconstitutional organizations (especially Nazi symbols), glorify violence and war as well as certain pornographic content. See Article 4 for the full list.
In addition, it is unlawful to provide content that has the potential to impair the social and emotional development of children if you don’t take precautions to shield children from the content. Depending on style and presentation, games that cover violence, sex or drug use can fall under this category.
2. Does my Video Game Violate German Law?
If you’re unsure whether your game violates German law, there are two ways for your game’s content to be reviewed:
A. You can have it pre-assessed by the German certified self-regulation organization USK. The organisation offers basic initial assessments at a flat rate equivalent to $330 USD. You can also apply for an official rating which will prevent your game from being put on the “index list” of restricted content allowing for legal certainty before launching. This assessment entails a test run of the game and costs up to an equivalent of $1,320 USD. For a yearly fee equivalent to $3,300 USD, you can also become a USK member, which includes customized child protection solutions and a certain degree of protection from fines and other administrative measures.
B. If your game is sold through certain marketplaces (Google Play, Nintendo eShop and Windows Store), you can obtain classification via the International Age Rating Coalition. This system is free to developers and allows you to rate a game using a complex questionnaire. As of October 2016, IARC will be recognized as an official age classification system by German authorities.
As mentioned above, for some games, child protection measures have to be taken. Examples of such measures include:
A. tagging your website with an age restriction label; and
B. restricting game distribution to adults, for example by using an age verification system.
Content that is deemed specifically harmful to children may only be made available to adults in closed user groups. In addition, if you act as a website provider, it might be necessary to appoint a “Youth Protection Representative” to ensure compliance.
While these requirements are not minimal, it’s important to take them into account if you plan on Germany constituting a portion of your game’s market.
Thanks to guest writer Dominika Wiesner, a German trainee lawyer working in our office this summer, for her work on this blog post.