The PEGI View

Patrice Chazerand explains his views on the Byron Review, discusses the next steps and looks to the future of ratings.

Last week, when Dr Tanya Byron released her Review into the safety of children online and with regard to videogames, one of the headline proposals involved a significant change to the way that games are rated in the UK.

By lowering the statutory age rating limit to 12, it means that the BBFC will now have to rate around half of all games - a move which at the same time reduces the responsibilities that PEGI had previously.

But while many people had speculated previously about the possibility of a single ratings system, the Review maintained that PEGI still had an important role to play, particularly for the large numbers of games released for children, and in the online space - where national boundaries are less relevant.

Here, Patrice Chazerand, secretary general at ISFE, the European publisher association which oversees PEGI, unpacks his thoughts on the Byron Review, what it means for PEGI, what the next steps will be, and what the future of online holds.

Q: - The Byron Review team were quite complimentary of the work that PEGI's done to date, is that something that pleases you?

Patrice Chazerand: Yes - among the things we're appreciative of is the recognition, which is science-based, it's not to please the industry. And it's recognition as expressed by Byron all along that she didn't want to damage the PEGI system.

Q: - Do you feel it's a sign that the industry has done a pretty good job of regulating itself?

Patrice Chazerand: For us it's encouraging, because it's coming from a leading expert doing thorough research about our industry, so we take it as a good tribute, and one that isn't just out of courtesy.

Q: - When did you first get an idea about what the Review's conclusions might be? You commented previously on your concerns.

Patrice Chazerand: Dr Byron had an interim conference, convening a wide cross-section of the stakeholders - probably more than 100 people - and she also heard evidence from experts in all these fields, and she also took some votes.

She heard a lot of support for PEGI, but I had a sense that her recommendation would be inspired by her findings as a scientist, as a mother, but also with a concern about needing to be supported by the Prime Minister - because if it wasn't endorsed it would make all her research pointless.

We're aware that we have a few weak points in the UK, such as the recognition issue - and Dr Byron said in the report that the BBFC symbols were more recognised, but acknowledged that PEGI hadn't been in existence for as long - so I can understand why that is.

So I had a sense that her conclusions would be her own feelings, and her own research, but with a concern for practical implementation.

Q: - Before the Review's publication, were you concerned that any political pressure might distort Dr Byron's findings?

Patrice Chazerand: I had no doubt that if there was anybody that could inject a neutral approach into what is indeed a very political process, it would be Tanya Byron, because she's an expert, and a person of integrity - so I've no doubt that the industry has been given a fair chance.

In terms of the political context, like in any country and not just the UK, we're a bit of a political football - they speak about violence, about sex, drugs, but they never speak about education. It seems like when politicians talk about videogames they're given a brief that's very heavy on the downsides, and very light on the upsides.

But Dr Byron has reversed that - she's been very heavy on the upsides, not only on videogames, but also on the internet - and that's something to be commended. She's basically telling anybody who cares about their children, "Don't close down the swimming pool - just make sure they learn how to swim."

I think it's very important, and we keep saying that - but when it's the industry saying that, we're not heard. But when it's Dr Byron saying that, and it's endorsed by the Prime Minister, chances are that the message will get across.

Q: - When did you first hear the Review's actual recommendations?

Patrice Chazerand: We did have some insight in advance, and I think that's a tribute to Dr Byron's methodology, because in her science-based approach she gave a chance for every stakeholder to be heard - but not a superficial check.

We saw her a lot, actually, and whenever she was finished with a particular hearing, she would get in touch, and ask for ideas - usually you would leave her meeting with a lot of homework to do, because she wanted a lot of answers.

So we did know something of the conclusions, and I would call that a transparent process.

Q: - What were your first reactions to the proposals for the new ratings system?

Patrice Chazerand: Our first reactions, you won't be surprised - you don't like to go from front to back, so the fact that the BBFC would be on the front of the box, and PEGI on the back, we didn't take it really as an improvement.

But at the same time, our second thoughts were that it's not bad to be on the back anyway, and you just have to ask yourself if you deserve to be on the front.

If the experts say that a five year-old PEGI had any chance to match the recognition of the decades-old BBFC symbols…well, you just have to admit that you've lost the argument on the consumer-facing element.

So that was certainly a little painful, but at the same time fair. It's the scientific approach.

I have to tell you that the family studies that we regularly run across Europe always show the UK public leading other Europeans in terms of recognition, so it did come as a bit of a shock, certainly not good news, but we readily admit that Dr Byron had all the right sources to draw her conclusions that the BBFC symbols catch the attention and are understood by the public.

I certainly agree that if you want to give information to the public, to empower them, the information you give is understood. So the logic of her report is superb - that was our reaction about the visuals.

In terms of the methodology, in some ways it is still good to have PEGI in charge of running the lower two age classes, because it was part of the tribute to the value of PEGI.

We also cannot take exception to the expansion of the lowering of the statutory age to 12, because that's what we're advocating, because it doesn't make any sense for a 12 year-old to be able to buy adult products.

On one hand I see the benefits of exposing the UK public to the same visuals for games and films if your only purpose it to make it easier for them. On the other hand if you're objective is to educate them about different media, we would support the Dutch system more strongly.

There they have a ratings system for so-called passive media, and they have PEGI as a system for interactive media. It's not a problem for the Dutch public, and for us it's the way to go to educate the public about the fact that for protecting minors, for example, these two types of content have very different impacts.

I'm sure Dr Byron understands that, but at the end of the day, the recognition of the PEGI as a good ratings system beyond the lower two classes…we got sort of short-changed, and I don't think this is good for the education of the public - they may be led to understand that for the sake of protecting minors, for the sake of classifying, the two things are the same.

And because you have more and more gamers attracted by online gaming, going to a national solution on the front of the package is maybe not the best thing for UK consumers, because they might be taken by surprise when they play games online which come from the Continent with PEGI logos.

You have to do a lot of communication on PEGI as well.

Q: - The Byron Review sets out a timetable for the development of an online ratings system, with the BBFC and PEGI working together - what are the next steps in that process?

Patrice Chazerand: Although it's due to happen next year, and that's not too far away, it's still a little bit early to tell how it will work. Managing safety for online games is precisely what PEGI Online has been trying to do.

The PEGI Online working group starting meeting on September 1, 2005, and David Cooke [BBFC director] was not part of this group, but he was part of the PEGI Online plenary that approved all the provisions of the system.

So you would think, and it's not to be arrogant, that all the stakeholders - including David Cooke - believe that PEGI Online is doing a few things to promote safety when kids play online - so it's not starting from scratch.

The BBFC also have some knowledge in the online space, they are rating downloadable movies, for example, but for us the procedure is a little bit different because here the quandary that PEGI Online was trying to address is that you cannot give a fixed rating to content that is not fixed, that is changeable.

Movie content will not change, but if you're talking about games that will evolve - user-generated content, chatrooms, etc - PEGI Online has put in the best effort to provide reasonable assurances to parents that if their kids are playing in a PEGI-Online branded space, the operator behind that site has committed to the PEGI Online code, and it cares about protecting minors - that everything that can be done, will be done to make the space safe.

I've not heard about what the BBFC has done already to promote safety online, but it's quite possible - because we never thought that PEGI Online was perfect - there may certainly be good ideas to borrow from the BBFC. And if there are, I'm sure we would be glad to give a new twist, to improve PEGI Online.

And the same is the other way around - I'm sure that the BBFC would be glad to borrow a few ideas from PEGI Online. At least that's my reading of what Dr Byron would like to see happening, a sort of cooperation between the various expertise of the BBFC and PEGI Online.

Q: - There's been some speculation that another part of the reasoning behind keeping PEGI involved was because games in the future will migrate more and more towards online - what are your thoughts on that?

Patrice Chazerand: That's definitely a possibility, yes, just because the people behind PEGI know about games - they had this vision of implementing part of the PEGI code which was there from the beginning, but we had to find practical ways to cover online games, as soon as online games were becoming prevalent.

PEGI Online was borne out of vision - this industry has a sense of responsibility and a vision, and we think that the uptake of online gaming will continue to grow, that the usefulness to provide the right information and assurances to parents will also keep growing.

To tell you that it will promote PEGI more than the BBFC is something I cannot really do - the PEGI Online code incorporates all the established European ratings systems, so it will have BBFC logos up there on the online gaming website as well.

I don't know if I'm being too visionary, but I think we should stop thinking in terms of competition and start thinking more in terms of cooperation. You've heard me say that if asked what my preference is, and what the industry has said, that PEGI would be the single ratings system, but as long as the government takes on board the Byron recommendations, you're confronted with a situation where you have to cooperate.

I think it's a different logic to that of competition - I would say that productive cooperation, the one envisioned by Tanya Byron to better serve the interests of the UK, would be true cooperation - not competition.

The UK public probably couldn't care less about the competition of two game ratings agencies - they care about getting the right information.

To come back to my initial point, we were not aware of the inability of the UK public to understand the dual system, but as long as the UK government says it's a problem and believes a single system is better, that the BBFC is more recognised, but that there should be cooperation - I think you have your roadmap.

It's not so much about which percentage of games you rate.

Patrice Chazerand is the secretary general of ISFE. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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