Update (24/05/18): Earlier this week, Compulsion Games suffered a blow when the Australian Classification Board refused to give We Happy Few a rating, banning it from sales in the country. The developer has now responded, reassuring Australian fans that it’s doing all it can to rectify the situation.
Compulsion Games has reached out to the Australian Classification Board, collaborating with the governing body as best it can to get more information on the decision and potentially brush the game up to the country’s standards if possible.
The developer recognises that this might not be entirely possible as it “explores a range of modern themes, including addiction, mental health and drug abuse” within We Happy Few, with claims of its treatment of the topics being well received by fans.
“We Happy Few is set in a dystopian society, and the first scene consists of the player character redacting material that could cause offense to ‘society at large’, as part of his job as a government ‘archivist’,” explains Compulsion Games. “It’s a society that is forcing its citizens to take Joy, and the whole point of the game is to reject this programming and fight back. In this context, our game’s overarching social commentary is no different than Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or Terry Gilliam's Brazil.”
Compulsion Games has emphasised that it will facilitate refunds for frustrated Australian backers if the government maintains its stance, but has politely asked if fans would give the studio a little time to communicate its grievances and explore alternative solutions before making a decision.
Original story (22/05/18): After a couple of years in Early Access, We Happy Few is gearing up for its full launch later this year, but unfortunately not every country will be able to play the unconventional survival game. Developer Compulsion Games has been knocked back by Australia, as We Happy Few is in violation of the country’s Classification Board.
Set in a pseudo-utopian Britain during the 1960s, We Happy Few pits the player in the shoes of a “Downer,” a categorisation of people that refuse to take the hallucinogenic drug known as “Joy”. One of the primary mechanics is to balance just how much Joy is in the player’s system, maintaining an element of control when exploring the roguelike world, without blowing their cover.
It’s this focus on drug taking and the mechanic of overdosing that breaches the Australian Classification Board's Games 1(a) clause, via Kotaku, which explicitly refuses any game that “depicts, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.”
Australia has made an effort to expand upon its rating system by introducing the R18+ classification for more adult-based titles, however this still doesn’t excuse more extreme cases that breach its current rating system.
Hotline Miami 2 was similarly refused classification in Australia due to its own depictions of drug use and excessive violence, causing one of its developers, Dennaton, to promote piracy among players within the country.
It was announced in January that We Happy Few would be moving from its April launch date to a “summer” release, despite its pre-purchase functionality subsequently being stripped as of February 1st.
KitGuru Says: Although We Happy Few was fairly lacking when I last dove in, it seems to have shaped up in the past year. It’s a shame that Australian players might never get to find out how the game fares once it launches. Are you looking forward to We Happy Few?