Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA)

  1.  ELSPA (the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association) is the trade association for videogames publishers. ELSPA was formed in 1989 to establish a specific and collective identity for the UK videogames industry, and has grown to its current membership of almost 60 companies.

  2.  ELSPA works to protect, promote and provide for its members" interests via a number of activities including political lobbying, anti-piracy enforcement, research, sales charts and reports, and a variety of events including playing a major role in the highly successful London Games Festival in October 2007 and the Edinburgh Interactive Festival in August 2007. For more information go to


Children and young people

  3.  Videogames offer widely-acknowledged benefits in terms of entertainment and play. Play is an important part of children's development and videogames enable play to take place in safe, familiar surroundings and with minimum risk of physical injury or interference. Videogames incorporate developed characters and narratives which can be stimulating to players, enjoyment of which depends upon engagement and imagination.[9]

  4.  Videogames also allow children and young people to develop critical and analytical skills, as can be seen from the way in which player's interest in videogames is generated largely by the recommendations and reviews of their peers, and much less by magazine reviews or advertising materials.[10]

  5.  Research has shown that videogames can provide educational benefits. Increasingly, videogames are being produced with a direct focus on education, such as Dr Kawashima's Brain Training. Furthermore, research suggests that many types of videogames can provide educational and developmental benefits in terms of the skills and attributes they nurture, and by delivering a stimulus that other educational formats do not provide.[11]


  6.  The UK economy benefits enormously from a thriving videogames sector and is one of the world's leading countries for the sale of interactive leisure software and videogames. The majority of global industry players—developers and publishers, software and hardware companies—have their main European or worldwide base in the UK. The UK industry is recognised globally as the gateway to the European games market, with around 35% of software sold in Europe emanating from UK creative studios. The UK industry employs around 22,000 people and attracts significant inward investment from the US and Japan—the largest markets in this US$21billion sector. The UK is the world's third largest videogames market by value, recording sales in excess of £2.3 billion in 2006. There is about one games console for every three people in the UK and some 335million units of games software have been sold in the last decade. A December 2005 report, "Gamers in the UK", commissioned for the BBC found that 59% of UK 6-65 year-olds—some 26.5 million people—play electronic games, with 21.6 million of these regularly playing at least once a week. A consistent success story, 2006 sales of interactive entertainment software across all formats totalled £1.36 billion, an increase on 2005's figures. 2006 also saw a 7% increase on units sold from the previous year taking the total to 65.1 million units sold.


  7.  No credible evidence exists clearly linking gameplay with psychological or sociological risk. Further to this, no credible evidence exists linking combative gameplay behaviour with violent or anti-social behaviour in real life.

  8.  However, UK authorities have adopted a precautionary principle originally established for the theatre and film industries, which can be loosely based on the idea that, "no evidence of harm" does not necessarily mean "evidence of no harm".


  9.  In the UK videogames are covered by the Video Recordings Act (1984) as amended. Under the Act, videogames are exempt from classification unless they contain:

    —  gross violence.

    —  sexual activity or nudity.

    —  criminal acts.

  10.  The Act entails that the BBFC therefore age rates games to be suitable only for adults aged 18 and over (as outlined above). All other games deemed suitable for those under the age of 18 are rated under the Pan-European Rating Information System (PEGI). Since its inception in April 2003 up to 30th June 2007, 94% of games have been rated by PEGI.

  For children and young people, suitability is signalled by a series of age-related guidelines determined by content in areas such as violence, sexual behaviour, fear and bad language.

  11.  Next-generation games consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) incorporate parental controls which enable parents and guardians to set an age limit for game play based on the current rating system. The software is encoded with its particular age rating, and the parental control allows a console to be set up to restrict access to software which is rated over a certain age. Information and guidance is available from a variety of sources, for children, young people and parents, to help them understand the risks associated with hard copy videogames. These sources include PEGI,[12] BBFC,[13] Ask About Games,[14] gaming magazines, the games retailers and the publishers themselves via their websites and in-pack materials. Furthermore, next generation games consoles incorporate parental controls to regulate playing of age rated games downloaded from the internet in a similar way to hard copy games.

  12.  The parental controls described above incorporated into next generation consoles also control access to online games via the console. Internet gaming cafes have a representative trade body in the form of IGUK (Interactive Gaming UK),[15] whose members follow a code of practice ensuring that underage game players do not access videogames (or view advertising or promotional materials) with restricted age suitability. Information and guidance is also available from PEGI Online.[16]


  13.  Under the current system of dual regulation of videogames in the UK, there is an inbuilt and, in our considered view, avoidable confusion over age ratings. YouGov research in July 2007 found that consumers, including parents buying games for under-18s, do not know what either the BBFC or PEGI age rating standards mean, whether they are or should be legally enforceable and which rating body is most appropriate for game content.


BBFC has high visibility, but much lower acceptance

  YouGov polling research conducted on behalf of ELSPA shows that BBFC has extremely high brand recognition (91% of those surveyed were aware of it) but that it is not well understood in relation to games. Only 59% of those who knew that there was a rating system for computer games believed that BBFC provided age-related guidance on the suitability of a computer game.

Consumers see PEGI as more relevant to games content and suitability rating

  For PEGI, 79% thought that the rating provided age-related suitability guidance. When asked whether each system represented a legal restriction on buying games, only 51% thought that BBFC provided legal restrictions, but this figure was twice as high as the corresponding answer for PEGI.

Dual-system confusion

  It appears clear, therefore, that consumers view BBFC weakly as a legal standard and that they view PEGI strongly as age-related guidance on games. However, when asked directly if they considered two standards confusing, the answer was unequivocally "yes"—consumers were evenly divided.[17]

  14.  Furthermore, publishers are concerned that the current legal regulation system in the UK applies only to physical product. Increasingly, games are delivered—both played and sold—online. Our view is that effective protection of minors must include detailed online regulatory standards and the nature of online activity is that standards can most efficiently and effectively be delivered multi-nationally. Games publishers consider Europe to be the smallest multi-national unit in which such standards can be maintained.

  15.  ELSPA members key concern as responsible publishers of over-18 games must be to secure those products and to protect against inadvertent or planned use by minors. A single, respected single rating system must therefore be developed to cover both on and off line games. This is what we should do:

  16.  Of the two systems of age related classification the UK, both offer the potential to become the desired single regulator, but both require substantial changes—whether in the granting of new powers or in the extension of the existing remit—to be effective.

  17.  BBFC—strengths and weaknesses
Strength Weakness
Recognised by 91% of consumer as an age-rating expert for films Regulation of a linear medium such as film does not imply expertise at regulating interactive products such as games. A large proportion of consumers do not view a BBFC rating on a game as having the same force or meaning as the same rating on a film or DVD.
Legally enforceable standards for sales of games rated 12 and over Does not offer protection of minors (under 12) from buying inappropriately rated games
British standard British consumers abroad, or buying product online from abroad, must learn a different standard. All other European countries use an identical, but different, common standard, making it easier for consumers to assess game content. The trend among European countries is to move towards pan-European regulation and away from single-country rating.
Regulates physical product sales only BBFC has no mandate or experience in assessing or providing guidance to consumers for online products. BBFC does not have the capacity to regulate all games—some 2,000 games per year are produced, but BBFC only rates about 100. Adding new competencies to BBFC's remit would take considerable time to achieve both legally and operationally.
Clear ratings "steps" from U to 18 Evidence shows that, for games at the border between rating classifications, BBFC tends to rate "down" to the lower age group, reducing protection for minors, compared to the pan-European system.[18]
Strong understanding and support from the film industry BBFC is a film industry-established body, funded and run by figures from that sector. There is minimal involvement from the games industry in the running or governance of the BBFC. Extension to the remit of BBFC is not supported by the computer games industry.
18.  PEGI and PEGI online—strengths and weaknesses

Strength Weakness
Already classifies age ratings for computer games for age 16 and under in the UK. Classifies 18+ games in all other territories Not legally enforceable at any age in the UK. Does not offer protection of minors (under 16) from buying inappropriately rated games Does not offer sanctions or support for retailers in refusing to supply inappropriately rated games to minors. Less-well known in UK than BBFC—requires a consumer education programme in the UK.
Europe-wide standard, operating in 27 countries, making it easier for consumers to assess game content. The trend among European countries is to move towards pan-European regulation and away from single-country rating. Classifies products for physical and online sale Experts in computer game technology and content regulation Clear ratings "steps" from 3+ to 18+ Evidence shows that, for games at the border between rating classifications, PEGI tends to rate "upwards" to the higher age group, increasing protections for minors, compared to the BBFC. Extension to the remit of PEGI and PEGI online to fully cover the UK is ELSPA preferred outcome.
PEGI does not "ban" games, so the UK would still need to consider how to prevent a game from being released.

  19.  Having carefully analysed the pros and cons of each regulatory system the current evidence suggests that while BBFC is not without merit, children are better protected by using the PEGI system.

  20.  ELSPA therefore supports the phase-out of BBFC from the dual system of age-related regulation for physical product sold by retailers and establishment of PEGI as the single games regulator for the UK.

  21.  Phase-out of dual regulation for physical product would establish PEGI as the legally-enforceable rating system for all age groups, give pan-European coverage against potentially harmful product content, offer clarity for consumers and provide expert regulation by an appropriately-qualified and experienced authority. Equally important, it will also address the future games market.

  22.  The fast-emerging trend in computer gaming is to play online. ELSPA members are increasingly seeing their products sold online. As technology continues to improve, we expect to see a large increase in episodic games—where, for example, players purchase and download levels and game challenges in addition to the original game product. Over time, such online purchase and play patterns are likely to exceed sales of physical product.

  23.  ELSPA supports PEGI Online—which is already operating—as the best way to provide appropriate protection for minors and to "future-proof" the regulatory system against emerging trends among game players.

  24.  The UK should sign up to the pan-European online regulatory system and ELSPA members are willing to support mandatory use of PEGI Online for all product content that they market in the UK. PEGI Online offers the highest standards of age-related protections at all levels and, combined with PEGI as the single UK games regulator, provides clarity and consistency for consumers across all game formats. By recommending this online regulatory standard, we are proposing the best defence against future developments in game purchase and playing patterns.

  25.  Moving from dual regulation to a single regulator requires the following steps:

    —  PEGI to be given legal force in the UK, probably by "designating" PEGI under the Video Recordings Act as the ratings body for computer games, alongside BBFC as the ratings body for linear content only.

    —  A new code of conduct for online games including retailers, publishers and the Government should be agreed.

    —  A major public education campaign is needed, alerting game players and parents to the change of regulator, and re-explaining the ratings system, parental controls and the penalties for attempting to buy age-restricted products.

    —  Government should consider how it will maintain the regulatory ability, currently available to BBFC, to "ban" a game under the Video Recordings Act by refusing it any form of rating or certification.

January 2008

9   Cyberchaos study for Teesside University, pp2-3; Unlimited Learning report "Computer and Video Games in the Learning Landscape" p5 Back

10   BBFC report on video games 2007, p44 Back

11   Learning and Teaching Scotland report on Games-based learning, Back

12 Back

13 Back

14 Back

15 Back

16 Back

17   YouGov/ELSPA Survey Back

18   In 2007 42 games rated "18+" by PEGI were sent to the BBFC for rating under the Video Recordings Act. Of these, 21 games were given an "18" rating, 19 games were given a "15" rating and 2 games were given a "12" rating. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 31 July 2008