A lot has happened since Tanya Byron first put pen to paper on her Byron Review in September 2007.
We’ve had the on-set of the global recession, swine flu, Barack Obama, the volcanic ash cloud, two major earthquakes, a tsunami and the death of Michael Jackson. Elsewhere, Manchester United (twice), Chelsea and Manchester City have all won the Premier League. And MCV has published 230 magazines.
But now, five years on, and Byron’s request for a more coherent age rating system for video games has almost been answered. As of July 30th – barring any other delays – PEGI will legally become the UK’s single age rating system for video games.
“Making a law is a meticulous process, there is a lot of technical work involved,” explains PEGI’s communication boss Dirk Bosmans.
“The last six months were spent on formalities that every law must go through. Everything was ready, but you can't just skip the technical bits that make a law watertight. It can be frustrating to wait, but once everything was set in motion, we knew that there was no way back.”
So, now that process is almost complete, MCV asks all the parties involved what exactly has changed, and what comes next.
Why is PEGI the best video game age rating system and not BBFC?
Dirk Bosmans, Communication manager, PEGI:?In order to rate 2,000 games per year in more than 30 countries, you need a robust system and broad support.
That was available from the start: the industry was committed to use an efficient and reliable system and governments were willing to support such a solution. So we were not new to this and we could show that our system was built on objective criteria with an organisation to back that up.
The Netherlands, parts of Austria, Finland, Lithuania and Iceland have legislation that use PEGI – all slightly different in execution and scope, but the common part is that PEGI was seen as the best choice to rate games.
Gianni Zamo, communications officer, Video Stanards Council: PEGI was designed purely for rating games. The system incorporates a series of criteria which are objective and makes rating games straightforward. That means studios, publishers and the public will know exactly why a game has attained its particular rating and that that rating has been based on the game’s content and nothing else.
What changes for publishers, retailers and developers?
Dr. Jo Twist, UKIE?CEO:?Publishers and developers now have to deal with only one regulator rather than two as was the case when the BBFC also had input into rating games.
In addition, and specifically for developers, the result of these changes is that they now know what age rating their game is likely to attain before they submit it for rating. This allows them to adjust or alter content accordingly.
Also, in the past, retailers treated PEGI as if it was legally enforceable, – even though they were only advisory – but sometimes this presented problems for retail as an awkward customer who could demand a PEGI rated game be sold to him even though he might be under the age restriction on the packaging.
With the PEGI ratings now legally enforceable, this situation should no longer arise.
Dirk Bosmans: It doesn't change everything. Most games in the UK already had PEGI ratings – all games rated PEGI 3 and 7.
With the new law, all the PEGI 12, 16 and 18 ratings become legally enforceable, which means those games must have a PEGI rating to be sold legally. And just like games that required a BBFC classification in the past, it remains illegal to sell those to someone younger than the rating indicates. That is not new, but it includes a larger group of games.
The Video Standards Council will work with publishers to ensure their game can be sold legally. There are new packaging regulations, and if a box contains not only games but film, some rules apply to determine which rating must be displayed. The VSC can assist publishers in these cases.
What role does the Video Standards Council play?
Gianni Zamo: Under the name Games Rating Authority, the VSC has been selected to act as the designated authority to administer the statutory rating of video games in the UK. In truth, the VSC has been undertaking this role in an advisory capacity since 1994 – under the old ELSPA system – and since 2003 using the PEGI system.
What about digital games?
Dirk Bosmans:?We must follow the innovations in the games industry. The digital market is here, but still changing in many ways – business models, platforms and so forth. For that reason, we launched PEGI Express last year, which is a procedure to get a PEGI rating for a game app quickly, easily and cheaply. Microsoft offers it for free on Windows Phone. These are fast-moving, turbulent areas of the games market, whereas authorities tend to move at a slower pace. We have got the time in between to provide workable solutions that both sides can be happy with.
Tanya Byron emphasised an importance of educating parents on video game ratings. What is the industry doing about that?
Jo Twist:?UKIE is launching the Control.Collaborate.Create campaign to promote how the PEGI ratings system can help parents make informed decisions about which games to choose for their family.
The campaign falls into three categories. The Control element is to ensure that parents have the knowledge of the tools that they can use to control games content – including PEGI ratings and parental controls. The Collaborate element encourages parents to engage with the video games that their children are playing. The Create element of the campaign promotes video games as a creative, fun and worthwhile activity for everyone.
Key aspects of the campaign include a video for parents featuring information about PEGI, as well as offering advice on how parents can influence the way their children play games. The aim of the video is to the empower parents to take direct control over what games their children play, how long they play them for, through checking the PEGI rating and making use of controls on video games systems.
A competition has launched that offers families the chance to become Family Gaming Ambassadors. The competition, which is hosted on the re-launched askaboutgames.com, kicked off at this year’s Games Britannia Festival and offers the winning family games related prizes such as the opportunity to have their own personalised video games characters created by a top designer.
In addition, there will be ongoing media activity to promote the benefits of gaming throughout the year. There will also be a range of online banner ads and point of sale materials available.
The VSC has also developed an e-learning package specifically for retailers which seeks to help retail staff understand how the new legal ratings operate.
What is askaboutgames?
Andy Robertson, askaboutgames Editor:?As an industry, we can do a better job of communicating what the PEGI ratings means, and where to go next for more information.
The askaboutgames website I edit aims to provide an online space where families can not only find out about PEGI but also connect with other families, to talk and read about how they choose games.
This goes beyond keeping inappropriate games out of the hands of young people, to connecting people with the games they will get the most out of – games that offer creative and collaborative opportunities they may not find elsewhere.
PEGI being a single system also means we can better listen and respond to families. Rather than simply telling them how to control the games played in the home, we have a chance to listen to their experience to make things work better.