Uncomfortably named game industry business site Gamasutra has published a fascinating think-piece on how games developers view the content ratings systems in the EU. Gamasutra is a major games industry portal for exchanging ideas, technical expertise and up-to-the-minute industry gossip, and is one of the rare places online where the comments are as much worth reading as the main article. If you have time this weekend, take a few minutes to browse through.
One thing that may particularly stand out to you is the fact that the EU ratings board PEGI do not play all the games they are given to rate through from start to finish. Instead, developers are expected to self-report their game’s content to a thinktank in the Netherlands. As the organisation (Netherlands Institute for the Classification of Audiovisual Media) was originally created to review films rather than interactive games, the submission has to be done by creating a video.
Mainly for me it is just time-consuming and frustrating,” he added. “You also have to create a highlight reel showing all the most egregious blood/language/sexual content in the game, and it takes them a while to process the whole thing. Since I’m a solo dev it means all development stops as I’m doing it.”
In the EU, developers also have to pay high costs to get their games rating on the official boards. In the U.S., under the ESRB system (most boxed games you buy on the UK high-street show both symbols,) developers can get their games rates for free. ESRB representatives also rely on developers to self-report, and enforce million dollar fines against creators who misrepresent their games. Some games require a film, whilst others are assessed simply by filling out an online questionnaire. Only a handful of games submitted each year are actually played, as part of a “random sample.”
Here’s the pitch: IARC (International Age Ratings Coalition) is a process whereby you fill out a questionnaire and receive an auto-generated content rating for all ratings boards participating in IARC (notably the ESRB, USK, and PEGI)
Neither board updates their ratings to accommodate new updates or additional content to the game. Neither board covers user created content, such as mods or conversations in chat-rooms. The rating given to the game at pre-launch, the point on a video-game’s life when it has the least game-play content, is when it is rated, meaning the rating is out of date on the day on the same day as the game is made available for sale. (NB: This does not mean it is necessarily wrong.) And this is both harming consumer confidence in the age-ratings systems and the creators of the games themselves. Developers are disincentivised to list their game with the PEGI rating board because of the costs involved, which eat into their profit margins.
PEGI cost is probably going to eat up a substantial amount of what we make in Europe. It’s not enough to not do it, but it hurts.”
This means fewer games available to the UK and EU market. For games with niche appeal- children’s games, educational games, non-violent and/or non-strategic games, where revenue is already squeezed, this is a serious concern. It could be the difference between deciding to keep making the games they love, or looking to alternative projects in other sectors. So it’s a topic of interest to everyone, both creators and consumers, as to where age rating systems in the UK go next.