At the end of last year, I wrote a retrospective on games classification and censorship across in the world in 2009, which – perhaps unsuprisingly – showed a totally inconsistent worldwide approach with different countries adopting hostile or progressive approaches to the regulation of games, virtually all of which was justified by reference to the ‘protection of children’. Now, with the first quarter of 2010 almost gone, here’s an update on the state of play so far for games censorship and classification.
The Digital Economy Bill proposes a new games classification system based on PEGI. That Bill is currently bogged down with other controversies and so (despite previous suggestions the games classification bit could be split off into a separate piece of legislation) at the moment we are stuck with the existing fragmentary system.
Even if and when the new system comes in, will it really change anything? Unlikely. We’ll still have Keith Vaz speaking his piece on games violence from time to time. On the other (rather more important) hand, at least the government doesn’t try to step in actively to intefere with the classification of games in the UK.
Although broadly games classification is based on a self-regulation model in the USA, there are also some legislative safeguards. GamesPolitics reports that the FTC is consulting on whether amendment is needed to the Childrens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Says GamesPolitics: “COPPA focuses on how website operators or online services deal with the personal information of kids younger than 13. Currently, it requires that third-parties must notify and receive permission from parents before “collecting, using, or disclosing” such info. Additionally, it requires that the information be kept secure and limits operators from collecting “any more personal information than is reasonably necessary.”
One of the areas on which the FTC is consulting is the applicability of COPPA to games and interactive entertainment. It will be interesting to see whether this consultation becomes a vehicle for any wider discussion of the protection of children regarding games (a pot which, as we know, politicians in the USA are just as fond at stirring as anyone else – take Hot Coffee as an example).
Venezuala has recently passed a ban on “violent videogames and toys“. We wrote more on that here. In a word, it seems a bit silly.
Australia has been in the games news a lot recently over its lack of an 18+ games rating, which has been used to reject several high-profile games for classification in Australia (examples of such attempts here and here). Now, with a public consultation into introducing an 18+ rating, and Michael Atkinson – one of the most vocal critics of such a rating – having just announced he intends to step down from public office, there seems an increasingly good chance that Australia might get a 18+ rating after all. Then our Antipodean friends can enjoy L4D2 action legally, joy!
Switzerland, not generally known to me as a hot-bed of games activity, has apparently passed a law banning violent video games. The government has yet to publish guidance as to how the law will work in practice (which rather begs the question of how it was approved in the first place), but MCV reports that “the likeliest outcome seems to be an outright ban on the production, distribution and sale of any games deemed to be unsuitable – most likely anything with either a PEGI 16+ or PEGI 18+ certificate“.
IF that were true (and we don’t know that yet), then effectively banning games for 16+ year olds would be an extremely draconian system completely out of sync with the rest of Western Europe. In fact, I wonder (without any legal work having been done on this) whether there might be grounds for an EU-level challenge over this? We’ll have to wait and see what the law actually says first.
Quite clearly, there is no consistency between the games classification laws in these jurisdictions, meaning that games companies continue to face difficulty in marketing their games – which one developer I spoke with this week cited as an increasingly important problem for his company. The answer lies partly in doing your research so you know the likely classification in the key markets you want to sell in, but ultimately that just gives you forewarning of potential future issues. It’s not a cure. An ideal solution might be a more standardised worldwide system that countries could join (either on a legal basis or a self-regulation basis), but really that falls apart on the simplest of analyses, because it’s been tried before (e.g. PEGI) and been shown that the difficulties don’t lie in the classification systems themselves, but rather the fact that at the moment any such system is subject to political whims and the prejudices of a generally ill-informed population (hence the continuing, and in my view baseless, controversy linking games to violence).
Anyway, I’ll stop before I start ranting. We’ll write another update next quarter about the baffling world of games classification and censorship in 2010.