Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Further supplementary memorandum submitted by the BBFC

1.   How many examiners does the BBFC have to examine video games?

  The BBFC has around 30 examiners, and currently up to a dozen of those may be called upon to examine games. This dozen, together with a senior examiner, constitute our digital media team. All have had extensive training, and all have a cutting edge knowledge of both physical and online games. Indeed, some have been recruited from the games industry, and all have particular areas of expertise in games classification and policy.

2.   Do the examiners play the whole of the game? ie: how long do they spend playing the game?

  A typical current BBFC game will be examined for around five hours. Some games need much greater time [...] Manhunt 2 took up a total of over 100 examining hours. Other games may be suitable for examination taking less than five hours. No classifier anywhere in the world plays games all through [...] some games may have hundreds of hours of gameplay, and each playthrough may give a different gaming experience. Instead, the onus is put on the publisher to draw attention to material which may affect the classification, and to provide all necessary supporting material such as cheat codes, DVD playthroughs and documentary material such as scripts. However, in terms of the fees that we charge, we would expect to charge for up to five hours of play plus an admin fee.

3.   What are the ramifications if shopkeepers sell age-inappropriate games to children?

  It is a criminal offence under the terms of the VRA to supply a work classified by the BBFC to anyone under that age. The offence applies to the person doing the selling and not the retail outlet, so every shop assistant is answerable under the law. You can be fined up to £5,000, though in practice it is usually several hundred pounds for first offences and I doubt there are many second offences and or sent to prison, but you would have to be a serious recidivist to get sent to prison.

4.   Has the BBFC ever given a game an R18 classification?

  No. R 18 is the category reserved for pornography which is real sex and only available for sale in Licensed Sex Shops. While some 18 rated games do have sexual activity in them—Grand Theft Auto and prostitutes—we have not seen an "R18" level game. Not least because of the limited outlets for sales.

5.   What are the BBFC's powers in relation to downloadable vido games? What incentives are there for games publishers to submit dowloadable games to the BBFC?

  I understand that the BBFC does not rate games which can be played online because of the fact they can alter over time, but why do you not rate fixed format downloadable games as a matter of course? Is it because it is easy for consumers to access downloadable games from other countries, therefore the BBFC classification system becomes irrelevant? Or is it because since there is no actual physical "shop keeper", therefore no one can be prosecuted for selling someone an age-inappropriate game? Why would games publishers buy BBFC Online classification? What is in it for them?

  Our powers come from the Video Recordings Act which does not, as far as our best legal advice goes, cover the Internet. So there is no legal requirement for the online distributors to send their games to us. The reason is appealing to both film and games distributors is that the public knows and understands the BBFC system. We have carried out research which very clearly says that the public actually expect the BBFC to classify the same sort of material online that we already have for cinema and DVD. In addition they said that they would trust a website selling downloadable material if it was clear that it was part of a BBFC scheme. It also assures them that they are buying legitimate material. What they get is a lot of information about why the work was rated as it was and this stays with the work once it has been downloaded. This means that parents can keep track of what their children are downloading. We also require efficient gatekeeping systems in place so no one can access inappropriate material. We will monitor this and websites risk being thrown out of the scheme if their systems do not work. The distributors are buying our reputation. This clearly does not have the same weight in other countries and there is nothing to stop someone in the UK downloading material from foreign websites. But most people are very conservative in their online "shopping" and like to have the assurances of a recognised brand protecting their interests.

June 2008

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