As the Byron review consultancy period for age ratings ends, the BBFC and ELSPA discuss their findings
In March this year, the government's review into internet and game safety for children, led by Dr Tanya Byron, suggested that the British Board of Film Classification should rate all videogame content for players aged 12 and over.
It also found that the Pan European Games Information system – the outfit backed by videogame publishers – should rate content for younger audiences, and work together with the BBFC with online ratings.
Although the BBFC accepted the decision, PEGI and the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), which represents game publishers in the UK, were unhappy with the decision, and have since campaigned for PEGI to be the default organisation for rating all videogames.
The past four months have been a consultation period, allowing all interested parties to campaign, research and gather information to enforce their individual arguments, with today, November 20, marking the end of the consultation period.
ELSPA's campaigning was dealt another blow back in July, when a Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report also concluded that the BBFC is better suited to the role.
But while those outside of the industry back the BBFC, publishers have stood by PEGI, and ELSPA believes it's done the best it can to convince the government that a European ratings system is best for the industry.
"Whether we can be convinced we've done everything we can, or whether we're going to win is a good question, but we have been working day and night for the four months of this consultation and I think we have moved the government's position considerably from where we started," said Michael Rawlinson, managing director of ELSPA.
"I'm hopeful they will respond. They've certainly listened intently to everything we've said and I think we've come a long, long way."
Rawlinson hopes the campaigning has been enough to convince the government to change its mind and side with PEGI when it eventually makes a final decision next year.
"That's my hope. I can't speak for the government but we have responded to the tests Tanya Byron laid down in her report and added other tests ourselves to ensure the system is robust, that it's trustworthy, that we can build consumer confidence around the age rating system," detailed Rawlinson.
"We have evolved an enhanced PEGI in response to a number of points that Byron made, so I think we have everything in place to ensure the games rating system is the appropriate method for classifying interactive content going forward."
Director of the BBFC, David Cooke, is also confident his organisation has done all it can to lay out a sensible, convincing argument. "I think the arguments have been very fully aired. So, we've made a detailed submission as we did to the Byron Review and the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee review, which reached a similar conclusion to Dr Byron," he said.
"We've set out all the arguments. I'm sure the government understands all the issues and I'm sure the government can tell the difference between the good and the bad arguments.
"I don't want to get into the business of making predictions about the outcome but I think all we can sensibly do is to point to the fact that Dr Byron and the DCMS Select Committee both recommended that the BBFC should do a bigger share than we do at the moment – basically from 12 upwards, for both physical and online games," added Cooke.
The BBFC, ELSPA and PEGI may have made the most noise in the games community about the Byron Report, but they're not the only communities submitting information and research to the government.
Retailers, enforcement agencies, the police, child protection groups, organisations concerned with media literacy and games players themselves have all been consulted.
ELSPA has been very vocal in its attacks on the BBFC, suggesting the organisation is not fit for purpose, that it would not be able to cope with the demands of rating so many games. Publishers such as EA have added that games could be suffer release delays in the UK if the Byron findings are implemented, while Microsoft went further to suggest costs could increase if ratings systems became too complicated.
But have ELSPA's public attacks on the BBFC had a negative effect on the industry as a whole – are they both incapable of working together to find common ground? Rawlinson claims the BBFC has refused to work with PEGI on the ratings debate since the Byron report was published.
"The Interactive Software Federation of Europe, the Pan-Euro trade body that has responsibility for PEGI, has spoken to the BBFC and have tried to work together, but that has been incredibly difficult," claimed Rawlinson.
"The BBFC don't appear to want to co-operative, they want to try and dominate things going forward."
He also said that ELSPA's reactions have been representative of its members. If ELSPA is publicly attacking PEGI, it's because it members want it to.
"ELSPA's position as the trade representative body for its members is absolutely right in arguing for what is best for our members. We have shone the spotlight on PEGI as a solution to the Byron recommendations, but we're not the custodians for PEGI or the voice piece.
"We're the voice piece for our members. We haven't done anything incorrect," stated Rawlinson. "The reason we have been outspoken is that we passionately believe that the PEGI ratings system is the right methodology for classifying interactive content, both now and in the future for protecting British children when they play online and offline. Why would we compromise the protection of children by allowing something that's less than perfect to be used?"
For its part, the BBFC has remained more dignified, keeping its disagreements to paper.
"The focus will shift to the government and it will have to take a view," offered Cooke. "No doubt it will have quite a lot of submissions to analyse. I think our view is that when it comes to working out who should do what, both systems have their strengths, but our system has various advantages."
ELSPA, too, it now in a waiting position as the government assess submissions. The time line hasn't been refined, so at this point conclusions are only expected sometime in the spring, but Rawlinson points out that the body will continue to keep dialogue open.
"We keep dialogue, probably quietly, with stakeholders and government officials," he said.
"We keep our finger on the pulse. We'll probably be asked to clarify points and matters of fact in our submission and we'll continue to work very closely with our government and answer any questions they have as they evaluate the responses that have gone in, so that we're ready when the official announcement is made early in the new year."