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 www.elspa.com.
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.
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.
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.
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 playersdevelopers and publishers,
software and hardware companieshave 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 Japanthe 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-oldssome 26.5 million peopleplay 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:
sexual activity or nudity.
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
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
Ask About Games,
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
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.
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
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.
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.
14. Furthermore, publishers are concerned
that the current legal regulation system in the UK applies only
to physical product. Increasingly, games are deliveredboth
played and soldonline. 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 changeswhether
in the granting of new powers or in the extension of the existing
remitto be effective.
17. BBFCstrengths and weaknesses
| 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 gamessome 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.
| 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 onlinestrengths 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 BBFCrequires 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
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
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 gameswhere, 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 Onlinewhich is already
operatingas 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.
Cyberchaos study for Teesside University, pp2-3; Unlimited Learning
report "Computer and Video Games in the Learning Landscape"
BBFC report on video games 2007, p44 Back
Learning and Teaching Scotland report on Games-based learning,
YouGov/ELSPA Survey Back
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