South Korean Game Rating Board Cracks Down on Indies

By: Derek Yu

On: September 5th, 2010

South Korean Flag

A Korean indie game fan brought an unfortunate situation to light on Reddit yesterday: apparently the South Korean Game Rating Board (GRB) has forced a Korean RPG Maker website to remove all of its games, due to the owner’s inability to pay for the ratings which are mandatory for ALL games. This includes freeware games that are distributed online, as was the case here. According to the poster, a 105 MB indie RPG might cost $71 to get rated in South Korea.

Similarly, Steam might be blocked by South Korea until they pay the fees to have their games rated, according to this post on This follows another unresolved incident between the GRB and Google involving games on Android, from March of this year. The South Korean government has threatened to ban Android Market if it does not comply with the ratings.

The GRB is a government-owned institution that, according to Wikipedia, was created out of a controversy wherein the Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB) rated a gambling game “suitable for everyone”, allegedly due to a bribe. Now the GRB is South Korea’s only game rating organization, and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be much better than the KMRB. On TIGForums, Mrkwang of the Korean indie gaming site Pig-Min has cited a case where less than half of one percent of available Flash games were rated by the GRB during an inspection in 2007.

Obviously, this is a terrible situation, not just for fans and developers in Korea, but for every hot-blooded, freedom-loving game enthusiast. Ways to help are currently being discussed in this TIGForums thread and on Reddit.

  • Paint by Numbers

    Just read about this on the forums. This sucks.

  • Nitromatic

    This ain't no good. I don't like this at all.

  • Dodger

    Sounds like more racketeering through capitalism under democracy. In other words, it's perfectly legit no matter how unethical or immoral – which sucks. I wonder, as far as hosting their games on foreign servers which might allow South Korean developers to distribute their games on an international level, the real problem sounds like Koreans are not allowed to play these games because they are somehow being banned on a national level, which must mean some sort of co-operation through their ISPs. However, could it be possible that there's some sort of loop-hole in the South Korean law where these “games” might instead be called “applications” and they could go unrated based on an end user license agreement? I don't know enough about South Korean law to have an answer to that sort of thing, but I wonder if it might be possible to “bend” the rules there as they are in North America and many other countries under a democracy ;) I do believe people should have the freedom to choose their entertainment as long as there is no personal harm or general harm to the public involved. Still, it's obviously not that simple, and this is South Korea we're talking about – free, but not so much freedom perhaps. I think it's going to take some ingenuity by developers / gamers and some swift and perhaps shifty lawyers (is there any other kind?) to work this kind of ordeal out, but it doesn't sound impossible so the outlook might not be so bleak.

  • Dither

    Any kind of licensing/rating fee is also an attempt to restrict entry into the marketplace. By limiting the available supply of games — and, especially, keeping out freeware games — this enables the big, established game publishers to continue charging higher prices for their own products. Don't be surprised if this is tried in other countries (including the USA) in the near future.

    It would be interesting to know if any of the large Korean game publishers have donated to the campaigns of Korean politicians.

  • Laksumi

    It sounds like they will check all modes either like use-map in starcraft II.

  • Dan MacDonald

    Just have blizzard turn off Starcraft 2 South Korea and wait for them to cry uncle!


  • Guest_Sadly

    I am sure the South Korean people have much greater problems and threats than the lack of indie games. In case you want to pretend you are doing this to help them and not generate some PR.

  • Bearfighter

    Yeah well last time I checked this was an indie gaming blog.

  • DrOctapu

    Someone alert the EFF.

  • chrisz

    World Hunger is the biggest problem humanity faces, therefore no one may discuss, champion, or contribute to any other cause or charity.

  • Jesus

    how is this capitalism's fault? the problem was a direct result of government regulation. its true that the regulation isn't directly placed on business or the economy, it definitely falls under the category of a more socialized state.

    of all the times to be PROMOTING a hands-off government policy, this would be it.

  • rinkuhero

    a lot of people confuse corporatism with capitalism, and it's possibly at least in part corporatism's fault: i can imagine big AAA game companies in south korea not wanting competition from the little guy so they lobby their gov to force even freeware games to pay money or be banned.

    it's similar to how the FDA works in the US: the bigger drug companies don't want competition from smaller drug companies so they lobby to require huge fees (upwards of 100m dollars) for any new drug to pass FDA regulations, which only the big corporations can afford, driving them out of business. you can call that capitalism if you want, but it really isn't, it's companies using the government to shut down other companies.

  • rinkuhero

    this was also my thought, that this is just the beginning. better to get resistance started now than wait for the ESRB (with its 5000$ fee) to be mandatory in the US

  • Simon Carless

    Actually, there's a reduced ESRB ratings fee of $800 for games that cost less than $250k to make. Not that I'm defending them, and that's still a LOT of money for indies – but let's be careful when throwing numbers around that we have the right ones!

  • rinkuhero

    ah, thanks for the correction, didn't know about the reduced fee. but yeah, still a lot, especially for a freeware game.

    i believe there was actually a proposed law which would make it mandatory awhile back (backed by hillary clinton and joe lieberman), along with greater penalties for selling M-rated games to minors, but it failed to pass.

  • Dodger

    “how is this capitalism's fault? the problem was a direct result of government regulation. its true that the regulation isn't directly placed on business or the economy, it definitely falls under the category of a more socialized state.”

    Well, I actually didn't say this was capitalism's fault (as if we were talking about a living entity – capitalism isn't living organism after all). I think the main point I was trying to make was that there is an obvious abuse of power and a form of corruption which is used between South Korean capitalism and democracy.

  • Dodger

    Well I was thinking that whoever the GRB are discussed in this article, whether they be government or part of a corporation – or perhaps even organized crime, they are obviously trying to capitalize and using the idea of capitalism (a skewed and twisted idea of it at the least) to both prevent the average person – including the general public – from developing and creating video games, even giving them away, and last but not least preventing everyone else from having a choice to play these video games whether they are free or not. It's obviously a sham of sorts, preventing independent and / or small companies from making money (as if there wasn't enough to go around – considering there is an international market involved), all so that the big guys (in South Korea) can monopolize and shape their own economic climate (though I don't think it will last indefinitely) it might be difficult to overturn or change these practices and ideals (held only be the greedy) without actually bending or rewriting a few laws and then getting them enforced. Maybe you're right though, corporatism might be the better word, but isn't this really just another form of abuse through capitalism (and democracy)? There's nothing wrong with any idea, ideas are innocent thoughts, until the idea is applied by people who shape what that idea has become – that's when it either becomes a good or bad result of an idea. So there's no blame on capitalism or democracy, just the abuses of it particularly by those who have the power to manipulate such abuse.

    As an extra note – and not really directed at you Paul because you already seem like you're understanding and thoughtful of others – these are just other thoughts I had while reading through this thread.

    I think things will eventually change (hopefully for the better), it's just going to take time. This obviously isn't as big a problem as world hunger (I only bring it up because someone else mentioned it in this thread), however, if something like this is allowed to go on unchecked and uncontested what will come next? People can't write stories, paint a picture, make music, sculpt, dance, or perform without paying some sort of ratings company off? The article may be limited to video games (right now) but what happens when something that seemed so mundane and trivial blooms into something bigger where more large companies and corporations try to squash out even the individual? Personally, I don't think South Koreans would stand for that sort of thing for very long. Unlike North Korea, South Koreans have access to the outside world, they can see what's going on and can tell when they are being given choices and opportunities and more importantly I think they can tell when these freedoms are slowly being taken away. So I do think, however long it takes, the oppressive nature of this Game Rating Board crack down will not last. Those are my hopes at least.

  • rinkuhero

    i still don't see how it's even a “twisted” form of free trade, but i can sort of at least see your thought process now — e.g. you see south korea as a 'capitalist democracy' and see any problems that arise through that system as part of capitalism and democracy. which i guess is fair, but governments restricting what people can make and distribute is still really the opposite of capitalism. so that's kind of like saying 'america is a free country, but it had slavery, therefore slavery is a consequence of freedom'.

  • Idiocyoverdose

    Political/corporational corruption of an utterly disgusting magnitude.

  • Dodger

    That's not actually what I was trying to get across, the real point was that due to greed (I don't see any other reason behind the existence of the GRB in Korea – no valid points were made for the GRB in other words) the governing system and the freedoms that South Koreans supposedly have aren't actually entirely real. We could get into a big debate that would sort of distract from the actual topic, but, is America a true democracy? If so, why wasn't there a vote before the invasion of Iraq? The decisions of the mass populace are obviously left up to the elected officials (which is usually how it should be in a democracy), however, why then are and were so many Americans against the war in Iraq? When in fact the terrorists that initiated the thought of an attack were in fact from Afghanistan?

    DISCLAIMER: This has nothing to do with conspiracy theories and the like, the following comment is based on observation through all forms of media (internet, television, and printed literature) which has supposedly been presented to the public as factual information.

    Please bare with me, I'm bring up these points for a reason and it this, as admirable, positive and healthy the ideas are founded under capitalism and democracy, there are always those with more and those with more seem to always want more than anyone else. Hence the greedy nature of large commercial companies and the use of “tools” put in place such as the GRB which is just another money grab in fact applied by those large commercial companies. They are usually one in the same, or at least, working for each other. The GRB represents a money grab on all things gaming wise – even freeware. Is there any other motiviation behind the necessity for the GRB aside from greed? It's use of power is applied under a freedom to capitalize without concern or regard for the individual or the indie. This benefits whoever is actually in charge of the GRB (the governing body of the GRB) and those large commercial companies who can afford the rates while monopolizing on the fact that nobody else can afford those rates – this makes it next to impossible for average working individuals to actually make positive changes to laws and acts of civil rights and freedoms without the backing of a large group of organized people.

    It's very much an illusion of some freedoms since it gives the actual people of influence and in power the use of such illusions to make decisions for everyone without actually giving them a choice in that decision… i.e. the war in Iraq and the fact the the war was used as a ruse to occupy, control, and utilize Iraq's vast oil fields… just as an example.

    This is how I see a capitalism as being “twisted”, when the use of democracy and application of it are applied for the purposes of greed – and – when a democracy excludes the involvement of the people even when it involves the mass public of those people – in the name of democracy and capitalism. These points between the GRB and the Iraq war obviously aren't related, but it's the easiest and broadest example (without making a sweeping generalization about all human beings – but rather those human beings that have much influence and control) that I could use to try and get a point across.

    I don't claim to have any of the answers to any of this. As for a suggestion regarding the actual issue being discussed, I couldn't think of anything more than what I had posted in my original comment under this topic. I don't know enough about South Korea and it's laws to really come up with anything more concise and constructive. Obviously, many in democratic societies have plenty to be thankful. However, people in general certainly must be wary of those whom they have granted such power and that they not abuse it.

  • Dodger

    Personally, I believe games should be rated like movies are but the fact that any of this stuff requires a fee is downright ludicrous. Do record labels really pay more to print and publish CD's that have a “Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics or Content” on the cover? (They probably do, but if that's the case then the situation is fucked – in fact it's FUBAR!). There's absolutely no reason for such fees. However, you could be right, the ESRB, if allowed to grow into something such as the GRB might as well be the one in the same.

    So I totally agree with you, resistance is necessary before something like this happens.

  • rinkuhero

    america isn't a democracy, it's a constitutional republic — i don't think i said america is a democracy though. neither is south korea: it too is a republic. its official name is even 'the republic of korea'. there aren't many real democracies in the world in the sense of direct voting on every law, partly because it's impractical on the large scale, but largely because those in power don't really trust the people.

    but i don't think it's a good idea to associate greed with capitalism — i mean, it's true that in capitalism you're going to have some people that are greedy, but greed is sort of a part of human nature, it's not caused by the freedom to trade. and it's not like there wasn't greed during the aristocracies of old europe — basically, the rich always rule, regardless of what political or economic systems are in place. this is true even in communist countries.

  • Dodger

    But is capitalism really the freedom to trade? I thought it was the freedom own and then use that ownership to sell – at whatever price possible, even if that price is unfair – eg. Oil. I mean, if it wasn't for greed in Capitalism we'd all still be bartering (we being those who live in a capitalist society). It's not as if we wouldn't still have those who are rich, it's just that for some people, that still is not enough.

    I completely agree with you Paul, humans are inherently selfish and greedy, it's just that the more I think about it and try looking at it from different angles the less I believe that capitalism is fair but more importantly, when motivated by greed alone creates and unhealthy society which does affect the many. Obviously capitalism is a driving force in production, expansion and development – just look at China now, I'm not saying that the ideas of privately owning capital is a bad thing, but when the work done under this ownership is not rewarded and distributed evenly and fairly does it really benefit society in a healthy and meaningful way? Being human and capable of making both intelligent and extremely dumb choices, can't we learn on a large scale how to profit without the need to hurt, hinder, or deprive others of equal gains and a better lifestyle. Again, I'm not blaming capitalism – such a thing can't really be done – since you can't blame a non-living thing. The applications of capitalism are broad and the actual ideas and views of what it actually entails are quite skewed I believe, so much like anything to do with potential growth and money (and potential money) I guess it might be as simple as nothing is clear cut – but only because we humans make things that are simple instead so extremely difficult.

    Capitalism and profiting aren't evils in and of themselves. However, I have rarely heard integrity and capitalism brought up in the same conversation so I don't pretend to be naive nor informative about the situation we live in regarding capitalism. I guess you could sort of say that I'm just perplexed.

    As forward thinking as all humans try to be, one constant seems to remain the same, and that is – we don't truly know what we have or had until we've lost it.

  • rinkuhero

    why do you feel the barter system isn't capitalistic? capitalism says nothing about how you trade, it can be with money or with normal trading. capitalism strictly speaking (and the way i'm using the term) simply means little to no government involvement in the marketplace.

    capitalism and integrity are brought up in the same conversation a lot probably only in ayn rand novels, but it's not unheard of. the paragon of capitalism is not the corporate ceo, but the small business / startup entrepreneur. those people aren't usually known for their greed.

    in any case i still don't see how this has much to do with the original topic, or how there's anything more than a loose, vague connection between capitalism and this problem. it's not like communist countries have no problems with censorship: game developers in the USSR had it far worse than game developers in south korea (e.g. see the story about the creator of tetris).

  • E. Zachary Knight

    The only added cost for a cd to get the Parental advisory label would be if the album art printer charged extra for it. There is no industry or governmental regulation that mandates the label.

    As for games being rated like movies, in the US they are. Movies have a voluntary rating system that most all theatres require in order to show the film there. Games have a voluntary ratings system that is required for retail PC and console release. Both rating systems have a cost associated with them that is cost prohibitive to most all indie film and game makers.

    The good thing about the US ratings systems is that they are not needed to release games or films online.

  • jong

    Guest_Sadly, I think your confusing south korea with north korea. south korea is a pretty rich country. South Korea is about the 12th richest country in the world, and hunger or poverty is not much of a problem. Indie Games are the future of South Korean game market.

  • Makani