ELSPA grafted for 12 long months to convince Labour to make PEGI the UK’s sole ratings system for games – but the real work’s only just begun. Tim Ingham gets the full story from Michael Rawlinson…
What are your initial reactions to the Digital Britain report?
I think it’s a fantastic decision that the Government’s made. It’s the right decision for child safety. We’ve all had to work very hard putting in place all of the supporting elements that they needed. We had to work tirelessly with the officials to make sure they fully understood the industry’s position. We’ve had to work with other parties such as charities and third-sector organisations that have child safety at the very heart of them. And we’ve had to ensure other Parliamentarians fully understand our position, so that they can be on-side.
It’s starting to get a bit puzzling. So please clear it up: What will be the process for ratings submissions?
It’s interesting. I’ve been reading a lot of press comment and there’s still confusion. There are comments going around that the industry is self-serving, and wants PEGI because it’s self-regulation. Let me be clear. What the Government is proposing is not self-regulation. This is what we’ve described as: ‘PEGI with teeth’. This is the PEGI system, independently administered by the VSC in the UK in conjunction with NICAM in Holland. If the process goes through Parliament without a problem – and, therefore the Video Recordings Act gets amended to make PEGI law – the VSC will be given the powers to ultimately refuse to classify a game, in the same way the BBFC has tried to do with Carmageddon and Manhunt 2.
So who rates the games – developers, publishers or PEGI?
The criteria under which a game falls into the different age categories are very clear. These are laid out in a questionnaire, which the publisher initially declares. So in that regard, it’s the publisher – but they don’t get to choose the age. That’s not true. It doesn’t work to say: “I think this should be a ‘12’, or this should be a ‘16’.” There’s not the scope for the producer of the game to decide where they think this game fits. The criteria is very clear and transparent. Once the form is submitted by publishers, the VSC or NICAM ensure the criteria is consistently applied. The publisher is answering those questions as truthfully and realistically as they can. Because we’re talking about moving images, you need a single reference point – a group of experts who can compare and contrast different products against that standard.
How can you be sure publishers will be truthful? What penalties will face those that try and pull the wool over to get a less ‘adult’ rating?
For two reasons, I’m confident they will. One, because they will lose out as an industry if this system is not seen to be absolutely transparent and absolutely followed by the publishing community. That will only damage us all. More importantly, if they deliberately misrepresent the content of a particular game in the way they give their answers – and this is an improvement on the BBFC system – the PEGI system has a series of sanctions, which have been recently enhanced and expanded. If a publisher deliberately misleads, they can be fined up to half a million Euros – and, for repeat offences, ultimately be refused access to the classification system. Though that wouldn’t stop you publishing on PC or direct-to-consumer via download, it will prevent you publishing on major platforms. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony require you to have a rating as part of their licensing agreement in Europe.
What would you say to publishers who are nervous about making a mistake in their questionnaire?
If there’s a genuine mistake then you shouldn’t be worried. In fact, the administrators, PEGI and NICAM have always been available to assist publishers in the completion of the process. Before the game’s completed, if they want advice or help, they’ve always been happy to look at pre-release code.
What happens if Labour can’t force the changes in the Video Recordings Act through in time before/if they get elected out? Will The Tories, for instance, carry it through?
We are looking for co-operation from all parties to ensure a smooth path to legislation. The timeframe depends on when the Video Recordings Act is changed to have all video games rated under the law – and that has to go through Parliament. We’re working across parties to ensure they all fully understand the issues. Our colleagues at the VSC have immense experience in the drafting of the Video Recordings Act. Secretary General Laurie Hall helped draft the initial act in 1984. He also worked on the re-draft in 1994. It’s interesting that the BBFC have offered to help. I don’t believe any of their staff have been involved with either of the previous Video Recordings Acts.
Do The Tories support PEGI?
We’ve spoken to the current Shadow Ministers responsible for this political area, and both Conservative and Lib Dems have recognised the advantage of the PEGI system and support this solution. I’m as confident as I can be [that they’ll continue this if in Government]. Of course, a week is a long time in politics. But what this decision by Labour demonstrates – alongside the latest Change4Life ad – is that if we as a representative of publishers engage directly with Government officials, opposition frontbenchers and other Parliamentary spokespeople, we can win them over with the strength of our argument. That’s something we’ll continue to do tirelessly until we get this decision embedded in law.
Finally, is retail in a better position with PEGI than with the BBFC?
Retailers now have the legal backing to refuse sales at the ‘12’, ‘16’ and ‘18’ age level. There’s a bigger task here, though: We will be working with schools, children’s charities, after school clubs – anybody that has access to kids and parents. We will work with Government agencies to ensure these people understand the content classification system. Obviously, it may be possible for a child under the permitted age to pick up an ‘18’ game. But the majority of children who are playing games below the age specified on the product are doing so because the parent has bought the product for them.