Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

New video games age-rating regime comes into force

Out-Law News | 30 Jul 2012 | 12:27 pm | 2 min. read

Retailers that supply age-rated video games to children who are below the specified age could face up to six months in jail and a £5,000 fine under a new age classification regime in operation in the UK.

Traders that supply video games without displaying the age rating could face two years in jail and an unlimited fine.

Under the new regime, effective from today and introduced by the Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 2012, the Video Standards Council (VSC) will take over responsibility for regulation of most video games content.

VSC will assess video games content in accordance with the existing Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system that is currently in place, although a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told Out-Law.com that VSC is "obliged to have all due regard to UK sensitivities" and to take those into account when age-rating video games.

The PEGI scheme was created by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), which claims to represent "the interests of the interactive software sector with regard to the European Union and international institutions".

Under the existing PEGI regime video games publishers are required to complete an "online content assessment and declaration form" which contains questions on the nature of the content of the games. PEGI operators associate an age-rating to the video games based on the publishers' descriptions before administrators of the scheme – of which the VSC is one – conduct their own examination. Those administrators determine whether to apply the provisional rating and whether to licence the publisher to use the age-rating label together with the content descriptions for the game.

Under the new regime VSC take sole responsibility for age-rating video games in the UK other than in cases where ancillary games are released on discs that primarily contain films and in cases where games contain "explicit sexual content". In those cases it would be the responsibility of film censors the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to classify the games as 'R18' under its existing classification system. Only licensed sex shops can sell such content to adults aged 18 or over.

VSC will be able to refuse the grant of an age-rating for video games if they contain extreme content, which would prohibit the sale of those games in the UK.

VSC and the BBFC are to put in place a "joint General Agreement" in order to ensure the "smooth running of the BBFC and PEGI classification systems." The Agreement would include how the allocation of both the ancillary and R18 games to the BBFC would be determined, the DCMS spokesperson said.

"The new ratings system will be hugely beneficial to children, parents, retailers and manufacturers alike," the spokesperson said. "It will ensure that young people are better protected from unsuitable content, provide clear and unambiguous advice to parents and is a more simple and straightforward process for the industry."

Previously in the UK the PEGI system was used by industry for most games, but those containing sexual or grossly violent material were also subject to the approval of the BBFC, which can give a game one of its age-related classifications. If the BBFC refused to classify a game then supplying it was punishable with unlimited fines and two years in jail.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said the end of the dual regulatory system was to be welcomed.

"The UK has one of the most dynamic and innovative video games industries in the world, and the games they produce not only entertain millions, but can also educate and foster creativity," he said. "Today's simplification of the ratings system benefits both industry and consumers and will help ensure that the millions of games sold in the UK each year are being played by the audiences they were intended for."