The Warehouse to pull R18 games, DVDs
The graphic nature of Grand Theft Auto was the tipping point for The Warehouse which will pull all R18 DVDs and computer games off its shelves.
The Warehouse Group chief executive Mark Powell says Grand Theft Auto V contains graphic sex scenes including prostitution from the first-person perspective and he did not want to put his staff in the positions where they had to be "censors of the censor".
The games and DVD's would be removed from the group's The Warehouse and Noel Leeming stores within 48 hours.
"Look The Warehouse never traditionally sold R18 products and it was part of our brand position and it crept in in the 2000s. It's been a subject of debate internally for some time," Powell said.
But when the new version of Grand Theft Auto came out, the group felt that taking that one game off the shelves would ethically require its staff to make a judgement call on every R18 other product.
R18 ranges from stuff that would be generally acceptable like Game of Thrones right through to stuff that I think if most people saw the recordings I've seen would not find [them acceptable].
"We're not saying it should be banned. We're just saying it doesn't fit with our brand."
Financially the move would probably impact on the company's net profit by about $500,000 to $750,000, said Powell.
R18 was a relatively small proportion of DVDs and reasonably more in gaming "but not as large as you would think, actually". It consisted of about 100 out of 100,000 product lines in a store. The stock would be removed within about 48 hours and returned to suppliers.
A spokesperson for the Office of Film and Literature Classification said it regularly surveyed New Zealanders on their attitudes towards things like horror and violence.
"The research we've done in recent years doesn't indicate there's any rapid changes in public's attitudes towards sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence in films and games.
"But it's always open to any retailer to make commercial decisions around what it stocks to best fit with its own and its customers' values and needs."
Most commentators expressed surprise at The Warehouse's move but suggested there could be business as well as ethical reasons behind it.
Tim Morris of research house Coriolis said The Warehouse had a precedent, in that Walmart had pulled Grand Theft Auto from its shelves before.
But in his opinion, most seemingly ethical decisions by firms were also to their fiscal benefit.
"Have they stopped selling sugary drinks and cheap plastic crap that's going to fill landfills? No. It's a very selective decision and there's probably good fundamental reasons behind it."
Gaming industry groups said the computer games industry was not becoming more violent and was unlikely to be affected by The Warehouse's decision.
New Zealand Game Developers Association president Stephen Knightly said such games accounted for less than a fifth of the profits from the overall games industry and if anything, there were fewer R-rated games being made as it was not where the money was.
Knightly said he "absolutely respected" the retailer's decision.
"The trend in the games industry in recent years has been to make more family-friendly and thought-provoking content, and the games industry has got better at not having to fall back on violence," he said.
Ron Curry, chief executive of the trans-Tasman Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (Igea), whose members include international games studios, said previous experience suggested that consumers would simply get any games they wanted from another outlet.
"We have seen in the past that when products aren't available, they will seek them elsewhere."
However, he said it would be "wrong to suggest businesses shouldn't take an ethical stand on any number of issues".
There was nothing illegal about R18 games and the reason for the classification system was to ensure everyone was well-informed about the age-appropriateness of content, he said.
Classification rules were not flexible, he said. If game developers pushed the limits, they would fall foul of the rules and find their products being classed as objectionable, he said.
Shares in the Warehouse closed down 2c at $3.15.
The Warehouse said any customer purchases of R18 DVDs and games already undertaken, for example online, would be honoured.