Government-commissioned report proposes a hybrid classification system that will come into force in 2010, combining elements of the existing PEGI and BBFC schemes to improve the clarity of age ratings.
The report of the Byron Review on Children and New Technology has recommended that the classification of video games in the UK be consolidated in order to make age ratings more clearly understandable by parents. Under the report's proposals, by 2010 all games will display an age rating consistent with the BBFC's film certificates on the front of their cases, while Pan European (PEGI) standards will be observed on the rear.
The most significant procedural change contained in the proposals is for the BBFC to have its remit extended into all releases with content appropriate only for people over 12 years of age. This will extend statutory classification to a significant degree, as the BBFC will have to adapt to rating around double the number of titles that it currently oversees (about 4% of software overall). Those caught selling games to underage children would be subject to fines and up to five years in prison.
The PEGI will be left to rate games appropriate for the 3+ and 7+ age brackets (though these games will now also carry a BBFC equivalent label), and will be responsible for the initial decision to refer games to the BBFC for rating when necessary.
The decision to use BBFC standards as the primary face of the hybrid system is said to be due to the greater popular recognition of what its age certificates signify, owing to their use over many years in the film industry. In the report, the co-existence of the BBFC and PEGI standards for video games is said to have contributed to confusion among parents, with some accounts of parents associating PEGI standards with "skill level" as opposed to content description.
Further to the purpose of empowering parents to make informed decisions about video game purchases more easily, Dr. Byron proposes that the industry should fund high profile campaigns that raise awareness regarding the ratings system. The report also calls for the industry to agree minimum standard parental controls that would apply to all formats.
Across the industry, reaction to the report's approach and specific proposals has been broadly positive, though there have been reservations expressed regarding the BBFC's capacity to absorb the extra workload of 12+ rated games, especially given the anticipated pace of expansion of digitally distributed titles. Richard Wilson, CEO of the trade association Tiga, has also voiced concerns that placing the burden of educating consumers about ratings solely on the industry will reduce the competitiveness of the UK games industry, and should be shared by the government.
The full report, Safer Children in a Digital World by Dr. Tanya Byron, can be found here.