The digital economy bill announced in the Queen's Speech will change the way that video games are given age classifications, making age ratings compulsory for all boxed games designed for those aged 12 or above. The Digital Britain report in June called
for rules to be introduced that would make it illegal to sell a video game rated 12 or over to an underage buyer, and take away the classification of games from the BBFC.
The report included plans to introduce the PEGI or Pan-European Game Information system, already used in many EU states, as the sole method of classifying video games. It would replace the current hybrid system – which results in games with both a BBFC
and PEGI stamp – under which the BBFC only had to classify games that depicted gross violence or sexual content while all other games were classified on a voluntary basis.
Instead, the report called for the Video Standards Council to take over age rating with all games having to be classified. Any developer making a false declaration about a game's content would face a fine of €500,000 (£425,000). The VSC will be
able to ban games it believes are inappropriate for the UK market.
The current PEGI ratings are 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18. The 12 rating, for instance, allows violence of a slightly more graphic nature than would be found in, say, Tom and Jerry cartoons, but only towards fantasy characters. They can also include non-graphic
violence towards human-looking characters or recognisable animals. The 12 rating also covers video games that show nudity of a slightly graphic nature but any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives
The Edge games magazine interviewed Michael Rawlinson of the video game trade association, ELSPA
The Edge: The Borehamwood-based Video Standards Council reportedly has just three employees who will ensure that games coming into the UK comply with PEGI ratings before they're given licenses allowing their
sale. Is this enough staff?
Michael Rawlinson: The Video Standards Council, in conjunction with the people at NICAM, in conjunction with the PEGI personnel in Brussels, as a collective, have been sufficient to be able to do the job at
work up until now, which is just rate PEGI games. The Video Standards Council will be given additional roles and responsibilities when the legislation is passed to become the designated body. I understand that between now and then they will be
looking at their structure and their whole business model and will be gearing up as necessary to perform those functions. I know that [when] the BBFC, some 20 odd years ago, were given the same responsibilities under the Video Recordings Act,
they too had to scale up to take on those new responsibilities, so I think it's grossly misleading to say that the organisation as it stands today will be the same as the organisation that exists when those powers are confirmed.
The UK trade association, Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), is trying to show that the PEGI system is by no
means weaker than the BBFC ratings that used to be oversee the region.
Speaking with MCV, the group took the opportunity to warn publishers: Abuse [the] new system and risk your future. Publishers may face fines of €500,000 ($696K) if they lie on the questionnaire, which allows PEGI and the Video Standards
Council to determine an appropriate rating for their games.
ELSPA's statement and teeth bearing are to ease concerns that PEGI won't be strong enough for the UK when it's implemented this holiday.
Three men in Borehamwood will become solely responsible for rating computer games in the UK.
Digital Britain, the communications White Paper, concluded last week that game publishers could keep their self rating system.
Under the PEGI system, games makers fill in a tick-box questionaire. Their answers are checked by a body called the Video Standards Council, which is based in Borehamwood and until recently consisted of a former policeman and a music industry
lawyer. A third staff member has been added recently.
Mike Rawlinson, the director-general of ELSPA, the trade body that represents the computer games industry, said that standards had been toughened up. He said that the three people in the Video Standards Council were very skilled in their work.
PEGI will have to wait the best part of a year until it becomes the UK's sole classification system by law.
The proposal to implement PEGI as the UK's only games age classification model, overseen by the Video Standards Council, was put forward by Labour in its Digital Britain White Paper earlier this week.
More consultation will now take place between stakeholders PEGI, the VSC and the Department of Culture, Media And Sport to ‘fine tune' the bill, which will eventually alter the the Video Recordings Act, last tweaked back in 1994.
Following this, it will have to be approved by Parliamentary procedure, which is not likely to be completed until 2010.
However, as reported by MCV, the all-new PEGI logos WILL start appearing on boxes across Europe this summer, and are already being manufactured.
The videogame trade association, Tiga, say the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating systems has room for improvement.
Tiga's chief, Dr Richard Wilson, said changes were needed to make the logos instinctively recognisable. There needs to be an advertising campaign and publicity as to what these pictograms actually mean. While the age ratings are fairly clear,
there needs to be improvement to the system - especially the pictograms - because they are not instinctively recognisable.
Laurie Hall - the director general of the Video Standards Council, which administers the PEGI system in the UK - agreed with Dr Wilson and told the BBC that more work needed to be done: I think people need to be made more aware. Take the spider
logo: that means 'fear'. In other words, people might find the game scary, but you might not immediately jump to that conclusion looking at the box. Our plan is to have a big awareness campaign and also put consumer information about the game on
the packaging, in English, which will help.
PEGI age rating labels appear on front and back of the packaging at one of the following age levels - 3+, 7+, 12+, 16+ and 18+. They provide a reliable
indication of the suitability of the game content in terms of protection of minors. The age rating does not take into account the difficulty level or skills required to play a game.
The content of games given this rating is considered suitable for all age groups. Some violence in a comical context (typically Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoon-like forms of violence) is acceptable. The child should not be able to associate
the character on the screen with real life characters, they should be totally fantasy. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to scare or frighten young children. No bad language should be heard and there should be no
scenes containing nudity nor any referring to sexual activity.
Any game that would normally be rated at 3+ but contains some possibly frightening scenes or sounds may be considered suitable in this category. Some scenes of partial nudity may be permitted but never in a sexual context.
Videogames that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy character and/or non graphic violence towards human-looking characters or recognisable animals, as well as videogames that show nudity of a slightly more graphic
nature would fall in this age category. Any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives.
This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. More extreme bad language, the concept of the use of tobacco and drugs and the depiction of criminal
activities can be content of games that are rated 16+.
The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes depictions of gross violence and/or includes elements of specific types of violence. Gross violence is the most difficult to define since in a lot of
cases it can be very subjective, but in general terms it can be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.
An overhaul of video games classification rules will make selling a video game rated 12 or over to an underage person illegal for the first
time, Creative Industries Minister Siôn Simon has announced.
The PEGI (Pan European Game Information) system, currently used in most European countries, will become the sole method of classifying video games in the UK. It will replace the current hybrid system that has BBFC & PEGI ratings, either of
which can appear on video games, and is sufficiently adaptable to work in the rapidly expanding online games market.
There is a new role for the Video Standards Council (VSC), an organisation which is independent from the games industry and will take a statutory role as the designated authority for videogames classification in the UK. It will have a mandate to
implement the PEGI classification system for all video games.
This new system will work alongside the robust regulation of Films and DVDs carried out by the British Board of Film Classification, to ensure that consumers have the strongest possible protection across these media. There is no intention to
disturb BBFC's jurisdiction in respect of linear material. The BBFC will continue to provide Blu Ray distributors with a one-stop service as at present. It is important that the BBFC and the VSC work together to share best practice in a rapidly
changing and demanding media landscape.
The Government will now work closely with PEGI and the VSC on the development of a single, clear set of age-rating symbols to give parents the information they need to ensure that children are protected from unsuitable content, and help retailers
to avoid breaking the law by selling games to people below the appropriate age. The new system will consist of five age categories and a series of pictorial boxes, describing content such as bad language or violence.
Professor Tanya Byron said: The PEGI system has been strengthened since my review and the Government has consulted widely on each of my suggested criteria. I support the Government's decision to combine the PEGI system with UK statutory
The new system:
mirrors the way games are classified in much of Europe, which is increasingly important as more games are played online and across international borders
is designed with child-safety as its main priority
is highly adaptable and works well for games distributed both on and offline
includes tough sanctions for manufactures who flout the rules, for example by making a false declaration about a game's content. These include fines of up to 500,000 Euros and a refusal to classify.
The new system will extend PEGI's remit so that all games are classified using its symbols. Information on the content of each game will be submitted to PEGI administrators including the Video Standards Council, which will then review each game to
ensure it complies with the law. Following this evaluation, the manufacturer receives a licence to use the PEGI rating logos. The VSC, as statutory authority, will take account of UK sensibilities, and will have the power to ban games that are
inappropriate for release in the UK.
PEGI's code of conduct determines which age rating is appropriate for different types of content. The PEGI Advisory Board, which includes representatives of parent and consumer groups, child psychologists, media experts and lawyers, maintains the
code and recommends adjustments in line with social, technological or legal developments.
We have argued consistently that any games classification system needs to put child protection at its heart. It must involve consultation with the British public, command their trust, and reflect their sensibilities. It must
take account of tone and context and be carried out by skilled and knowledgeable examiners. It needs to involve the provision of full, helpful and carefully weighed information to parents and the public more generally. It must have the power and
will to reject or intervene in relation to unacceptable games or game elements. It should make a substantial contribution to media education, for example through dedicated websites and through work with pupils, students and teachers. It must be
speedy and cost effective. It must have the capabilities to monitor online gameplay and to attract new members to online classification schemes. And it must be independent in substance as well as appearance, reaching its decisions and providing
information on the basis of its own detailed assessments.
The BBFC has always supported PEGI and wished it well, but it continues to believe that it satisfies these requirements better than PEGI. However, it will cooperate fully in the detailed work needed to give effect to the Government's decision.