Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)|
29 APRIL 2008
Q460 Chairman: But it must frustrate
you that you come to us to tell us of the huge benefits that electronic
games can bring and yet all the publicity focuses on what is a
fairly small number of games but ones that are probably less beneficial.
Mr Kingsley: Anecdotally, in preparing
to come here I went into some shops and watched people's purchasing.
The particular thing that frustrates me is that clearly you see
a 12-year-old child picking up an unsuitable game, going up to
the counter and being told by somebody, who is probably on or
close to the minimum wage and who is obeying the law, that it
cannot be purchased; the guardian comes up and just buys it. That
disappoints me because the labelling is very clear but it appears
that parents are perhaps not taking responsibility in the way
they should. That is perhaps something for wider society rather
than any one sector of the media.
Q461 Chairman: Does ELSPA take a
Mr Jackson: Yes. It is very frustrating
that a lot of the media coverage we get is so negative. That seems
to be the narrative that has been worked out over the past few
years. We are very keen that a lot of the work Dr Byron has done
will help us start to lose that coverage. She was very open and
accessible; she came to us without prejudice, and I think she
talked intelligently and clearly about how positive the video
games industry is for youngsters in Britain. It is the start of
a more sensible discussion upon which we hope the tabloids will
pick up. We will see.
Q462 Chairman: Let us move on to
Dr Byron's recommendations. Obviously, in your area the principal
one is a streamlined system of classification of games with BBFC
taking the lead in over-12 ratings. You did not appear to give
that recommendation 100% enthusiastic endorsement. What is your
Mr Jackson: We agree with the
vast majority of her recommendations and worked very closely with
her through the process. You will know that this is a very important
matter for us. We have always been incredibly concerned to make
sure that only youngsters of an appropriate age play appropriate
material. We very much approve of greater parental involvement
and understanding of the games that children play and are keen
to help improve parental control systems and awareness of the
age of 18 and what it means. We are very happy to work on improving
the classification systems and have them backed up by law. However,
the priority of our members is the protection of children and
due to the dramatic changes in the sale of computer games and
the shape of the industry going forward we are concerned about
the hybrid system that she produces. We are concerned as to whether
that will give to consumers the right clarity both online and
offline, and we are concerned with the BBFC's methodology when
it comes to an industry that is moving rapidly online. When you
talked earlier to the online companies you referred to self-regulation.
We honestly believe that as we move into this online space self-regulation
is the only way legitimately to classify all of the product that
will be coming on stream. Those are the current issues which fundamentally
are predicated on the substantial changes in the industry that
we see over the next few years. We see our products being much
more and consistently digitally distributed and as that happens
those business models will change, with products fragmenting and
becoming multiple products. At the moment in the UK we are classifying
1,750 games a year and the BBFC at the top end is involved in,
I think, about 100 games. At face value it looks as though these
proposals will increase that load to 500 games. We would have
some concerns about how the BBFC would rate another 500 games,
but fundamentally that is not the issue. The issue is how it will
rate 100,000 game elements in five years' time. That is our real
concern, because if we do not get it right now the problem is
that we will end up with a muddle and in five years' time we will
not be protecting children very well again and that will just
Mr Ramsdale: From our perspective
as publishers we concur. We are now making content on Sims and
Burnout where you have bought a game and disk. You put in the
disk which carries perhaps a BBFC rating and you have the opportunity
to buy stuff online in hundreds of thousands of quantities which
then carry a PEGI online self-regulated rating system. That is
just confusing. Looking at what analysts say about the industry,
the growth will come from online content and not just from having
a disk and buying additional content down the pipe. It is about
going onto the pipe and playing one to one. You may choose to
pay £2 and play a football game against a guy sitting at
home in Japan. There is nothing there about BBFC and packaged
goods. Therefore, the analysts are looking at this and saying
that potentially in five years' time there could be as much online
game playing as there is disk-based game playing. From our perspective
we just feel that this suggestion goes down the wrong route.
Dr Wilson: Specifically on the
classification system, it is important to emphasise from a games
development point of view that our members make games that are
sold all over the world. Therefore, the classification systems
of other countries are also important. The games developers I
have spoken to so far believe that they can operate perfectly
well within the existing classification system. The ones I have
spoken to since the publication of Dr Byron's report seemed to
indicate that they could operate under the hybrid system that
she also proposes.
Mr Kingsley: As a games developer
that makes games for a worldwide market, we already have to take
into account different cultures and different things. We have
to do different things in Germany, for example. As long as it
is clear what we have to do, the rules are the same for everybody
and the timing is appropriate in terms of getting the classification
sorted out well in advance of submitting the game to the hardware
manufacturers, because that is another approval process that game
developers must go through, we are fine with pretty much everything
as long as we can give it a time zone. If it takes a couple of
weeks that is all right.
Q463 Chairman: Referring to your
point about the parent who basically ignores the rating and buys
the game for the child, that happens with BBFC-rated games where
at least there is some legal force. Surely, one of the attractions
of BBFC's system is that it carries legal force and we can therefore
require age ratings and classifications at 12, 15 as well as 18
if we adopt the BBFC proposal.
Mr Kingsley: From my perspective
I do not have a problem with that. I think it is quite shocking
it is not already the case that it is illegal to supply certain
games to those in a particular age group. I was quite surprised
to find that it was only at the 18 point that there were legal
ramifications in such supply.
Q464 Chairman: So, you would prefer
a BBFC-type system?
Mr Kingsley: From an individual
perspective, I would prefer to have legal sanctions in place for
that kind of thing, whether or not it is through PEGI. This is
where we differ from our colleagues in publishing.
Mr Jackson: In our evidence to
Dr Byron and to you we said we believed that the legal protections
under the Video Recordings Act 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. I would stress
the fact that as we move into the online future and products fragment
essentially it is the publisher who is responsible for classification.
That is why I believe that the publishing community is so concerned
to get this right. We will work with our internal development
resources and external independent developer friends to get that
right, but fundamentally it is our job and we must make sure we
get it right.
Mr Ramsdale: You asked Bebo and
Fox about whether one could possibly look to the US for any other
ways to do it. The ESRB in the US is a self-regulatory system
that has quite sharp teeth against publishers on compliance. From
our perspective a multinational European system makes life a lot
easier for a multinational publisher and retailer from the point
of view of complexity. My personal view and that of my company
is that we should support a European system like PEGI. I believe
that self-regulation has proven to work in the US with ESRB and
so far here with PEGI, but some involvement is needed with the
PEGI system. I do not say that today it is perfect, and we shall
spend some time talking to ISPI and PEGI about what they would
need to do to step PEGI out, but a sharp set of teeth is an important
part of what PEGI needs.
Q465 Chairman: Referring to your
point about what will happen in five years' time when there will
be an explosion in material available for digital download, the
difficulty of classifying that will be the same whether it is
the BBFC or PEGI presumably?
Mr Jackson: The task is the same,
but we cannot see how the methodology will work. Whereas PEGI
is classic self-regulation and the people concerned with making
the content and the publishing community self-regulate it through
that system and there are checks and balances to ensure that that
regulation works wellDr Byron said she thought that the
processes worked equally well and was happy with both regulatory
systemsthat is quite different because it is a scaleable
resource. As you have more products you have more people making
them and so you have more people self-regulating them. It is the
classic self-regulation mode. With the BBFC, as I understand it,
the model was developed in the 1950s when I guess it was looking
at linear films. It reviews everything from scratch and then develops
its view of what the rating should be. The issue is that if you
are rating 100,000 game elements you need a very big office block
full of censors to do that. We just do not see how that will happen;
indeed, I have not seen that proposed in the online space for
things like YouTube and so on. At the moment to some extent as
an industry we appear to be like the film or music industry, but
we are very quickly transforming into something that looks like
a cross between us and iTunes, YouTube and goodness knows what
else. We do not see at the moment how that model can be dealt
with under the BBFC's methodology.
Mr Kingsley: There may have to
be an element of self-regulation in BBFC because games are so
big that the concept that they can play every aspect of every
game is not possible. There may well have to be an element where
the publisher or developer says that the BBFC is looking at representative
content. I have only just thought about it, but one will need
a kind of hybrid anyway.
Mr Jackson: That is right, and
if the BBFC needs to turn into PEGI to do the job properly that
is a bit crazy.
Q466 Chairman: It is difficult to
see how you can expect a games developer, who has spent a lot
of money developing a game, to turn round and say that it believes
it should be rated 18 so that no one below that age can buy it.
Surely, they have a vested interest in making it available.
Mr Ramsdale: I would argue that
we should look at the US model. The US is the largest territory
in the world for video games, so pretty much every major publisher
has a role to play in the US. That is a self-regulatory system
with teeth and it works. The BBFC has done a decent job for us.
We are not here to say that the BBFC has been rubbish, but it
is a film specialist which is a very linear media. To go back
to Grand Theft Auto, one or two days ago a Times
journalist, I believe, talked about how two players could have
two fundamentally different experiences in that game. To have
someone who is able to classify that just feels like a step too
Q467 Chairman: BBFC would argue that
they have been looking at video games ever since the Video Recordings
Act, which is now quite a long time, and so it has probably built
up more experience than PEGI. That would be their submission to
Mr Jackson: I think there is a
fundamental difference between reviewing products for sex and
violence at the very top end of the streamit has looked
at about 100 products a year in recent timesand the full
context of what we put onto the market. The reality is that in
the history of PEGI we could not find a single complaint about
the age rating given to a product. We have had some complaints
when a product has come in with an 18 rating and has been given
a lower rating by the BBFC. There is consistent history that the
BBFC rates more lightly than the PEGI system. I do not say that
in any sense as a complaint but merely to show it definitely proves
that the industry-backed self-regulatory system is not driving
classification lower but quite the reverse.
Q468 Alan Keen: Let us move away
from legislation and law enforcement for the moment and go to
what is almost a philosophical point of view. When I first came
to London I can remember the court case over Lady Chatterley's
Lover and the Lord Chancellor still in charge of what could
go on the stage. Mr Gamble who is probably the most experienced
law enforcement officer said in evidencewe were then talking
more about the Internet than gamessaid that what was illegal
in real life should be illegal on the Internet. Is there a difference
between watching films where baddies do really awful things to
good people and other baddies and becoming a character in a video
game where you are doing illegal things: drinking and driving,
which has been mentioned, chopping people into little bits and
pieces with blood coming out, rape and all sorts of things? From
a philosophical point of view is there a difference between watching
other people do it and becoming a character that does it? Just
be very open about it.
Mr Kingsley: With great respect,
I do not know of a single game where you can rape somebody.
Q469 Alan Keen: You can chop people
into little bits.
Mr Kingsley: You can kill dragons
as well. There are lots of abstracts in game playing.
Q470 Alan Keen: What about killing
people or chopping them up?
Mr Kingsley: Is it different from
Q471 Alan Keen: Mr Gamble said that
things illegal in real life should be illegal on the Internet.
Should we be able to become characters and do illegal things to
people? Is there a difference between watching and doing?
Mr Jackson: This is a complex
matter and you are probably not talking to the right people. Dr
Byron is the right person to answer that question. Fundamentally,
she said there was a difference between doing something that really
hurt people and something that absolutely did not. All through
time we have played games and entertained ourselves. When in chess
you kill a pawn nobody asks any questions about it. The clarity
of the vision in some of our games is so good that we need to
make sure youngsters are protected, and we have spent 15 years
trying to do that. I am not sure that we are really the right
people to talk to about that kind of philosophical side of things.
Personally, I do not see that if you can do something in real
life that is illegal it should be illegal to do it in a video
game. That would be like making it illegal to watch in a film
what you read about in a book and that takes you into some incredibly
Q472 Alan Keen: To explain, I am
not being antagonistic towards any of these games. I know you
do not believe what MPs say, but in this job we do not get time
to play. I play the odd game of Sudoku plus football, but I do
not have time to play games which I believe are a bit of a luxury.
I hope I will be able to do so when I retire. I am not asking
you in an accusatory way; I am just trying to get an understanding
Dr Wilson: With all due respect
to Mr Jackson, I think everyone is perfectly capable of having
a point or view about whether or not it is moral to play certain
games or to watch particular films. As it happens, most of the
games I play are rated for 12 because I like strategy games, which
says a lot about me, but it does not mean that when you play a
game that re-enacts Caesar's legions in the course of next day
you will sign up with some far right organisation; it does not
work like that. I think that generallyDr Byron stressed
this pointpeople can differentiate between fantasy and
fact; there can be differentiation. In many ways some of the things
you see on films are more shocking. Although the graphics and
technology have improved enormously in games, in films we see
real human beings doing things to other human beings which must
have a greater impact on people, if only it is being scared by
it. One sees some very realistic horror films, for example. We
are all capable of making decisions about this.
Q473 Alan Keen: But is there a difference
between watching people doing horrible things to other people
and becoming a character and doing those horrible things ourselves
to other people?
Mr Kingsley: Within a computer
game as opposed to just watching it passively? In some ways a
game playing experience can be very intense, but if it is the
right kind of movie it can be an incredibly intense experience
as well. I have had them described to me as "sit forward
and sit back" experiences; that is, you sit forward and play
a computer game and then sit back and watch a movie. I have watched
movies which frankly horrify and shock me and I have felt bad
about having gone to see them. Recently, in Cloverfield
the motion sickness was so awful that I could not watch it. That
has a visceral effect on me. But good games give you moral choices;
they do not necessarily from a games design point of view drive
you down the bad or good route; they give you a set of choices
and allow you as a player perhaps to fantasise or decide whether
you want to be a holy paladin going on a quest to save a world
or to be an evil character who is trying to conquer it. I think
that is quite cathartic. If you look at what goes on in the Grimm
brothers' fairytales some are quite horrifying. Sometimes an audience
needs that kind of cathartic aspect to it.
Q474 Mr Hall: I want to explore the
area of parental control. It is said that now there are devices
on most games that allow parents in the home to control what their
kids get up to. Is there any evidence to show that parents implement
these devices on computers and they control access to these more
violent activities online?
Mr Jackson: We do not have any
research at the moment about how parents use online parental controls.
One of the recommendations made by Dr Byron was that we increase
the awareness of parental controls and work to make sure that
those controls are easy to use and implement and we have accepted
that wholeheartedly and will be working with manufacturers going
forward to make sure that happens. Parental controls are fundamentally
a technological issue. I do not have all the facts on this, but
we see parental controls particularly through bespoke systems
like the Sony PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii as being a very solid
future for us in terms of helping to protect youngsters, because
we think that the parental controls can eventually work online.
They often do already but the different machines need to be brought
into line and there needs to be clarity as to what they are and
how parents can implement them when the machine comes into the
home. That can be done in a number of ways.
Q475 Mr Hall: So, they will be a
lot clearer for parents to be able to understand them?
Mr Jackson: Dr Byron had differing
viewpoints. She said to us that the Microsoft Xbox 360 system
was the gold standard, so we need to look at that and see how
that might flow out across the other hardware platforms. Obviously,
this is quite time-constraining. The industry will look at new
hardware platforms as they are designed to some extent, but there
might also be software solutions to it.
Mr Ramsdale: If you look back
just three or four years, we used to make games for three formats:
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo platforms. Now we make games on 11
formats which include Apple iPods and any mobile phone. You can
imagine the number of SKUs for different products that we have
to make for all the different mobile phones out there. Therefore,
one thing to consider is parental control on those devices as
well because children have the hardware and are downloading applications
on to them. I would also make that point in relation to the debate
about PEGI and BBFC. Is it realistic for BBFC to rate 11 different
formats including an iPod which by rights it should do?
Q476 Mr Hall: The point you make
is that children now have access to laptops and mobile phones.
There are a number of ways of getting access outside the home
and therefore beyond parental supervision. That puts into context
that parental supervision is not the be all and end all in terms
of protecting children and preventing them from accessing harmful
Mr Ramsdale: I think that is right.
We can do some education. We see the future ahead of us and think
how we can deal with it so we are really looking out for children.
You can probably hear from us that we are dedicated to that thought.
It is more difficult than just saying that there is a parental
control and parents switch it on or off as they choose.
Q477 Mr Hall: One then has the issue
of parental supervision which is probably far more important than
parental control. If parents took a greater interest in what their
children did online or in the games they played rather than just
relying on a device on the computer that gave some protection
that would be a much better way to deal with this part of the
Mr Kingsley: In a way, perhaps
parental controls have the opposite effect; parents may think
it is completely safe to leave their children to do anything.
Q478 Mr Hall: That is why I say there
is a difference between supervision and control.
Dr Wilson: Ultimately, parents
must take responsibility. All the technological devices in the
world are valueless if parents do not use them or encourage their
children to take advantage of them.
Mr Ramsdale: Again, that is talking
to a system that works across every format, that is, one age rating
system that parents understand, whether it is a mobile phone,
iPod, laptop or console.
Mr Jackson: That is a key part
of what we talked about earlier. The fewer systems we need our
technologies to interact with and understand what the age rating
system is telling you the better shot we have at protecting children
in future because we can get the systems to talk together. I am
sure we will try to do that with 27 different systems across Europe
but the reality is that we are unlikely to do very well.
Q479 Mr Hall: It would be better
to have one?
Mr Jackson: We would be much more
likely to succeed in protecting children. That is the key. It
is not that we would not try, but with 27 systems as opposed to
one the chances of failing are much higher.