South Korea’s hordes of Facebook gamers have been put on pause after the country’s regulators blocked all access to social gaming late last month. On Aug. 26, gamers in South Korea found themselves unable to make in-app purchases of virtual goods. Within three more days, access to the games themselves had been blocked. The Latis Global blog, which spread the news to western audiences, reported that the ban will remain in effect until each game has been officially approved by the country’s Game Rating and Administration Committee (GRAC).
Back in December 2013, South Korea passed its Game Industry Promotion Act (GIPA), which requires all online games to be vetted by a nine-person panel to determine the game’s ranking (ages 12+, ages 15+, adult-only or ‘all’). To date, the GIPA had been applied to the seriously popular eSports games but social games – social casino games, in particular – have apparently garnered sufficient notoriety to warrant being lined up, stripped naked and asked to turn their virtual heads and cough.
The GRAC calls for ratings to be issued within 15 days of being submitted for approval. Online gambling is expressly forbidden in South Korea and it remains to be seen what classifications social casino games will be issued once they return. For the moment, social game developers aren’t earning anything in South Korea, and the ranks of those playing social casino games could be much thinner when the games reappear online.
Ironically, South Korea’s Culture and Gender Equality ministries just made it easier for children under the age of 16 to play online games after midnight. Since 2010, the law limits game play between midnight and 6:00am to players 16 years of age or older but the law is set to be revised after parents complained the state was taking choice out of their hands. The Korea Herald quoted the Gender Equality Ministry’s Youth Media Environment director Kim Sung-byuk saying the hope was that the changes would “offer an opportunity for family members to come up with their own rules and plans and bond with each other as they follow them.”