World+Dog tosses orb in public on Byron Review

Supporters to the left, protagonists to the right

The Byron Review into the effects of videogames and the internet on children was months in the making. But it’s only taken one day for everyone from government ministers to quangos to voice their opinions on the Review’s recommendations.

Yesterday, psychologist Dr Tanya Byron’s review proposed a legally binding system of age ratings for videogames to be adopted. She also called for fines or imprisonment for retailers selling games illegally, and for games consoles to include parental controls.

The European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), a body of games developers that monitor industry issues, such as piracy, was one of the first to condemn Byron’s Review.

ELSPA hinted that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which would be responsible for assessing and awarding age ratings to games in the UK if Byron’s recommendations are implemented, might not be up to the job.

Paul Jackson, director general of ELSPA, said: “The games industry would need to be reassured that the BBFC would be capable of delivering against any new remit, or whether PEGI may be more appropriate”.

PEGI is the Pan-European Game Information system, a voluntary code followed by many game manufacturers. It uses age recommendations as well as specific warnings for violence, fear, bad language, drug references, sexual content, or gambling.

Jackson must not have read the BBFC’s own response to the Byron Review. If he had, he’d have known that that the BBFC claimed that it’s "ready and able to take on the extra work envisaged by Dr Byron". It also welcomes "film-style classification system and greater role for the BBFC". Well, it would, wouldn't it?

After the Review’s publication, Andy Burnham, MP, a minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport stated the bleedin' obvious, that retailers could face criminal prosecution if Byron’s proposed changes to the law are implemented.

Tiga, a trade association representing the interests of games software developers, supports the idea of better information about videogame content. But a spokesman claimed developers could be saddled with the costs.

"The last thing the games industry needs is for the UK Government to impose additional costs on it," said the spokesman. This is despite the fact that the games industry is one of the most profitable businesses in Britain.

Communications regulator Ofcom chipped in with: "At a time of sweeping change in content delivery, and in the type of content that is available, the overall goals of content regulation persist. These are to ensure that people have the information and skills they need to take responsibility for their media choices."

Nice to see a regulator making the case for further regulation in an area it's not currently regulating. Got to stick together, us regulators...

And now for Register Hardware’s own two cents. No decision has yet been made to change the way videogames are sold and it’s likely to be months, even years, before Byron's review affects game sales – if at all.

But, if one thing’s for sure, 29 April is going to provoke even more debate...

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