BBFC Chief Writes for Edge

I have been reading recently that there’s a spat between the BBFC and ESLPA or the BBFC and PEGI. I don’t recognize this so-called spat. I have great respect for ELSPA and for PEGI and for the games industry.

Something else that doesn’t get said often enough is that I have a great respect for gamers. The people at the BBFC who actually do the games examination are gamers themselves.

We’re enthusiasts for games. We’re not in any sense hostile to the gaming world and I don’t recognize the sort of coverage that suggests otherwise.

Classification Issues in the UK

I’m often asked why we have a system in the UK that embraces both the BBFC and PEGI. It’s an especially common question given ELSPA’s stated preference for a system that would only use PEGI.

On this question, there have been two independent reviews. First of all we had Tanya Byron who looked at a great deal of evidence and spent a lot of time talking to people. The conclusion that she reached was that we should still have a system in which both the BBFC and PEGI were involved for the UK but the BBFC should have a rather bigger role covering everything from age 12 and older.

In parallel, the House of Commons Select Committee on culture media and sports looked at the same kinds of questions as Tanya Byron, and they took a lot of evidence from many experts, including ELSPA.  They reached a similar conclusion to Byron.

The government is having a consultation on this set of issues and the closing date for that is in late November. We will make a submission in response to that consultation, just as we made a submission to Tanya Byron and we made a submission to the Select Committee.

Why Not Just PEGI?

It’s often forgotten that some of the biggest games countries in the world are not in PEGI but do their own games classification: for instance, the USA, Japan,Australia, and, within Europe, Germany. The public understands that different countries have different national sensibilities that need to be taken into account.

That’s certainly true with film. I’m responsible for film regulation in the UK and you only need to look across the channel to make the comparison between the UK and France to see really very substantial differences in the way in which films are regulated.

It’s natural and it’s unsurprising that people want to take national sensibilities into account, even in the age of the Internet. The fact that a game is delivered online and is played by players in a number of different countries doesn’t make all these questions of national approaches irrelevant

There’s nothing wrong with a multi-national approach like PEGI, but you can see the problems involved in trying to regulate and enforce across dozens of countries.

BBFC isn’t a lobbying organization, like ELSPA. It’s a statutory regulator. Our position is we’ll do what the government wants us to do. If the government wants us to do everything from 12 and up which seems to be more or less what Byron wanted and what the Select Committee wanted, we’ll do that. If the government wants us to do everything we’ll do that.

Can BBFC Handle the Workload?

One of the questions that often comes up is one of scaleability, which is the word that ELSPA have used quite a bit.

I really reject the notion that the BBFC can’t handle issues of scaleability. Look at the DVD market. In 1997 we had just over 3,000 DVDs to classify. By 2006 that had risen to to over 15,000, an increase of 460%.

In comparison, we do about 300 games a year at the moment.

We’ve demonstrated that we can handle massive hikes in work load.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about how we work with games. It’s not true that we attempt to see every single game element and every bit of online game element, every mod, every update, every bit of user generated content

We’ve got about 12 games examiners who are organized as a self standing team within the BBFC. It’s not at all true that we’re basically a film organization and we don’t understand games. These 12 are people are games enthusiasts and very good gamers

I don’t know of anybody in the world who does it better than we do. Depending on the game, we’ll typically play for about five hours. It can be less. It can end up being more. With Manhunt 2 we spent many, many hours on that game, for obvious reasons.

The key difference between us and PEGI is that we classify in accordance with guidelines that the British public has been consulted about. PEGI doesn’t do that and can’t really because it involves 27 different countries.

In our view it is extremely important to be able to take context into account if you’re going to achieve a solid and a fair classification. And to provide full, context-based information to the public about the reasons for the classification.  And to have the websites, the education resources and the monitoring capability to back that up!