TechRadar: The BBFC interview

BBFC's age-ratings on games may soon be extended to all 12, 15 and 18-rated titles

Tanya Byron recommended to the government last month that the BBFC’s remit in the area of classifying and assigning statutory games ratings to games should be extended to 12, 15 and 18 rated titles.

TechRadar recently caught up with David Cooke, director of the British Board of Film Classification, along with Mark Dawson, one of the BBFC’s leading games examiners, to discuss, among other things, the recent Byron Review, the Manhunt 2 saga and to find out more about what the BBFC thinks about the future of videogame classification and age-ratings in the UK.

More recently, concerns that have been aired by the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), which would rather the pan-European ratings body, (PEGI – Pan European Game Information) were solely responsible for applying age-ratings to videogames.

TechRadar: What was the general response from the BBFC to the Byron Review? What was the feeling here?

David Cooke: We were pretty pleased with how it came out. Obviously Tanya has talked to a lot of people. She talked to me on four separate occasions. I think she’s been extremely thorough in reviewing all the arguments, trying very hard to be fair to everybody. There’s masses of stuff in there. She’s had all the feedback from children and all the work done by academic specialists. So it’s kind of a huge treasure trove of stuff she’s compiled, really.

In terms of what it asks of us, we have always taken the view that we are not predatory or imperialistic. We will do what people want us to do. If people want us to do more, then we are more than happy to do it.

The only thing that has irritated me a bit is the line of argument that we are not properly resourced to take on extra [games ratings] work. Which really is nonsense. It’s probably somewhere between an extra 300 and 500 works [games] a year.

And when you bear in mind we have more than doubled the number of DVDs we rate – taking on more than an extra 10,000 – it just goes to show that it’s not such a huge increase in comparison with that. I’ve been saying firmly it’s not a resourcing issue and I am in a position to know, as I run the organisation! So I hope people will accept that.

TechRadar: So the criticism from the games industry, from ELSPA, has been that they really wanted the Byron Review to recommend one ratings body and they want that to be PEGI. ELSPA’s line seems to be that it is a resourcing issue, as you just mentioned. Is there any other explanation for them backing PEGI over BBFC?

David Cooke: Another argument is that the BBFC somehow doesn’t understand games very well.

TechRadar: Is that a criticism from the games industry, from ELSPA?

David Cooke: Yes, I’ve seen that from ELSPA as well. And I very, very strongly dispute that as well. This is where people like our specialist games examiners like Mark [Dawson] come in. We have about a dozen people at the moment that can do games and they are not this kind of stereotype of fifty-year-olds in bowler hats. I mean, I’m a fifty year old, but I don’t wear a bowler hat! But we have people that do know a hell of a lot about games. Some of them are actually from the games industry.

In terms of knowledge and skills they are - and I say this objectively not critically - way better than anybody in the PEGI system. I’m on the PEGI advisory board, I know all the PEGI people, I know that they do a good job, we have good co-operation with them. But we have got people that understand games, no two ways about it. You only have to see this guy play [indicates Mark Dawson] to know that that’s true.

Adam Hartley