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EA: Publishers have a responsibility to demystify video games for parents

Samantha Ebelthite discusses EA's awareness campaign with Internet Matters and her new role as vice chair of UKIE

If you're reading this and you are a parent, chances are you already know how to ensure your children only play video games appropriate for them.

You'll also no doubt already have in mind how to limit their screen time to levels you deem to be acceptable, and not only how to judge whether a game they are interested in would suit them but also come up with recommendations of your own that they might enjoy. I've certainly been doing my best to ensure my son plays responsibly.

But given the frequency with which my wife, a primary school teacher, tells me that 5 and 6-year-olds cite the time spent playing Call of Duty with their older sibling or this funny thing that happened in GTA Online as the highlight of their weekend, I suspect we are in the minority.

Trade bodies and platform holders have run awareness campaigns over the years, often giving parents instruction on how to set the family controls on the current consoles, but the industry cannot rest on its laurels -- and Samantha Ebelthite, EA's UK commercial markets director, says all companies are obliged to do what they can to assist parents in this neverending endeavour.

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Sam Ebelthite, Electronic Arts

"I'm lucky because I could talk to my parents about the games I wanted to play or the console I wanted for Christmas," she says. "They really got it and not everybody does. I have conversations with friends where they ask me this stuff because I'm in that world [of games]."

She continues: "As a publisher, we have a responsibility to make it as easy and demystified as possible to have those conversations, engage in that world with your children and make decisions that are appropriate for them.

"We want people to enjoy our games responsibly. We sell fun, we are people's playtime, and I think it's really important that we are a positive force for that."

To that end, Electronic Arts launched a new campaign last month -- Play Together, Play Smart -- which aims to raise parental awareness of various facets connected to video gaming. The campaign centres around a new website with guides in both written and video form, presented with the help of former footballer Ian Wright and the hosts of the Scummy Mummies podcast, Ellie Gibson and Helen Thorn.

Guides include instructions on how to set up parental controls, how to help kids play online safely, choosing age appropriate games, agreeing on screen time and other boundaries, and exploration of some of the benefits of gaming.

The publisher is running the campaign with Internet Matters, selecting the non-profit organisation as a partner thanks to its "good history [of] demystifying the internet for parents."

"We want to have the same impact on the video games world," Ebelthite explains. "We wanted to work with someone who could help make video games and that digital world more accessible and easier for parents to navigate."

"As a publisher, we have a responsibility to make it as easy and demystified as possible to have these conversations and make decisions that are appropriate for your children"

Naturally, part of the campaign focuses on the tools EA itself has created with parents in mind, such as FIFA Playtime, which monitors time and money spent in the publisher's flagship sports series -- including its lucrative Ultimate Team mode.

We ask whether there are plans to bring a similar system to future EA titles, such as other sports titles that feature the Ultimate Team mode and its randomised monetisation mechanic. While Ebelthite says she knows of no specific plans, she adds: "The games will continue to evolve and the tools around them will continue to improve."

Ebelthite says the current campaign is particularly important after the growth of gaming during the pandemic, with more people playing than ever before, but also due to the rising technological aptitude among even the youngest of children. Anyone who has left a tablet or smartphone within reach of a toddler will know this all too well.

"If you think about it, they will never not know that world," Ebelthite says, "whereas we've grown up with the development [of that technology]."

She emphasises that, while a primary goal of the campaign is to teach people about the availability of parental controls, the central message is actually something far broader.

"It's about helping parents learn more about the games that their children are playing, feel more confident about engaging and having conversations with them," she says. "Yes, it's about setting up controls but it's also about talking to children about the games because a lot of parents are nervous. They don't know how to play the games, they don't understand all the different functions in them. We want to make it a bit easier for parents.

"It would be great if they were playing with their children too -- that would be the dream -- but say they don't have the interest, the confidence, it's about taking the time to maybe let your child show you what they're doing. We've all had years of 'Mummy, mummy, can I show you my dance?' It's no different with games - 'Let me show you the world I've built. Let me show you what I'm creating'"

Former footballer Ian Wright is one of the familiar faces EA has brought on board to help deliver advice to parents

Former footballer Ian Wright is one of the familiar faces EA has brought on board to help deliver advice to parents

The messages at the core of the Play Together, Play Smart campaign are ones Ebelthite is now further empowered to convey following last week's annual general meeting for trade body UKIE, where she was named the new vice chair of the organisation.

"This isn't the first campaign we've done and it definitely won't be the last because I think people need it to be continually resurfaced"

Ebelthite tells us EA has already worked closely with UKIE on its own awareness campaigns, such as Get Smart About Play, and was one of the five founding partners behind the body's Raise The Game pledge, which focuses on improving diversity and inclusion in the games industry.

"In my new role, I believe we can continue to build on the work UKIE and Electronic Arts have already done to build awareness of parental controls and make it easier for parents and guardians to feel in control of play time, while also bringing parents closer to the games their children love to play. As a mum of two children, this is something close to my heart.

"I am hugely passionate about equality and diversity in all its forms and am really looking forward to working with UKIE on programs to make our industry as inclusive as possible... Players are more diverse than ever and to reflect our audiences properly, we need better representation in our talent to reflect the communities we manage."

Of course, this conversation and even the Play Together, Play Smart campaign is nothing new. As mentioned, UKIE has run its own campaigns in recent years, as has Microsoft, which published a family guide to setting up parental controls on Xbox One.

Ebelthite says that even EA has run similar initiatives in the past and will continue to do so as long as there is that gap of understanding among some parents.

"This isn't the first campaign we've done and it definitely won't be the last because I think people need it to be continually resurfaced," she concludes. "And more people come in, so more people need to be educated and involved in the industry.

"The important thing is that we be a force for good. There are so many good things about the games industry. How many people have connected through games during the pandemic? How much were we people's entertainment, but also the way of meeting up with friends? It's about making sure we talk about the positives and drive the education -- and, importantly, the engagement -- in managing and feeling in control of the gaming in your household, so you can make decisions and have really responsible gaming in your house."

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