Video games industry fights age rating plan at Labour conference

LONDON - The video games industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent the Government from introducing a new age rating system which it claims will delay the time it takes to get games to market and create conditions ripe for piracy.

At a Labour Party conference fringe event, the UK games industry trade body, the Entertainment Leisure Software Publishers (ELSPA), set out why the proposal contained in the Byron Review was, to quote the provocative title of the event, 'Bang Off Target'.

The recommendation, drafted by TV presenter and psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, aims to simplify the age rating system and is currently out for public consultation. But ELSPA's members, which include Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, are alarmed by the new classification system being mooted.

At present the task of classifying video games is shared between the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system, which is funded by the games industry and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). When a game has a total of more than 30 minutes of footage, which is increasingly the case with modern games, it passes from being classified by PEGI to the BBFC.

If it sounds a bit of a mess that is because it is and Byron concluded that the dual ratings were confusing to consumers. But her subsequent recommendation - a hybrid classification system in which BBFC is the dominant system with its logos appearing on the front of all games while PEGI ones are relegated to the back seems unlikely to cut consumer confusion.

So for the first time in its 20-year history ELSPA has been drawn into a policy challenge. Its activity at conference got off to a dramatic start; delegates were shown footage from a game featuring a character being impaled and another burnt alive. According to ELSPA, this had received an 18 classification under PEGI but a 12 by the BBFC.

Realising that video games do not have the best press thanks to the likes of titles such as Grand Theft Auto, Paul Jackson, the director general of ELSPA was keen to align his organisation with the one that has children's best interest at heart.

'We don't believe the BBFC's model is fit for purpose. The outcome of this consultation is vital in determining how children are better protected from unsuitable content,' he said.

He later admitted to Marketing that the games industry also had commercial concerns with the proposal. 'There's a view that if the BBFC was asked to regulate everything there would be significant delays in getting games out to market.' Not only would this affect sales but it would leave games vulnerable to piracy, he argued.

Jackson said PEGI is also better equipped to deal with online video gaming as it has the better knowledge of computers games.

The BBFC rejected Jackson's claims. 'There is no reason why the increased role for the BBFC envisaged by Dr Byron should lead to delays,' said a spokeswoman. The BBFC's current average turnaround time for games classifications is eight days, which the body says is quick. Furthermore the BBFC said that it would be able to deal with online gaming and pledged to work with PEGI's on this area.

ELSPA has until 20 November when the consultation closes to get policy-makers on its side. This week it took a step in the right direction towards achieving that goal.



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