Games Classification Consultation

August 4, 2008

As part of the Government’s implementation of the Byron Review recommendations on children and new media, the Department for Culture Media and Sport is seeking views from gamers, children, parents, the games industry, retailers and other stakeholders on the current classification system for what they insist on calling ‘video games’.

The comments generated by the consultation will, says the DCMS, be used to develop the system in order to protect gamers from inappropriate content. The consultation will run until 20 November 2008.

Currently there are both statutory and voluntary classifications systems for video games in the UK. Console manufacturers will not allow games to be played on their machines if they have not been rated by one of the two classification authorities. The statutory system gives age-related classification and short content advice and is run by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The non-statutory or voluntary system was set up by the industry and awards age classifications but also advises about content through pictograms. This latter system is called the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) system. Dual classification can be confusing for parents.

The consultation sets out four options for consideration:
Option 1 – Hybrid Classification System – BBFC ratings for all games for players over 12 and PEGI ratings for under 12s
Option 2 – Enhanced BBFC system
Option 3 – Enhanced PEGI system
Option 4 – Voluntary code of practice
Consultees are also invited to propose an alternative option.

A significant clue as to the sort of conclusion likely to be reached is offered in the consultation document:

1.19 Dr Byron had three main recommendations relating to the classification and labelling system applying to video games:
i) She recommended that future reforms of the age classification system should incorporate an extension to include video games which would otherwise receive a 12+ PEGI rating.
ii) She recommended games below a 12+ rating should continue to be exempted from statutory classification.
iii) She recommended a hybrid classification system in which BBFC logos appear on the front of all games, with PEGI continuing to rate 3+ and 7+ games, with their equivalent logo across all age ranges appearing on the back of all boxes.
1.20 The proposal developed using the evidence from the Byron Review is that there needs to be statutory classification of all games for ages 12+ or higher, with PEGI continuing to rate all 3+ and 7+ games. This system will work best if BBFC and PEGI come to an agreement on their logos and age classifications so that a more integrated approach can be adopted. In Dr Byron’s proposal, Government would extend the statutory powers of the BBFC to cover games from 12+, bringing it into line with the classification system used for films and building on parental awareness and understanding of what those ratings mean.
1.21 The Government has accepted the findings of the Byron Review recognising the strength and cogency of the evidence presented. This means that there are a number of elements that are considered essential to any future game classification regime. Dr Byron expressed a clear preference for the proposed hybrid classification system, because she felt this was the best way of guaranteeing sufficiently rigorous classification at 12+ to safeguard children. Therefore this option starts as the Government’s preferred choice. However, her remit was solely child safety and while this is the most important consideration she acknowledged that there were other options and considerations, and recommended that we consult widely before coming to a definite conclusion on games classification, not least because of the difficulties of finding one system that meets all the criteria and works on and offline. We are keen to see evidence of the benefits of the alternative options set out in the consultation paper, and any others not set out here, in order to consider the full range of options available. However, we are unlikely to proceed with an option that offers significantly less effective protection to children than the approach set out by Dr Byron.

The consultation document can be read in full at

See also the Tenth Report of the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Harmful Content on the Internet and Video Games, which is reported here.