Fans who were no doubt hyped for the launch of Dragon Age: Inquisition by the beloved BioWare studio may be disappointed to learn that it won’t be releasing in all locations. It seems EA is concerned by Bioware’s “edgy” romance options, and are withdrawing Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s release from India. And from there, the story gets much more confusing.
EA has publicly stated that the reason that they’re withdrawing their release of Dragon Age: Inquisition from Indian retailers is due to India’s obscenity laws, but we’ll get to that in a second. Much of the press has been covering the angle of gay sex being included in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and while this might prove for some nice clickbaiting, we should stick to the facts that are already known. Let’s cue the legalese and take a look at a court ruling that leaned in favour of banning obscene “literature” :
“[Obscenity is noted as artwork which portrays] sex in a manner appealing to the carnal side of human nature or having that tendency. The obscene matter in a book must be considered by itself and separately to find out whether it is so gross and its obscenity so decided that it is likely to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to influences of this sort and into whose hands the book is likely to fall.”
What the hell does that mean? Essentially, a work is seen to be “obscene” in Indian law if it is showing sex in a manner that is too explicit by the vague framework of the law as determined by a proceeding court. In other words, it really depends on the individual court case to determine what may or may not be obscene at any given time. This is why the bloodbath of Far Cry 4, which features extreme violence and gore in the fictional South Asian nation known as Kyrat (which is basically Nepal), and the exceptionally lewd and crude Grand Theft Auto V will be debuting in India. The question becomes: do these games violate the law any more than Dragon Age: Inquisition? Not yet is the key phrase, as a court case would have to be brought forward to argue for these games being provocative.
It’s a tricky circumstance for EA as a publisher: do they risk legal action by releasing a major title with debatable content or do they go all-in and take the risk for the sake of profit? It seems they don’t want to play that bet, and are conservatively withdrawing their launch from the nation. As mentioned, many news outlets are reporting that this may be due to the gay sex scenes and romance options depicted in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Fair to point, India has had a turbulent year with their progressive movement to legalize same-sex marriage. Quickie history lesson: five years after the initiative to suspend the law that criminalized same-sex bahaviour – a law carried over from the British colonial years that is almost 150 years old – making India one of the only countries to legalize same-sex marriage, India’s highest court took a dramatically polarizing view, and reaffirmed the old law, essentially re-criminalizing the behaviour of millions of Indian LGTBQ citizens in December, 2013.
Is the gay sex in Dragon Age: Inquisition why EA pulled the release? Bioware and EA won’t say. What we do know is that they feared that their content would encroach upon the law, and they didn’t want to take the risk. What we can say for a fact is that although India is not one of the largest markets for game sales in the world – the primary markets remain in the Americas and Europe, along with Japan, South Korea, and China – India is one of the fastest growing markets for video game material. With a largely politically moderate middle-class growing in both size and wealth in the BRICS nation, India constitutes a hard sales figure of $277m USD (as seen in a study from 2012). That’s a lot of money, and assuming that the middle-class in India continues growing at its current pace, the profits are expected to reach $776m USD by 2017. With profits in the US alone at $4.9b, three-quarters of a billion dollars from India in the next three years is nothing to sniff at.
The refusal to offer new video game content is absolutely a financial risk for EA’s bottom line, and although they may be fine for the decision in the long-run, the numbers of their Indian market-base are quickly becoming a concern. Bans of future games will become increasingly problematic. This is doubly true for Bioware games, which remains some of EA’s most critically acclaimed games. This is the first release of the Dragon Age franchise in years, and with Mass Effect 4 on the horizon (largely praised for its similar offerings of sexually liberal relationship options), EA is going to have some trouble if they hope to secure the profits they want to earn from some of their most successful series. To their credit, EA is refunding all preorders of the game to customers, so nobody lost any money in this debacle.
What do Indians think? Honestly, most of them just want to play the game like the rest of us. Some are finding workarounds with Origin to download their game as we speak,while others are already expressing their intentions to simply pirate the game in disregard for both their country’s laws – which many cite as outdated and unenforced – and EA’s decision to not sell in the country.
It’s a shame that Dragon Age: Inquisition won’t be released in India. But for the rest of us, the release date remains today, November 18th.