On Tuesday, as part of the Digital Britain review, the UK Government finally backed PEGI as the sole classification system for games in the UK, after over 12 months of campaigning by the industry.
A decision universally praised, there are still many questions to answer about the practicalities of the new system, as well as beginning the ongoing work marketing PEGI and educating consumers on the changes. In this exclusive interview, chairman of ELSPA Andy Payne details the next steps for the organisation and the industry, including when the new system is expected to be legal, how awareness campaigns will be funded, the media's involvement in spreading information and how publishers and format holders can help back the system.
Q: What's your initial reaction to the PEGI decision?
Andy Payne: It's a great decision for games across Europe, and even better for the UK general public because at last they will have a system that will enable them to responsibly purchase games for their children and they've been wanting that for a long, long time.
Q: And what's been the early reaction from the industry and ELSPA members?
Andy Payne: I think they are pleased because there's a lack of confusion, but the the key thing now is the government has made the decision, but what does it mean for publishers, what does it mean for retail, what does it mean to the consumer and how are we going to communicate that?
The job starts now. There's a whole load of things that will need to happen and they are all geared around the political process. In terms of this actually becoming law, it's got to get through parliament and that will happen but that will take time. ISFE has already been working on PEGI 2.0 and they've got their act together quite nicely, and ELSPA has mobilised their working groups now to get the information out to the membership, the media and of course the consumers. That's going to be a long, long campaign. The systems that are in place at the moment are very specific but it's somewhat confusing. This is a chance for us all to take a breath and then move forward.
Q: The PEGI decision was obviously something you were campaigning for, but did you have a back-up plan in case the Government opted for a different solution?
Andy Payne: We planned for this decision, for the BBFC ruling and another hybrid. We had three plans and it was a frantic day getting all our people mobilised. We've got our political advisors working on the case, we've got our PRs working on communication and talking to ELSPA members and telling them what it all means. Right now it's all coming together, ELSPA are in full gear. It's about pushing through and using time and energy to get everybody educated.
Q: There's still a lot of practical details to nail down - do you have any idea when this will become law and when we'll start seeing the new symbols on boxes?
Andy Payne: Parliament is going into recess and this won't even get looked at before then. In terms of making it absolutely law, and that's the VSC taking over the legislative duties the BBFC has, that won't happen until the autumn at the earliest, and there's a whole load of things that have got to happen before that.In this political climate I would expect this to be going through the due legal process before Christmas and I fully expect the new symbols on boxes for the big major products that are coming out in the fourth quarter. It's going to happen but there are still issues – we've still got to work with the BBFC to blend into the new system. There's still lots to be done.
The good news is that the ELPSA membership knew that they'd be in for some work anyway, no matter what the decision was. The PEGI decision is probably more work for the industry but that's a good thing because when you talk to people, the general public don't understand those age ratings anyway. The work we've got to put in isn't insubstantial but over the period of the next 12 months people will be aware of the new age ratings.
Q: Now you face a massive education and marketing campaign to get the new PEGI message across – what have you got planned there?
Andy Payne: What ELSPA has done through this whole process is engage with its membership and get them into working groups. So there's a marketing group and they are due to meet any day to sit down and work out strategies to engage directly with the consumer through retail. We had all the retailers in a room and their biggest concern was that they cannot break the law, so they need to know what the score is in terms of selling games that are rated for older consumers. That process of engagement will now carry on and during next week the working groups are meeting and reaching out to retail to take it further within the next 10 to 14 days. Then we'll need to go through and work out the financing of all that. Most of the financing will be coming from ELSPA and there will be some coming in from ISFE (the Interactive Software Federation of Europe). The relationship between ELSPA and ISFE has never been better and they are very pleased with the outcome. There's going to be money spent and a lot of time spent.
Q: And obviously publishers are going to be pulling their weight when it comes to incorporating the new ratings in advertising?
Andy Payne: I know that all of the publishers have committed to the new rating system in their TV advertising campaigns, which is going to follow the American model of a flash of rating before or after the footage rolls. There's an accord there amongst all of the ELSPA publishers, which is pretty much all those who advertise games on TV. That will also spread to retail adverts which are also funded by publishers.
How effective it will be through PR is always difficult to assess. We've got to work as best we can with the key media to ensure that the public at least sees this stuff. There are plans for roadshows and with the Eurogamer Expo that's planned in October in Leeds and London there will be a presence there. The likes of Sony, Microsoft, EA, Nintendo – their key marketing executives will gather in a room and they'll hammer it all out.
Q: Is the UK Government going to contribute cash to the campaign?
Andy Payne: Well, there's definitely talk of that. But we've taken an approach as an industry that we've got to behave with duty and honesty and a sense of proactivity. In order for this result to have been delivered, the Government wanted assurances that we would do our bit. There's promise of some Government funding but we're not going to hang around and wait for that, because we could be waiting for ages. We're taking responsibility, ELSPA has got some funding in place, which is member's money anyway. There's also a lot of stuff that can be done 'free' – the tagging on of age ratings for print and online can be done at very little cost. There will be a lot of proactivity from the format holders in terms of reaching out to the media.
I don't see this as being totally down to ELSPA. In some ways, it's going to be more attractive to the media to have Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony talking about it. The media will always be more interested in what Sony and Microsoft have got to say about it then they'll ever be in what ELSPA has got to say about it, with all due respect. That's the angle that we'll push. Format holders take this very seriously and they are very determined to push this through.
The perception by the British public of age ratings is pretty poor. And that's not necessarily the public's fault, it's down to the fact that these symbols are black and white, they've been confusing and we need to educate them. That takes time.
Q: How can you look for tangible results, how will you measure the success of a new system like this?
Andy Payne: Success will be measured over time and we intend to do research during the campaign. Give it six months and lets test focus groups that come together to talk about product, let's widen that out to talk about the age ratings. If Nintendo is doing to some focus groups of products, during that let's ask them about game ratings and their perception. But I don't think we need to waste time doing that right now. These symbols are new, they are an evolution of the existing symbols, but let's just get on with it and then measure six months down the line.
Q: What you're saying is this is going to be an ongoing campaign...
Andy Payne: There's no sitting around with a massive plan. We've got to find out how best to do this and we've got to keep on going. It's not like a six month campaign, it's an infinite campaign. By its nature it's going to be fluid, there are going to be things that need to be adjusted all the way through. This is going to be front and center from now on in.
Andy Payne is chairman of ELSPA. Interview by Matt Martin.