The games industry is often used as an ‘easy political target’ according to Paul Jackson, chairman of the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA).
"The games industry is too often an easy political target for people who don’t really want to think about the real issues. And the real issues are about protecting children and they shouldn’t be dealt with in that kind of ‘light’ tone, frankly," Jackson told TechRadar in our recent exclusive interview, when discussing British tabloid coverage of videogames.
Byron puts stake in ground
Jackson praised the recent Byron Review. "It’s not good enough, necessarily, to put a computer in your 12-year-old’s bedroom and then just let them loose on the internet. You need to be aware of what they are doing. So we are very supportive of the broad thrust of what she was talking about," he told us.
"Tanya Byron has succeeded in putting a stake in the ground about parental awareness and about how parents should interact with their kids and with new technologies. It will be a standard that we will be working to for years to come. It needed saying, and it needed saying by someone of Tanya’s stature and understanding, and ELSPA welcomed it for exactly that reason.
"[She] has addressed the wider issues of how we protect our youngsters in this new digital age. In a sense she’s started a conversation that I hope will be a productive conversation and will continue for years."
Jackson also outlined ELSPA’s concerns about the BBFC taking on an extended remit in the area of rating games, noting that:
"There are two broad areas of concern. Firstly, it looks as though the PEGI system currently delivers a harsher rating on games than (historically) the BBFC has – and we want to understand why that is happening and, if it’s not right, how we can fix it.
"The second area of concern is about ‘future-proofing’. We know that our industry is going online and we know that the methodologies used with PEGI allow complete flexibility, because it is generated from within the industry. Every product has got a product manager, so every product can be self-assessed. And then the checks and balances that are so important come into play after that.
"With the BBFC system that has been developed since the 1930s, it is based around individual censors reviewing each and every product. Now what does that mean in a world where there are perhaps a million online elements a year which need to be classified? I don’t know?... The question really is – ‘what happens in that online space?’
"As the industry goes online over the next three to ten years what we don’t want to do, including the BBFC, I’m sure – and this is why we keep talking about ‘future proofing’ – is we don’t want to invest in a system that effectively becomes redundant over the next few years' time."
Jackson is keen to stress that the games industry "is absolutely up for a significant contribution" towards funding a marketing campaign to educate parents and consumers about age-ratings on games.
"We do expect to play a very significant part in that. And, as an industry, with award-winning marketing over the last 10 years, we’re in a very good position to do that. There are real concerns though that without significant government support and partnership in this, we’re never going to succeed in getting the message across properly."
Jackson added: "I’ve never come across anyone in the videogames industry who has the slightest concern about the money when it comes to protecting children."
Tanya Byron made a concerted effort to distance her review from the more sensationalist arms of the UK’s tabloid press that are regularly criticised for ‘demonising’ games and the games industry.
Paul Jackson recalls that: "The classic for me was on the morning that the Byron Review was announced, one of the newspapers did a story about six videogames, reporting in vituperative terms about each of these games and how the review was going to ‘sort it out’ - the important point being that two of the games mentioned were already 18-rated by the BBFC.”
For the full ELSPA interview click here.