6 Classification of
video games |
187. Many video gamesparticularly those
which are console based or which are supplied on DVD or other
similar formatsfall within the definition of "video
work" in the Video Recordings Act 1984,
in which case their sale and distribution will be subject to controls
under the Act if the game depicts:
- human sexual activity or acts
of force or restraint associated with such activity;
- mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross
violence towards, humans or animals;
- human genital organs or human urinary or excretory
or if it is designed to stimulate or encourage either
of the first two types of activity. Games which include clips
from films will automatically be subject to classification. Online
games, where the software is hosted on a website rather than on
a consumer device, and which are played via a live Internet link,
are not covered under the Act.
188. It is illegal to supply any non-exempt video
game without a
classification or in breach of a classification. Non-exempt games
are therefore submitted to the British Board of Film Classification
(BBFC), as the authority designated by the Secretary of State;
once classified, a video game may be marketed within the constraints
imposed by the BBFC's classification.
189. Most video games do not require classification.
In 2007, 101 out of the 1231 video games released into the UK
market were submitted to the BBFC for classification either because
they were judged by the games' publishers to be non-exempt under
the 1984 Act or because they contained film clips. Of these 101
games, 29 were classified as being suitable only for players aged
18 or above, 19 games were classified as being suitable only for
players aged 15 and above, and 2 games were classified as being
suitable only for players aged 12 and above. Only 2.4% of the
1231 games released in 2007, therefore, received an "18"
190. Up to twelve examiners employed by the BBFC
may be called upon to examine video games submitted for classification.
Examiners play the games, typically for around five hours, although
some games may take less time to examine and others more: Manhunt
2, for example, took a total of more than 100 examining hours.
The BBFC currently classifies around 250 video games each year
and envisages "an increase of 300-500 games per year"
initially. Currently, the BBFC classifies a game within ten days.
The classifications awarded are the same as those for films.
The PEGI system
191. The video games industry in the UK has operated
its own ratings system for video games since 1994. Since 2003,
the ratings used have been those of the PEGI (Pan-European Game
Information) system, established by the Interactive Software Federation
of Europe, and now used in 28 European countries.
PEGI ratings are awarded in the UK by the Video Standards Council
(VSC), a non-profit making body established in 1989 at the request
of the Government "to develop and oversee a code of practice
designed to promote high standards within the video and video
192. PEGI is a voluntary age rating system, based
on self assessment by games publishers, who complete an online
questionnaire giving "yes" or "no" answers
to a "series of carefully worded questions relating to the
content of the game".
The PEGI system then specifies a provisional age rating. If a
game is assessed as being suitable only for players over 16 or
over 18, it is submitted to the Video Standards Council, whose
examiners will play the game for an average of two to three hours
to assess whether the publisher's assessment is correct. A game's
PEGI rating may be displayed on its packaging, as may a pictogram
further outlining the nature of the game's content. There are
seven pictograms symbolising violence, sex/nudity, drugs, bad
language, gambling, material which may be "scary for young
children" or "material which may encourage discrimination".
193. Over time it is likely that more and more
games will be distributed on-line. Although it is not a legal
requirement, the BBFC now offers online distributors the opportunity
to have their games classified by BBFC.online. The scheme offers
members online classifications where a work has been granted a
Video Recordings Act certificate with point of sale information
using the recognised BBFC branding. Many games are classified
by "PEGI Online", an offshoot of the PEGI system. The
same process of self-assessment and (if necessary) verification
by the Video Standards Council is followed; and the same ratings
system is used. Games publishers which submit games to PEGI Online
for classification may display the PEGI Online label on their
websites. We note that mass-market games consoles, such as Xbox,
Playstation and Wii, only permit access to games sites that have
been approved by PEGI Online. Consumers may also use filtering
software to block access to games on websites not approved by
PEGI; but we were told that some filters could not currently discriminate
between sites approved by PEGI and those that are not. More sophisticated
filtering software is being developed.
The hybrid system proposed by Dr Byron
194. For many video games available for sale
in the UK, therefore, two classification systems are running side
by side. It was suggested to us that the dual system was confusing
for parents and retailers,
and Dr Byron considered the issue in her Review. She recommended
that the two classification systems should be streamlined into
one hybrid system, which should be extended to require classification
of all games containing content which would presently receive
a 12+ PEGI rating, to be underpinned by the statutory controls
on supply established under the Video Recordings Act 1984. Under
Dr Byron's proposed hybrid system, BBFC logos and classification
codes would be on the front of all games packaging, and PEGI would
continue to award ratings to games with content suitable for children
aged under 12.
195. Dr Byron envisaged that the BBFC and PEGI
would need to work together to align the criteria underlying such
games for which, in effect, classification would be undertaken
by PEGI using BBFC symbols. This proposal has provoked some anxiety
in the BBFC. The Board's Director, David Cooke, said in evidence
that "we are always nervous about the idea of putting our
symbols to a methodology that we are not ourselves operating".
However, the BBFC has indicated that it would be willing to accept
the proposal provided that it is able to check the classification
196. The Government has pledged to implement
all of Dr Byron's recommendations, although it has recognised
the controversy generated by her proposals for games classification
and has agreed to consult on them with the games industry and
parents. The Byron Review Action Plan, published in June 2008,
announced that the Government would launch a four month consultation
on reforming the classification system for video games in July
2008 and would publish proposals for reform by early 2009. A full
assessment of the costs to the industry of reform will also be
197. We held oral evidence sessions with games
developers, games publishers and bodies with a role in games classification,
in each case after the publication of Dr Byron's Report; and we
questioned witnesses on whether Dr Byron's proposed hybrid system
for video game classification would be any clearer than the current
system, given that there would still be two different logos for
certain gamesa BBFC rating on the front and a PEGI rating
on the back. The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Minister of State at
the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, accepted that this
was a "perfectly legitimate concern, which is why we are
going to have a period of consultation": she added that "a
system which parents can easily understand is the most important
objective that we must bear in mind and we will just have to test
took a very similar view, arguing that the critical test is whether
people understand and trust ratings.
The relative strengths of the PEGI and the BBFC
198. No-one appeared to believe that the proposed
hybrid system was a perfect solution. Witnesses representing the
games industry generally favoured the PEGI system and they set
out its strengths. Mr Darby, Operations Manager of the Video Standards
Council, said that "the hybrid system would not have been
a road that we would have suggested going down in the first place
we would have preferred a single system. However,
if the hybrid system is the one that is recommended PEGI will
certainly work towards achieving that."
Paul Jackson, Director General of the Entertainment and Leisure
Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), argued that only a self-regulatory
system would be able to keep up with the expected dramatic increase
in the number of games and games components (such as new features
added to existing games), reaching possibly "100,000 game
elements" in five years' time.
He questioned whether the BBFC would have the necessary resources
and pointed out that PEGI was a "scaleable resource":
the number of games publishers/developers would always equal the
number of regulators.
199. Microsoft pointed out that the PEGI system
is more informative than the BBFC age classification, in that
it gives parents both an age rating and a content rating for a
game. Both Microsoft and ELSPA observed that PEGI was a self-regulatory
system which was applied consistently across Europe.
Mr Ramsdale, Vice-President of EA Games, a games publisher,
told us that "from our perspective, a multinational European
system makes life a lot easier for a multinational publisher and
and we can see the benefits and the convenience for the industry
of a single assessment for authority to distribute a game across
Europe. We note, however, that film distributors may face a similar
obstacle but nonetheless accept the requirement for individual
assessment for distribution in each country .
200. Mr Jackson, Director General of ELSPA, proposed
that the controls on supply under the Video Recordings Act 1984
should be afforded to the PEGI system in the UK: "We would
then have one legal system that went from the shelf through to
online and there would be the clearest possible world within which
consumers could operate."
Mr Ramsdale described the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating
Board) system in the US, which imposes fines and product recalls
and suspends future rating services if publishers do not comply
with the rules: "We should look at the US model. [
That is a self-regulatory system with teeth and it works".
We were told that the ESRB system had "become the norm"
in the United States and that retailers would not sell games without
ESRB classifications; nor would console manufacturers develop
consoles which would accept games without ESRB classifications.
201. Despite the industry's doubts, the BBFC
classification system has significant benefits. BBFC classifications
are already recognised in statute; and, significantly, the BBFC
logos are already understood and recognised by consumers, including
parents who may not be familiar with games content but who can
relate the logos to classification of film content. The Entertainment
Retailers Association argued that the BBFC system would require
considerably less consumer education to make it effective for
games and concluded that "whilst neither the BBFC system
nor PEGI meet all our requirements, we believe the BBFC system
requires less work than PEGI to meet consumer needs".
The evidence on the relative familiarity of BBFC and PEGI symbols
is contradictory: research commissioned by the BBFC suggested
that the public would prefer to buy games from a website if it
was clear that it was part of a BBFC scheme,
but the games industry presented research commissioned through
YouGov, suggesting that the public did not perceive one system
as being preferable to the other.
202. The Government maintains that the BBFC method
of classification is more thorough and rigorous than PEGI and
believes that it "commands greater confidence".
The BBFC is confident that it would be able to absorb the extra
work produced by the proposed new system: "We are certainly
clear that it is a workable package and we do not have any difficulty
at all with the resource implications."
203. We recognise the concerns
that the hybrid system for games classification proposed by Dr
Byron may not command confidence in the games industry and would
not provide significantly greater clarity for consumers. We believe
that, ideally, a single classification system should be adopted.
While either of the systems operated by the BBFC and by PEGI would
be workable in principle, we believe that the widespread recognition
of the BBFC's classification categories in the UK and their statutory
backing offer significant advantages which the PEGI system lacks.
We therefore agree that the BBFC should continue to rate games
with adult content and should have responsibility for rating games
with content appropriate only for players aged 12 or above, and
that these ratings should appear prominently. Online distributors
should be encouraged to take advantage of the BBFC.online scheme
which should be promoted as offering greater confidence to parents
about the nature of the game. While we hope that PEGI will work
with the BBFC to develop a single system, distributors are of
course free to continue to use PEGI ratings in addition, as they
do at present.
340 Any series of visual images (with or without sound)
produced electronically by the use of information contained on
any disc or magnetic tape and shown as a moving picture. Back
BBFC Ev 294 Back
Any game depicting activities or characteristics listed in paragraph
Ev 338 Back
Information supplied by BBFC Back
A trade body Back
Ev 323 Back
Ev 324 Back
Ev 337 Back
British Board of Film Classification Ev 301, Entertainment Retailers
Association Ev 365 Back
Q 543 Back
Q 581. See also Byron Review Action Plan, page 20 Back
Q 587 Back
Q 531 Back
Q 543 Back
Q 462 Back
Q 465 Back
Ev 35 and Q 85 Back
Q 464 Back
Q 464 Back
Q 466 Back
Information supplied to the Committee in the US by EA Games Back
Ev 400 Back
Ev 315 Back
Ev 400 Back
Q 582 Back
Q 543 Back