Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Entertainment Retailers Association


  The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) is a UK trade organisation formed specifically to act as a forum for the retail and wholesale sectors of the music, video, DVD and Multimedia products industry. Established in 1988, our members now represent approximately 90% of all outlets for entertainment products. Our members encompass supermarkets (eg Tesco, Asda), generalists (eg Woolworths, WHSmith), specialists (eg GAME, HMV) internet mail order (eg Amazon, Play), independent high street retailers and digital retailers (7digital and mobile players).

  ERA is also a member of the Video Standards Council and the BBFC Consultative Committee.


  Computer games are generally exempt from legal classification under the Video Recordings Act, which regulates the film and video markets. However, certain games lose their exemption under the Act and therefore require legal classification under the BBFC system. The PEGI games rating system was created to provide information on games products although it has no legal force. This means that Entertainment retailers in the UK currently operate under two different age ratings systems for computer games:

    (a)  PEGI, a Pan-European voluntary age ratings system. This system is administered by the industry and has the following ratings 3+, 7+, 12+, 16+ and 18+, and

    (b)  BBFC, a mandatory legal ratings system (for games losing their exemption under the Video Recordings Act). This system is administered by an independent Government mandated private body, entrusted with administering ratings for video and certain computer games. BBFC uses the following ratings U, PG, 12A, 12, 15 and 18.

  At retail level the two systems are treated in exactly the same way. Voluntary PEGI age ratings system is enforced as mandatory at retail level eg a 16 rated game will only be sold to customers 16 and over.

  ERA retailers have a long history of administering staff training on age guidelines, both under the BBFC and the PEGI system as well as seeing first hand how consumers relate to the two age ratings systems.

  Training and sales systems in most retailers make use of till prompts when age rated product is scanned asking the till operator to check the age of the purchaser. Many stores also operate a 21 policy ie you must look 21 to buy an 18 rated product. The comprehensive staff training systems in place at retail level often using Video Standards Council materials, which cover both games and video ratings. All ratings systems currently rely on parents and adults understanding the system and using a degree of parental responsibility when buying for third parties. It would not be practical to extend any requirement to check the ultimate age of the person using the game as this would be intrusive as well as inoperable ie the consumer would just lie.

  Anecdotal research suggests that there is a slightly better understanding at consumer level of the video (BBFC) ratings system, than of the games (PEGI) ratings system. ERA believes this is fundamentally due to the fact that a video game is often compared to a board game where the rating relates to playability rather than suitability. Some consumers still do not understand that a video game (PEGI) rating relates to suitability.

  ERA believes that retailers generally operate good systems relating to control of access to age rated products, with significant investment in training as well as in store information. Many internet retailers also display age rating information or logos on visuals of the product to inform mail order consumers about the rating for a product.

  However, this system breaks down in "non-legitimate" retail outlets eg car boot fairs, pub sellers etc, often selling counterfeit versions as well as where adults do not understand the age ratings shown on products. In particular ERA believes that having two different sets of ratings on a games product (eg both BBFC and PEGI) leads to confusion at consumer level and engenders the false assumption that the two ratings systems should be treated differently.

  Therefore as a pre-requisite to making the classification system work at retail and consumer level there must be one ratings system for computer games only (eg PEGI or BBFC) but not both. Not only does this simplify staff training but it also allows a clear message to be given to consumers regarding games ratings.

  Clearly the Video Recordings Act therefore needs updating to reflect new products (games) and new distribution channels (internet, downloading). By bringing computer games into the Act's remit, there will be clear legal force behind any ratings system and clear solutions for a single games ratings system could be laid down in the new legislation.

  Below we have attempted to (a) provide some background as to the current market for adult rated products as well as (b) examine which of the two ratings systems would offer the best way forward for games retailers and consumers.


2005 Sales broken down by age rating (percentage of sales)
All 3+/BBFC
2005All 7+6.3
2005All 11-12+20.7
2005All 15-16+19.0
2005All 18+7.0

2006 Sales broken down by age rating (percentage of sales)
All 3+/BBFC
2006All 7+6.0
2006All 11-12+19.7
2006All 15-16+17.7
2006All 18+8.2

2007 Sales broken down by age rating (percentage of sales)
All 3+/BBFC
2007All 7+6.9
2007All 11-12+21.9
2007All 15-16+18.1
2007All 18+6.2

  Over 50% of games are suitable for age seven and under. Only ca 6 to 8% of all games sold are rated 18+ and the percentage has not really seen much change over past years.

  This represents less than 5% of titles available in the market and these are almost exclusively rated under the BBFC system. It should also be noted that despite there being a large number of adult gamers in the market, the top selling titles are often in the lower age ratings.

1.FIFA 07PEGI 3+
2.Pro Evolution Soccer 6 PEGI 3+
3.Dr Kawashima's Brain Training PEGI 3+
4.Need for Speed: Carbon PEGI 12+
5.New Super Mario Bros PEGI 3+
6.Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories BBFC 18+
7.Gears of WarBBFC 18+
8.Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy PEGI 3+
9.Animal Crossing: Wild World PEGI 3+
10.WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007 PEGI 16+

1.Wii PlayPEGI 3+
2.Dr Kawashima's Brain Training PEGI 3+
3.HALO 3BBFC 15+
4.More Brain Training from Dr Kawashima PEGI 3+
5.New Super Mario Bros PEGI 3+
6.World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade PEGI 12+
7.FORZA Motorsport 2 PEGI 3+
8.Final Fantasy XII PEGI 16+
9.Resistance: Fall of Man BBFC 15+
10.CrackdownBBFC 15+

  Based on these statistics, ERA considers that there are likely to be only a very small number of under age players of 18 rated games. Most of these games will have been acquired from third parties or illegitimate sources, rather than having been bought by the minor in a legitimate outlet. Therefore the most important thing is for parents to understand the games rating system in place.

  To create clear understanding at consumer level a single clear ratings system must exist for games with clear legal force. The following things need to exist in any new system:

    —    a single clear system required for games at retail level—either PEGI or BBFC but not both;

    —    increased control of the counterfeit and illegitimate retail sector (level playing field);

    —    that the exemption for video games be removed from the Video Recordings Act and that the Act be updated to reflect the current market and distribution channels, and

    —    that the responsibility at retail level is clear and remains as current (ie to check the age of the person purchasing the product before sale and to have effective staff training systems in this regard).

  We have examined below the advantages and disadvantages of adopting either the PEGI system or the BBFC system for games.

  We have also as part of this analysis summarised what steps we believe would need to be taken to deliver a new system based on these two routes.


  The BBFC currently has a remit to administer a mandatory classification system for video. This remit could be extended into the computer games arena with a few relatively simple steps and would require minimal changes to the current Video Recordings Act ie that the exemption for video games be removed.


    —    The BBFC already have some experience in rating games, although the systems for doing so may need to be adapted.

    —    The BBFC system is clearly understood by consumers and retailers and implementing this system for games would require limited changes in training and less need to re-educate the consumer.

    —    The BBFC system takes account of UK sensibilities.

    —    Using the BBFC system would lead to there being only one system at retail level for both video, film and computer games. As product converges in the future (and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is a game and what is a video), it will become increasingly important to have just one ratings system for similar products.

    —    The BBFC system is already a mandatory system with the ability to ban products.

    —    As the BBFC is independent and not industry owned or self regulated it is therefore a more robust system in the eyes of the consumer.

Disadvantages and Implementation

    —    The BBFC workload would increase dramatically which would require it to employ extra staff. However the extra income generated from this activity should allow it to take on this role.

    —    The BBFC systems may need to be changed for computer games as the product, being often 20 times longer than a film, may require a different approach. PEGI has experience in managing a large number of new products that the BBFC do not currently have, and retailers would not want a system that delays games reaching consumers.

    —    Creating a UK only system for computer games will entail additional costs and production delays for publishers and could result in certain products not being available in UK. It would also disadvantage pan-European retailers.

    —    A UK only system does not operate in a global internet environment so certain products will bypass the system. However this would also be the case for a pan-European system.


  PEGI is currently responsible for rating games and has done a good job of creating a pan-European games ratings system, which generally operates well. This system could be improved to address some of the limitations inherent in the current system.


    —    It is an established and proven system, which retailers and consumers are used to seeing on games.

    —    It operates on a pan-European basis, allowing it to regulate some products entering the market from outside of the UK.

    —    It operates smoothly and is cost effective for publishers, and enjoys wide support from publishers and developers.

Disadvantages and Implementation

    —    Generally the rating is understood by consumers but to a slightly lesser degree than the BBFC rating.

    —    The system has no legal force so any new "PEGI" would need to be mandatory and PEGI would need to be recognized under the Video Recordings Act.

    —    PEGI does not account for UK sensibilities, so a system would need to be built in to change the PEGI rating based on UK specific views—this might ultimately entail a BBFC involvement.

    —    Currently there is confusion where games lose exemption and move to BBFC system—this would have to be resolved in any new system to allow that where a product is primarily a game PEGI rates the product and where the product is a primarily a video the BBFC rates the product. This may be difficult to implement as products converge.

    —    There is currently no system to ban products. Therefore in any new PEGI system these aspects would need to be addressed and either PEGI must be able to ban or the BBFC would have to continue to be involved in this regard.


    —    Retail support a system fully enforceable by law.

    —    Retail (and consumers) would benefit from a single clear well understood ratings system for games which is not a combination of BBFC and PEGI.

    —    Retail would be happy to adopt either a BBFC or PEGI system for games but preferably not both.

    —    Retail will continue to train staff on whichever system(s) is/are in place and to ensure that information regarding the systems is displayed in store.

    —    Whichever system is adopted it must be mandatory and robust with clear obligations—ie retail to check age of purchaser not the ultimate player of the product, which is unworkable in practice.

    —    For internet retailers the most important part of any system will be clear provision of information regarding the age rating on the product to be purchased.

    —    Whichever system is adopted must be well communicated both to staff and customers.

    —    A pan-European system has benefits both to publishers and retailers that should not be discounted.

    —    The system should be all-encompassing, so as to apply to boxed and internet products alike.

    —    Adopting a single system for games would make staff training and consumer understanding levels more robust.

    —    A consumer awareness campaign indicating that the BBFC ratings now apply to computer games would be easy to implement and clearly understood by consumers.

    —    Retail could also operate a more robust PEGI system but only if the system had clear legal force and was adapted to provide a banning mechanism as well as to deal with UK sensibilities.

    —    A new PEGI system would also require a well thought out consumer awareness campaign on behalf of the publishers to make clear that the system is understood.

January 2008

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