Bear with us on this, as South Park: The Stick of Truth is not published by SCE, but is a multi-platform game from Ubisoft. We feel, however, that it is a clear example of pre-emptive, blanket self-censorship for the entire EU / PAL region based on fears of rejection from the most sensitive countries such as Germany and Australia. Therefore it deserves a news post here to highlight the worrying spread of this kind of censorship beyond just SCE’s in-house policies.
Mainstream gaming news sites including Eurogamer, Videogamer and Joystiq have reported in the last few days that Ubisoft’s South Park: The Stick of Truth will be censored across the EU / PAL / EMEA area.
Videogamer report that a Ubisoft representative told them that “the decision is a market decision made by Ubisoft EMEA”, clearly showing that this was a pre-emptive, self-censoring move by Ubisoft to reduce efforts in resubmitting and localisation down the line.
Although not published by Sony it is important to highlight the fact that other, third party companies are following SCE’s trend of pre-emptive, blanket self-censorship. We feel that this demonstrates a disgraceful lack of respect for the vast majority of countries in the region who don’t require, if not actively reject, censorship.
The only silver lining to this news is that is has been revealed BEFORE release, so customers can cancel preorders and import uncut versions if they wish.
We urge you strongly to vote with your wallets now and in the future, to avoid purchasing any censored versions of the game. According to reports, the PC version is likely to be uncut, but it is unclear yet if the US console releases will be too. Personally (if possible) we will be buying uncut versions, used, in a few months time to avoid directly supporting Ubisoft on this.
If you are taking similar steps, remember to be vocal about why on social media as it’s the only way Ubisoft and other companies will know how strongly we feel about this.
Many third party publishers provide localised versions of their games to the countries that require them (for example Deep Silver and Saints Row IV for Australia), and we need to ensure that this care for customers doesn’t get left behind as this ‘blanket censorship’ practice becomes more widely adopted.
This trend will only continue, and in all likelihood get worse, if we do nothing and continue to buy these ‘lite’ versions of games at full price.
Sources & Links:
(Apologies for the long delay in updating this site, we’ll try to be more up to date in the future)
Despite long-held fears that ‘Killzone: Shadow Fall’ would also fall victim to SCE’s overzealous EU censorship policies, Guerrilla Games’ game director Steven ter Heide confirmed in a tweet that the game is in fact the same for both US and PAL regions.
When asked “Is the EU version censored like all other SCE releases” he replied “It is not. Same version.”
Which is certainly very good news for gamers.
Optimists might see this as a sign of SCE starting to back down on their policy of blanket censorship for the EU, whereas cynics might ask if cuts were made to the US as well to ensure parity. Or maybe there was never any graphic violence in the game to justify cuts on either side, we haven’t played it ourselves yet to be able to judge.
Let us know what you think @SCEUncutBlog on twitter.
Sources & Links:
UPDATE 6 - YouTube clip of cuts side by side.
Thanks to YouTuber ‘topaxx101’ we can show you the cut and uncut clips from Beyond: Two Souls.
It may seem minor, but it is still another example of SCE cutting the entire PAL region to cater for a highly sensitive minority of countries.
UPDATE 5 - 09/10/13 Sony confirm that the US version of Beyond is Uncensored.
In a comment on the US Playstation Blog, Sony’s Derek Osgood has confirmed that the US version of Beyond: Two Souls is uncensored, and clarifies that the cuts to the EU release consisted of:
"…all that was adjusted is 2 camera angles so that a touch of the more graphic content is shown from a different angle and not visible."
We can’t wait to see for ourselves ;)
UPDATE 4 - 02/10/13: US version uncensored according to Russian news site.
Russian site Lenta.ru has reported that the US release of Beyond: Two Souls will be uncensored, and will be the same version on sale in Russia as well, rated 18+. Google translate provides us the following quote:
"As stated by the "Lente.ru" representatives of Sony, the game will be released in Russia unchanged. There will be available the same version as in the United States. She, however, assign a rating of "18 +", that is, the game will be designed only for adult players."
However, the translation could also be read as meaning that Russia will just be receiving the US version, and not the version with the EU changes. This leaves it open as to whether the US version is cut or not, as previously a German games retailer were reportedly told by Sony that the US would receive separate cuts.
UPDATE 3 - 01/10/13: Sony make statement to Videogamer.com.
Videogamer.com picked up the story today and subsequently received an official statement from SCEE:
"We can confirm that three minor aesthetic changes were made to the PAL version of BEYOND: Two Souls. These changes are purely cosmetic and do not affect gameplay or the overall story. The modifications were made in order to meet the requirements of regional ratings boards in the PAL region, and with the full support of the development team who do not feel that the title has been compromised in any way."
As with Ross Alexander’s response below, we recommend taking the feelings of SCEE and the development team with a healthy amount of cynicism until the game is released and the cuts can be judged for ourselves.
UPDATE 2 - 01/10/13: SCEE responds, changes apparently only affect “5-10” seconds of gameplay”.
We have just been directed to a rare (but very welcome) comment on the EU Playstation Blog from Beyond’s European Product Manager at SCEE, Ross Alexander:
“I can fill you in with more detail on this.
There are only two amends between the EU and US versions of the game, amounting to about 5-10 seconds of gameplay that’s not been removed, just edited slightly to be in line with a PEGI 16 rating.
For BEYOND we wanted to make the game available to as many people as possible, hence applying for a PEGI 16 rating. The 5-10 seconds I mention above would have upped our rating to a PEGI 18, so it made perfect sense to make these two VERY minimal changes to get our planned 16 rating.
I can assure you that this does not affect the game’s story at all, and that if you didn’t know these scenes had been amended, you wouldn’t even notice.
Hope the above helps to allay your concern.
So it looks like the changes weren’t made to satisfy Germany’s draconian standards, but to ensure a lower PEGI rating, which is believable seeing as it’s rated as PEGI 16. It’s interesting to note that in the US the ESRB has classed it as “M” which equates to 17+, presumably enough of a difference to allow the scenes to pass unaltered.
While we very much appreciate this response (as maybe it’s a sign the wall of silence is starting to come down at SCEE) we advise all our supporters to take this news with a pinch of salt until the game is released and the differences can be directly compared by the community. Remember, it was only recently that SCEE deliberately mislead gamers by stating that The Last Of Us was ‘uncensored in Germany compared to the EU’, when that actually meant the entire EU was cut to begin with.
We’ve asked for clarification that the US version doesn’t contain it’s own, separate cuts as we’d previously heard a report from a retailer who said they had been told there were by Sony.
Watch this space.
UPDATE 1 - 29/09/13: Separate cuts to be made to US version too?
PSN user Keiyuu88 has again been scouring German websites and pointed us to the Beyond: Two Souls page of games retailer SpieleGrotte.de. Highlighted in a news post on the listing is the following message (helpfully translated for us by Keiyuu88):
”According to our information, in the European version of Beyond: Two Souls two scenes will be slightly cut. This affects all European versions (UK, AT and so on), as always with Sony. Reportedly, the US version will be slightly cut in erotic scenes. This means, according to Sony, that there won’t be a real uncut version at all.”
A final sentence following that explains that they are unable to offer the US version for sale on their site due to legal issues.
To be honest we really weren’t expecting this, and it now means that there is no clear course of action for gamers to take to receive a fully uncut version - as one won’t exist - and instead it throws up a ridiculous situation in which gamers might have to decide which version of censorship insults them the least.
We are still waiting for official comment on this matter. Original post follows:
ORIGINAL POST - 27/09/13
We’ve feared for a while now that Beyond: Two Souls would receive the same treatment SCE has given their last 3 mature releases, and now we have discovered that Beyond will indeed be cut for the EU.
PSN user Keiyuu88 directed us to this video from german games publication ‘Bluplay.net’. It is a video preview showing gameplay footage, and features a German voiceover detailing their recent hands-on time as well as some key pieces of information they were told by Sony.
We sourced a German translator to help with the transcription (and you can find the original German in the ‘Sources & Links’ section at the bottom of this post), this is the translation they provided for the section at around the 5:13 mark:
"By the way the German USK version will be unfortunately published shortened. As Sony told us, two scenes of the game were extenuated/weakened. One of those scenes did we play during our demo session."
Now, seeing as Sony have made it policy to only release one version of their games for the entire EU (see our 'home' or 'case studies' pages for more information), and not provide individually censored versions for the countries that require them (usually Germany and Australia), it can be safely assumed that the EU version will be the same censored, ‘lite’, version of Beyond: Two Souls.
As sad as we are to learn that SCE’s poor treatment of their EU customers is continuing, it is excellent news that this has come to light prior to release, unlike their other recent titles which had left gamers unknowingly purchasing incomplete products at full price.
So, you still have the option to cancel that pre-order, and import the full version from the US, watch this space as we try to get comment from SCE/SCEE and Quantic Dream.
Sources & Links:
- Bluplay.net Beyond: Two Souls preview video (German language, key information is at 5:13).
- SpieleGrotte.de listing featuring the remarks about US censorship
- Ross Alexander’s reply on the EU Playstation Blog clarifying changes
- Videogamer.com article featuring official statement from Sony
- Lenta.ru article reporting US version is uncensored
- Derek Osgood from Sony’s comment on US PS Blog
- YouTube clip of side-by-side comparisons of the cuts
- Original German transcription from the Bluplay.net Youtube video: ”Apropos deutsche Fassung: Die kommt in der USK-Version leider nur gekürzt auf den Markt. Wie Sony uns mitteilte, wurden zwei Szenen im Spiel abgeschwächt. Eine davon spielten wir während unserer Session.”
The simplest thing you can do to help with the campaign is to follow us on Twitter, or like our page on Facebook:
If we can gain a solid amount of followers then the gaming press will be able to take us seriously and write about it, clicking follow/like is as good as signing a petition for that purpose. No one is going to write about a campaign with only 5 supporters, no matter how justified it is.
If you want to help a little more, then you can tweet under the hashtag:
Opinions, anecdotes, messages of support are all welcome. Did you unknowingly buy a ‘lite’ version of a game you love? Tweet it and let others know.
If you’re on tumblr yourself then you can also follow us here too.
And if you’re really keen on spreading the word, you can post on forums and tell your friends, or even random buddies you meet playing online. If this means as much to gamers as I believe it will (once they learn about it), it could really take off.
The key thing to get across now is that this isn’t a campaign to bombard individuals working at publishers and developers with spam or hate mail, we don’t support that. This is clearly a corporate decision that has been made by SCE for business, not personal, reasons and we feel that with the weight of public opinion behind us we can convince them to change their minds again.
Just look at how #PS4NoDRM took off!
Once we have some momentum behind us we can approach SCE directly and they will be able to take us seriously, be that on Twitter, Facebook, email or even letters.
Thank you for your support.
P.S. As a side note, on The Last Of Us forum ‘Ramify’, the original poster of the censorship thread, has started a petition on change.org to uncensor The Last Of Us. If you would like to sign it too you can do so here.
UPDATE 27/09/13: Beyond has been confirmed as censored in Germany, and therefore the EU due to SCEE’s policy to provide one version for the EU and not individually censored releases for different countries.
Read all about it in our new post here, and you can read our original post about our fears for Beyond below.
Following our analysis of the last three SCE published ‘mature’ PS3 titles, ‘Twisted Metal’, ‘God Of War: Ascension' and 'The Last Of Us’: it is only natural to fear that Quantic Dream’s highly anticipated next game would be facing the chop for the EU version as well.
David Cage’s games have always pushed boundaries, and have never been afraid to identify themselves as mature, intelligent works of art.
Therefore it is important that, as we near Beyond’s release date and as the gaming press start doing more interviews and coverage of it, we are able to ascertain if the EU version is censored in advance so that we can have the choice of buying the game as is, or importing the US version.
In case you’re wondering if Beyond would be at risk of censorship at all, as it doesn’t appear likely to feature much ‘gore’ as the other three examples all have, let me highlight some quotes from a very revealing interview Cage did with French website gamekult.com, bold added by us for emphasis. (Google translated from French to English which explains the grammar):
"Q: Like Heavy Rain, Beyond tackles heavy themes, sometimes with harsh scenes of violence against women, kidnapping of children, cruelty… Are there areas where you refuse to go?
A: …There are incredible films on all these subjects. In the game, we always feel like we live in our world, we talk about things that have no connection with reality. I want to talk about the real. The enormous difficulty we face is that first person does. So it takes courage and the people around you, including an editor, to go. We have a lot of censorship issues. Now, cut off the head of a guy with an axe, it is no problem. By contrast, if I want to talk about homosexuality in a game, if I want to tell a relationship between two consenting adults, it’s complicated. All these topics there are real adult subjects, important, on which there are some things to say, it is much more difficult to do than kill 10,000 people saw. That it works well…”
"Q: Which example of theme have you been a victim of this kind of censorship?
A: …Heavy Rain has been thrown around a bunch of publishers… …but said: ‘You know, a guy who kidnaps children, we can not do'… …The message behind the game is positive: how far are you willing to go for love? This is what tells the game 'Yes, but you know, the video games that talk about that’s not possible.’ But we had problems on almost all the scenes and the moral problems of Ethan. When he had to cut a finger for love for his son… Everything was a problem, so we kept saying that there are lots of games that do much worse things than that! ‘Yes but they are not the same, it is in a fantastic environment, this is not real. You’re doing games that are in the real world, suddenly it makes it shocking.’ In fact, this is not true. And Beyond, we fight. Everyday. There are scenes that must be cut. We do not want. This is not Sony’s fault, it’s just we want the game to be seen by as many people, a rating that is correct, not ‘Adults Only’ in the United States, which would limit the sales. We want to reach a wider audience. Yet, in Beyond, nothing is shocking. No pornography, obviously, nothing amazing, nothing you would not see at 20:30 on TF1 [French TV channel]. And yet, everything is a problem. This is a fight that I consider a political struggle, which is to say that the video game interactivity is a medium in itself, it has the right to freedom of expression, and simply to respect the creator… …I want the same freedom and rights. That’s why we fight.”
Which neatly summarises the driving force behind our campaign too.
So as you can see, the fight to keep Beyond as he intended is a daily struggle, one partly due to their desire to keep the rating at under ‘Adults Only’ (18+ in the US), although the two brackets below that are 17+ and 13+, so which he is aiming for with Beyond is difficult to ascertain.
One thing’s for sure though, even if they finalise a version for the US that hits the rating they want, if SCEE have any doubts at all about the mature content in the game you can bet it will be preemptively self-censored long before any EU certification board even gets to see it…
Sources & Links:
UPDATE 28-08-13: Eric Monacelli (Community Strategist at Naughty Dog) confirms in a blog post responding to user ‘Psyschock’ asking about a gore patch:
"That’s not going to happen, The changes were made at the discretion of Sony Computer Entertainment out of respect for cultural variance across the PAL region."
So yet another response treating entire continents as though they were one country, and an unfortunately final sounding one. We still need to keep up the pressure on SCE to publicise these cuts IN ADVANCE for future games to give gamers a choice to import, it’s the very least they should do. Original post below.
_ _ _ _ _
Here we go, this is the big one.
The Last Of Us was released in June 2013 to universal critical acclaim. It was the blockbuster of the summer and received 10/10 reviews across the board for its stunning blend of tense, exciting gameplay and emotionally engaging narrative - setting a new benchmark for characterisation and performance in a computer game.
This case inspired the launch of the SCE Uncut campaign.
To clarify, the censorship in The Last Of Us is found only in the multiplayer mode, with dismemberments and decapitations caused by certain weapons and executions cut completely. What is strange about these cuts is that the exact same gore effects are found throughout the entire single player campaign.
There has been more official response, evidence, and community reaction to The Last Of Us than in any previous example, and so it has proven to be key in learning that these blanket cuts are part of a continued policy by SCE/SCEE rather than isolated incidents, and this is likely to be the case for all SCE published games featuring mature content in the future. Therefore I will go into greater detail, following the timeline of discoveries and statements.
_ _ _ _ _
As is the trend, there was no announcement pre-release that the EU version would be censored. In fact, a misleading press release posted on the German Playstation site, meant to reassure German gamers who were expecting a ‘lite’ version, implied the exact opposite. (From the google translation):
"The EU version of the game is also in Germany in an unchanged version, released over 18 years (USK18)."
Whereas news sites reported this as Germany’s game being uncut, what it actually says is ‘relative to the EU version’ - which we now know was censored from the start.
Sony also released a multiplayer trailer for the game showing two clear examples of the gore: a decapitation from a shotgun and multiple dismemberments from a grenade. No mention was made that these features would be missing from the EU release, and no EU specific multiplayer trailer was made.
3 weeks after release gamers started to notice the differences, and began posting on the official forum (the thread there is still one of the largest) and emailed Naughty Dog and Sony. Eventually Andy Barnes, from SCE UK & Ireland, responded:
"In terms of the European release, the version of The Last Of Us is the same across the whole territory but there are slight differences with the US version. We took a corporate decision to release the version we did (a version of the game that has achieved unprecedented acclaim from European media), and it’s clear that this version has not faired worse than the US version in the view of critics."
A woolly answer at best (and one that fails to address the fact that the media were also unaware of the cuts at the time of review) but still acts as confirmation that the decision to self-censor was preemptive, rather than based on certification refusals, and was a business decision to streamline the version continentally.
Neil Druckmann, creative director for the game, added his reply in a Reddit AMA at the start of August:
"The censorship came from standards in Europe. Nothing we can do about it. Sorry."
Europe is not a country, and there is no unified classification board for Europe with the power to censor or ban material, that is dealt with on a country by country basis. PEGI purely classifies material submitted to them. An email from PEGI posted on the official forum (google translated from French) reads:
"But here at PEGI, we classify all the games, we [don’t] censor in any way. We believe that our highest classification is large enough to warn the public… …If we have some content that would lead to a classification higher or lower, then we classify the game this way… …They are therefore free to choose when if they want to keep the game and classification as they are, or if they want, they can change the content of the game for a lower classification."
The Last Of Us is PEGI rated 18 - their highest rating - so the censorships made would have had nothing to do with trying to lower the classification.
Still unhappy with the responses from Sony and Naughty Dog, the forum thread kept going strong, and eventually the story got picked up by major news sites such as Eurogamer and IGN - whom all failed to receive further comment from Sony or Naughty Dog. This prompted a response from MacGruber310, a Naughty Dog developer:
"I’m a game designer, I have nothing to do with publishing or censorship. I have no idea why the game was censored in Europe since I’m not involved in that process. I simply wanted to clarify that ND has not been silent on this issue and that it is out of our control since we don’t publish our games."
So SCE/SCEE is solely to answer for this strategy. Which brings us to the here and now.
Do you, like us, feel that SCE still have some questions to answer? Did you, unknowingly, purchase The Last Of Us ‘Lite’? Would you like to see a patch that uncensors the game for all the countries that don’t require them? Are you worried that all future SCE published games including ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ (update: since confirmed as cut in the EU) will be released ‘lite’, with no warning, in your country?
If so then please check out our ‘How To Help' page, or simply follow us on Twitter @SCEUncutBlog, or like our page on Facebook. Just by gaining followers and likes we can show support for the campaign and draw attention from the gaming press, putting pressure on SCE to reverse course on this recent trend and go back to releasing unique versions specifically for the countries that require censorship, just like many other publishers have been doing for years.
And as a last note, on The Last Of Us forum ‘Ramify’, the original poster of the censorship thread, has started a petition on change.org to uncensor The Last Of Us. If you would like to sign it too you can do so here.
Sources & Links:
- Detailed comparison of cuts
- Misleading German Playstation Press Release (needs google translation into English)
- Official Youtube Multiplayer Trailer (starts at 0:48, gore at 0:55 & 1:25)
- SCE UK & Ireland Andy Barnes email response to censorship question, posted in official forum thread
- Reddit AMA with Neil Druckmann, response to censorship question
- PEGI comment on their certification process, from official forum thread
- MacGruber310, Naughty Dog developer, response in official forum thread
- Eurogamer article about the censorship
- UPDATE: Eric Monacelli’s blog post response
Released in March 2013, God Of War: Ascension’s cuts are arguably very minor but it is still worth documenting them here to illustrate the continued trend of SCEE to blanket-censor the entire EU version rather than provide unique discs for the countries that require cuts.
Cuts are found in 2 locations:
1. Kratos stamps on an enemy’s face in a cutscene, crushing his head. In the EU version the camera stays on Kratos and we don’t see the stamp.
2. An elevator in one level has someone tied to the top by their arms, as the elevator moves their arms sever. In the EU version the blood splatter landing on the wall behind him is cut out.
The interesting thing about these cuts is how tame the content is compared to the level of extreme violence and gore found throughout the rest of the game, particularly with one enemy whose face you also stamp on (follow the youtube link below to see it).
Sources & Links:
Due for release in February 2012, the EU version of the mature cars-with-guns smash’em’up was delayed until March to accommodate cuts requested by SCEE.
In a refreshingly open and honest thread on Neogaf, lead developer David Jaffe gave gamers advance warning that the EU version would be censored and that was the reason for the delays:
"You think I wanted to change content? FUCK no - for a bunch of reasons ‘fuck no’. But it ain’t my game (Sony owns the IP and funded it). and I certain countries have - obviously - much stricter guidelines."
Changes made include black screens in story cutscenes during the more graphic moments, with just the audio playing underneath; and special weapon attacks featuring alive NPCs, struggling to get free before being detonated by a bomb, replaced with corpses instead.
Sources & Links:
- Do you play games released in the PAL (UK/EU/Australia) region?
- Have you heard about the long-standing, illogical and draconian censorship standards of countries like Germany and Australia?
- Ever had the thought “I’m so glad I don’t live there!” because you play games in the UK or other EU countries?
Well, we’re afraid we have some bad news for you…
If you’re a PS3 gamer, playing games published and localised directly by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE), then congratulations: you’re already playing the same censored games, the same ‘lite’ versions, that have been tailored for your German cousins.
Affected titles include the critically acclaimed, Game Of The Year contender ‘The Last Of Us’, ‘God Of War: Ascension' and 'Twisted Metal’. 'Beyond: Two Souls' was subsequently also cut for the EU to guarantee a PEGI 16 rating.
What sets this policy apart from other publishers in the games industry is how and why it has been implemented: Unannounced - so gamers don’t know they’re buying ‘lite’ versions and have no opportunity to import the full, North American version; Unusual - because publishers frequently create unique discs for Germany and/or Australia (e.g. Deep Silver and Saints Row 4); but perhaps most importantly, Unrequested.
That’s right, no certification board refused classification of these titles, in turn prompting cuts; SCEE has instead made a policy of preemptively self-censoring releases for the entire region purely to ensure safe first passage through the certification boards of countries like Germany and Australia, and as an added bonus: to save a couple of dollars by streamlining the versions continentally.
_ _ _ _ _
So, welcome to ‘SCE Uncut’, the campaign to:
- Raise awareness of this unpublicised policy change.
- Spark a dialogue and achieve transparency with SCE and SCEE on this issue for current and future releases, ensuring that at the very least we are always told in advance if a game is to be censored.
- Secure patches for existing games that have been affected, and change policy on future SCE releases, reverting to a model of releasing censored versions specifically for the countries who require them.
If this bothers you, if you would like to see change or at least draw attention from the gaming press, then we ask only one thing of you:
That’s it. No petition to register with, no social network spamming, no requests to hound developers and publishers with emails.
Just a follow / like.
Because the most important thing at this stage is for us to be able to show support from the community (the gaming press won’t pick up the story without it) and a follow/like is as good a headcount as any petition in that respect.
Thanks for reading and you can find more information on specific games affected in the ‘Case Studies' page.
All the best,