Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
29 APRIL 2008
Q480 Helen Southworth: You make a
very strong case for a self-regulated industry and parental responsibility
being the ultimate responsibility. As organisations and businesses
how are you progressing those things? What contribution is each
of your industries making to the education of users and parents,
and what sort of budget are you allocating to that? What kind
of results are you getting from it?
Mr Ramsdale: From our perspective,
we are really at the cusp. If one looks back at the education
we have done, there is a healthy awareness among people who play
games on PEGI: more than 80% of game players recognise and understand
it but PEGI and BBFC work in tandem. Looking backwards we have
good recognition. Looking forward it is clear that as the industry
becomes more casual-basedthe average age of game players
at the moment is 28 or 29, so they are not childrenour
job is to increase awareness of age ratings. I think that we have
a part to play in that. Part of our ELSPA board work is to talk
about how we would fund that, that is, what elements we need to
fund, for what elements we would look to government for help and
what we can do that is relatively cheap and easy. As an example,
in the US at the end of every advert there is a flash with the
ESRB age rating. Can we do that in Europe? Potentially we could.
I think we are now at a point when we need to consider much more
robustly education going forward. The Byron report has been a
catalyst for that. Indeed, next week we have a meeting with the
European trade body ISPI. We shall be talking to them about that
Q481 Helen Southworth: In terms of
describing the five years ahead that is a very short period of
Mr Ramsdale: It is long in our
Q482 Helen Southworth: The whole
problem is that two worlds which clash: one moves so fast that
you can barely see it; as for the other two years is a very short
period in which to achieve anything. We have to get those two
things working effectively together. But in that five-year world
one will see a very radical shift in the age range?
Mr Ramsdale: Yes.
Q483 Helen Southworth: Describe to
us what you are expecting from that radical shift. I know what
I am expecting; let us see if they are the same.
Mr Ramsdale: I think it will go
younger and older, frankly. Some of the work that Nintendo has
done has really changed our industry in a very short space of
time. If any of the Members have children or grandchildren I am
sure they have seen them play NDS. That works very well for a
younger audience. Just a few years ago we would not have considered
some of the games they play to be viable even in content let alone
market potential. As one goes up the age range, Wii offers a family
experience. For example, my dad plays bowling with my four year-old
daughter on the Wii. What else can they do together when they
are on equal terms? It is a fabulous thing. One then has the Internet
and how it will develop in this phase, the mobile phones, iPods
and whatever other device there is that has not even been thought
of. What it will look like in five years' time is a tough question.
What we are certain of is that the average age will be higher
but the bottom and top ends will also expand outwards; and our
primary concern is that because some of the players are getting
younger we adequately protect those under 18.
Q484 Helen Southworth: We are describing
the same thing which is that there will be a huge increase in
the number of younger people and therefore by definition more
vulnerable people being able to access systems very quickly?
Mr Ramsdale: As to "a huge
increase", a lot of children play already. I think that the
huge increase is at the other end of the scale.
Mr Jackson: We did some research
on that. We do not go below eight. The research shows that currently
for the eight to 11 year-olds about 100% play video games; between
11 and 15 it is 97%, but we do not have anything below eight.
Q485 Helen Southworth: But over the
next few years the difference will be access to online games?
Mr Jackson: Yes.
Q486 Helen Southworth: That is why
I say there will be a huge increase in online access to games
by the under-18s?
Mr Jackson: Yes. That is why it
is critical we get right the decisions about the classification
system and future-proofed now so we end up with systems where
we can protect kids as best we can.
Q487 Chairman: Perhaps I may raise
with you a problem of online gaming. In many online games, particularly
World of Warcraft, it is possible to communicate by voice
with other players who may be anywhere. It was drawn to my attention
by a national newspaper that in one particular game extreme racist
remarks and highly offensive language were used by players against
other players. Is any responsibility taken by the games industry
that creates these online spaces where people can communicate
to prevent that kind of abuse, or is there anything that can be
done about it?
Mr Kingsley: I do not think anything
can be done. I imagine that people have pretty horrible conversations
over telephones. I do not know to what extent they are tracked
or not, but I do not think much can be done about that kind of
thing. It is a mechanism for communication. I have been in situations
where I have played online games and, frankly, I have wanted to
switch it off because it is just horrible. It appears to be the
younger male voice, particularly American, that conveys the particular
abuse. I do not know that there is anything we can do. We could
just disable that feature.
Q488 Chairman: In particular if they
are young people they may be exposed to bullying in that space
and it could be quite harmful to them, but you do not believe
there is anything that the industry can do to prevent that?
Mr Kingsley: It is the same situation
Q489 Chairman: Quite a lot is being
done to try to deal with it in schools.
Mr Ramsdale: For my part, I think
prevention is difficult. The point is: how do you take these people
to task? Like the conversation we have just had, certainly as
a publisher we have a big customer service operation and escalation
points for complaints go into that group. Those complaints could
be about someone not playing fairly or cheating in the game or
that the person is being abusive. You have the opportunity to
complain very quickly and easily, but it is tough to prevent it
because you are dealing with humans.
Q490 Chairman: Would you ever bar
somebody from playing online?
Mr Ramsdale: Yes.
Q491 Chairman: You would say that
is unacceptable behaviour?
Mr Ramsdale: And we have proof
of having done so.
Q492 Helen Southworth: You just said
that one had the opportunity to complain very quickly. How fast
does the response come back? We are talking specifically perhaps
about exploitation and vulnerability. How do you sort that out
from all the other general stuff?
Mr Kingsley: I was talking mainly
about people swearing at each other or using inappropriate language
online rather than the exploitation of children.
Q493 Helen Southworth: We are also
saying that there is the potential perhaps for bullying or activity
that is exploitative?
Mr Kingsley: You would not necessarily
know at whom you were swearing online.
Mr Jackson: As our industry develops
these new business models and entertainment products we are moving
into the same world and the people we are addressing. Dr Byron
looked at that. We shall need to address the issues that she identified
on the Internet side in a lot of the work we are doing. Currently,
we do that under the PEGI code of conduct for video games. We
have the mechanisms in place and those need to be amended and
improved in the light of Dr Byron's report. We need to work very
closely with all the elements involved in the report to make sure
we are at the cutting edge of that kind of protection. We are
rapidly taking on board all of the recommendations made by Dr
Byron who looked at these areas. In that part of our business
we are, like MySpace and Facebook, moving into the same space
but in a different way. We need to look at the specifics of that
for our codes of conduct, but the video games industry has already
signed up to the fact that it must address it. It is already addressing
it and it will work on it going forward.
Mr Ramsdale: To answer your direct
question about how long it takes, for us it is really a matter
of minutes. We use an outsourced agency that we run cum bonum.
I would guess that is a relevant point. The complaint can be escalated
via email or even telephone call and the response time is within
minutes potentially. We do not get the numbers that the other
witnesses referred to, but for that group we receive a few thousand
calls a week.
Q494 Helen Southworth: We have been
looking at various examples of issues and problems. One issue
that emerges is vulnerable young people, or even older people,
who are particularly affected by something, for example bullying,
and can make a response to it leading to fast intervention. Are
you putting in place mechanisms? For example, if you receive a
report from someone who says, "This has happened to me. I
feel really bad about it. I have been harming myself and I am
going to do something more", do you believe you will be able
to achieve fast interaction in that case?
Mr Ramsdale: Without being evasive,
I do not think I can answer that specific scenario. If someone
makes a complaint it will go to our team who will investigate
it and potentially will take the person out of the game and impose
a ban. We come back to your point about whether we can ban people.
Yes, and we do so actively.
Q495 Helen Southworth: But do you
have a mechanism for directing support to a person who reports
a crisis to you?
Mr Ramsdale: To professional support
for that person?
Q496 Helen Southworth: Yes.
Mr Ramsdale: I would need to check
that; I do not know.
Mr Kingsley: Is it not a bit different?
You are talking about people who make up characters online and
then role play them. It is not themselves; they are not pictures
of themselves, and they are not talking about themselves as 12
year-olds at school or anything. They are not necessarily communicating
to people as people; they are communicating within the context
of a game. You can ban certain users or ISPs but you would not
necessarily know whether the person was a 47 year-old man or a
12 year-old girl playing the game. They may adopt different roles
in those games. Whilst superficially it sounds similar it is actually
Q497 Helen Southworth: But in terms
of reporting concern or abuse, the whole point is that one must
be able to differentiate those things and have mechanisms that
can deal with the world into which one is entering?
Mr Kingsley: The difference is
that you are not talking about an individual personality. When
you talk about social networks as I understand it you are talking
about a real person with a MySpace page who is being bullied directly.
If you are playing World of Warcraft or any of the other
online games you might be a mighty barbarian warrior who is being
sworn at by another such warrior. It is not necessarily directed
at you, the person who happens to work in Marks & Spencer
but who becomes a barbarian warrior at weekends; it is directed
against his or her character. You might complain that there has
been cheating and that the language used is inappropriate, but
it distances itself from the very direct form of personality bullying
that one might have with online social networking spaces.
Mr Jackson: Having said that,
we are keen to protect youngsters in this space and we will make
sure that our codes of conduct work with the regulations to make
sure they do.
Mr Ramsdale: Currently, the PEGI
online symbol is shown. For any online games content you must
meet certain criteria like escalation points and panic buttons.
can become more robust but I do not think it is bad for where
we are at.
Q498 Chairman: As I understand it, the
economics of your industry require that if you are to get a return
on considerable investment in the development of a game it must
probably be obtained in the first month of release. We are anticipating
Grand Theft Auto 4. The forecast is that it will take over
$200 million in the space of the first week of release. To achieve
that there is already massive advertising. If the advertising
tells people that this takes gaming to a new dimension and offers
graphics and experiences never seen before are you not creating
a huge demand among people who it is hoped will not be able to
buy the game because they will be under the age at which it is
Mr Jackson: Twelve or 13 years
ago I chaired a meeting when the industry signed up to the ASA
code of conduct and guidelines. That is an article of membership.
You are thrown out of all the associations and you cannot operate
unless you sign up to the ASA codes. There are not many industries
that do that. I am absolutely sure that the advertising has been
managed appropriately. At the end of the day, we have to be able
to represent these incredible cutting edge products that we make
honestly and sensibly within the code. By and large I think we
are doing that.
Q499 Chairman: But the advertising
will not say that this is an 18 game and if you are under 18 you
should not even think about it?
Mr Jackson: I think it does flag
up the age rating of the game, which is the current BBFC age rating.
We need to make sure that we do ever more work in that direction
and we are already discussing that. It needs to be clear on every
product as it is advertised what its age rating is.
19 Note by witness: An escalation point/panic
button is a mechanism allowing a consumer to report inappropriate
activity from another user during online gameplay. Back