A few months ago I bought a beautiful 40 inch Samsung HDTV, a TV so beautiful I wake up every morning with thoughts of fornicating with it in the hope that It would give birth to more beautiful little HDTVs, I haven't had the guts to follow through - that TV is way out of my league, i don't stand a chance.
The TV let itself go abit and has recently developed a hideous skin condition, 2 small black lines appeared on the screen, lucky for me I had warranty. The technician showed up earlier and took my baby away for some repairs, it has been away from me for 2 hours - bad things are happening........
The Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984 and established that any video recording available for sale or rental in the UK is required to be certified and carry a classification assigned to it by a Home Office designated authority, this authority was the BBFC. The Video Recordings Act states:
'Video work means any series of visual images (with or without sound)...produced electronically by the use of information contained on any disc... magnetic tape [or any other device capable of storing data electronically], and shown as a moving picture...recording means...means any disc...magnetic tape [or any other device capable of storing data electronically] containing information by the use of which the whole or part of a video work may be produced' (Video Recordings Act 1984)
While it seems that the content of the Video Recordings Act is tailored specifically for films and TV the modern video game usually contain content that one would deem as video, newer games contain a number of cut-scenes and full motion videos, these are small sections of video that are uncontrollable by the player, they are usually utilised to advance the story but nevertheless can reflect the mature content of the title.
The Video Recordings Act does not in any way explicitly address Video Games in the laws it provides, there is no mention of classification or regulation, in fact, the act actually states video games as exempt;
'...a video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if; taken as a whole... it is a video game.' (Video Recordings Act 1984, s2)
Although the Video Recordings Act states that video games can be an exempted work this does come with a caveat, section 2 of the act provides a number of qualities that can result in the video work not being exempt:
'A video work is not an exempted work for those purposes if, to any significant extent, it depicts - human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity, mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence towards, humans or animals, human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions...techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences, or is [likely] to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage anything falling within paragraph or, in the case of anything falling within paragraph, is [likely] to any extent to do so...A video work is not an exempted work for those purposes if, to any significant extent, it depicts criminal activity which is likely to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage the commission of offences...'
The fact that the act specifically includes categories which can affect the exempted status means that although video games are an exempted form of entertainment if they contain any of the above qualities they become subject to the laws on classification contained in the Act.
There are a number of exceptions to liability through the sale or rental of unclassified video work; these are stated in section 9 of the Video Recordings Act. The act states that an offence is not committed if the supply 'would if it took place be, an exempted supply' or 'the video work is exempted' (Video Recordings Act 1983, s9(1)a).
The punishments for the supply of unclassified works range from convictions to fines, retailers can receive fines of up to 5,000 pounds for both the store manager and the staff member:
'conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both...on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 20,000 pounds or both.]' (HMV VSC Team Brief)
In 1993 Jamie Bulger was killed by two 10 year old boys, much of the mainstream media placed the blame on a popular horror movie called 'Childs Play', it was argued that the two boys were mimicking the murderous behaviour of Chucky the doll. In response to public concerns about violence in the media changes were made to the Video Recordings Act in the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act of 1994, the act clarified what elements the BBFC were required to take into account when classifying the video content, until that point the BBFC was given full discretion as to what factors it would consider during the classification process, the 1994 changes stated that special attention had to be paid to work dealing with;
'Criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents horrific behaviour or incidents; or human sexual activity' (Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994, Part VII [Video Recordings: Suitability])
As well as this, the 1994 legislation also added video games to the definition of 'video works', however it stated games were exempt but subject to the exceptions.
In addition to the legislation governing the media there are a number of regulatory bodies who govern video games, the BBFC in the UK, the Interactive Software Federation for Europe and the ESRB in the US.
The BBFC is an independent, self-financing UK regulator that regulates on film, video, DVD and video games;
'The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, non-governmental body funded through the fees it charges to those who submit films, videos, DVDs and digital games for classification' (http://www.bbfc.co.uk/policy/index.php)
Originally established by the film industry in order to bring uniformity to classification of films the BBFC now classifies all video that is not made exempt by the Video Recordings Act of 1984. The role of the BBFC changed from strictly censorship to classification when it was assigned by the secretary of the state to classify films based on the 'suitability for viewing in the home'.
The BBFC makes income by charging fees for the services it provides, the amount payable relates to the running time of the video submitted for certification, the financial aspects of the BBFC are handled by the Council of Management which is comprised of representatives from servicing and manufacturing areas of the film industry, by remaining separate from the government, producers and distributors of movie, the BBFC can remain impartial and free from any bias. The BBFC is comprised of examiners and senior examiners. Examiners view the materials and then advise a classification or any changes that need to be made; the senior examiners manage the examiners and focus on any changes to recommendations made by the examiners.
The BBFC is also associated with a number of other bodies including 'The advisory panel on children's committee' who advice on issues of classification for video that will be seen by children, and the 'Video packing review committee' who work to prevent offensive material from appearing on covers of video's or DVD's.
The BBFC considers four main principles throughout the classification process:
'Adults should as far as possible be free to choose what they see, providing that it remains within the law and is not potentially harmful to society.
Works should be allowed to reach the widest audience that is appropriate for their theme and treatment, the context in which something (eg sex or violence) is presented is central to the question of its acceptability.
The BBFC's Guidelines will be reviewed periodically the Guidelines, and the Board's practice in applying them, have particular regard to any changes in public taste, attitudes and concerns; changes in the law; or new evidence from research or expert sources.'
The classifications range from a U rating which is suitable for everyone to an 18 rating which is only suitable for adults aged 18 or over. The BBFC takes into account a number of categories including;
'Acceptability of a theme depends significantly on its treatment ie the context and sensitivity of its presentation. However, the most problematic themes (for example drug abuse, sexual violence, paedophilia, incitement to racial hatred or violence) are unlikely to be appropriate at the most junior levels of classification'
'Use of expletives with a religious or racial association and language which offends other, sometimes vulnerable, minorities. The extent of that offence varies according to age, gender, race, background, beliefs and expectations brought by viewers to the genre on offer.'
'Natural nudity, providing there is no sexual context, is acceptable at all classification levels '
'The portrayal of human sexual activity can range from kissing and references to 'making love' to detail of real sex. This is reflected in the classification system, in which progressively stronger portrayal is allowed as the categories rise. The guidelines apply the same standards to homosexual as to heterosexual activity.'
We address the degree and nature of violence through our classification system. In making decisions our concerns, especially at the lower categories, include; portrayal of violence as a normal solution to problems, heroes who inflict pain and injury, callousness towards victims, encouraging aggressive attitudes, taking pleasure in pain or humiliation'
These categories are some of the most important categories as they are regularly featured in video games, while violence has been a prominent in video games for a substantial amount of time, nudity and sex have not, however recently a number of games have involved some elements of sex and nudity, while not as explicit as movies or even daytime television the inclusion is nevertheless important, the fact that the BBFC have detailed guidance as to content such as this shows that it is equipped in some way to deal with content maturity in video games.
While the BBFC is equipped to handle sensitive content it does not focus on video games specifically, this in turn means that it is comprised of people not familiar with games as a medium or the industry as a whole which has resulted in situations where video games and films being treated differently despite having similar content.
The Pan European Gaming Information (PEGI) focuses less on regulation of video games and more on assisting and advising parents in deciding whether a game is suitable for purchasing by implementing an age rating system developed by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE). Whereas the BBFC regulates a number of media formats the PEGI system was developed specifically to ensure that games are played by the appropriate audience:
'The Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system was established in 2003 to help European parents make informed decisions on buying interactive games' (http://www.pegi.info/en/index/id/179)
Whereas the BBFC operates disjointed from the video game industry the PEGI system is supported by the three major console companies; Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo as well as a number of developers and publishers. The PEGI system replaced the national age rating systems in favor of a unified European system to ensure that there would be no confusion when buying games from a foreign PAL territory.
The PEGI system is comprised of two aspects, the first is a traditional age rating system which ranges from a rating of 3+ to 18+, supplementing this is a system of descriptors, these are small icons relating to a particular type of content, these icons are placed on the front and back of the game case and signify the different content that is featured in the game. The benefit of this system is that parents are given more detail on what type of content is in the game allowing for a more informed decision.
The system was designed with closer attention paid to the audience, instead of simply applying the laws developed for another medium the PEGI system was created with a help of a number of demographics;
'In the drafting of the PEGI assessment form and the shaping of the system organisation, society representatives such as consumers, parents and religious groups have been largely involved.'
Furthermore the ratings are given by members of the industry familiar with the game, the game is usually assessed by a coder for the game which means that deeper issues such as context of content are given thought to:
'PEGI system is a voluntary system...ratings are carried out by members of the game industry itself...by means of a self assessment form. After examining a game, the in-house coder uses an intranet to answer a number of questions, after which the rating of the game will be given automatically. For each content category an age is established, based on the answers on the assessment form.
Ratings proposed by publishers are then checked by NICAM. All 16+ or 18+ ratings are checked before a rating is granted. All 12+ and samples of 3+ and 7+ ratings are checked after a rating has been granted. At the end of the process, products concerned are granted by NICAM, on behalf of ISFE, a license to use a specific logo and possibly descriptors as well.'
This is particularly effective because it rates games based on a criteria developed specifically for games, whereas the BBFC applies as standardized system originally developed for video. Many of the criticisms that can be leveled against the BBFC such as examiners who are not familiar with games or the industry, or the disconnect between the regulators and the industry are addressed by the PEGI system.
It may be argued that the influence that the developers and publishers have on the PEGI system provides an opportunity to manipulate the system and create incorrect classifications, although this is a possibility the vetting process handled by NICAM dispels any fears of this, since all the games rated 16 or over are checked before they are certified it means that there is less opportunity for misrepresentation.
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) uses a similar system for rating games in the US. The ESRB is self-regulatory and applies and enforces rating's guidelines for games, advertising of the games as well as privacy principles for online play.
Much like the PEGI system the ESRB uses a rating symbol as well as content descriptors that describe any features of the game that resulted in the rating. The ratings are given by at least three specially trained raters, the ratings are kept confidential and the raters are not allowed to have any connection to individuals or entities in the computer/video game industry.
Next post will be video games, movies and how they are treated.
The aim of this series of blog posts is to analyse how video games are regulated and whether the laws work in practice. It will also look at the way in which video games are treated in comparison to similar mediums such movies and TV and how this affects the regulation of the medium.
This discussion will be split into four posts; the first will deal with video games and the importance of the medium as well as the part the actual games consoles play, the second will focus on the laws governing the medium with particular focus on the UK and will also look at the regulatory bodies, the third post will discuss the nature of video games in relation to movies focusing specifically how the two mediums are treated differently despite having a significant amount of similarities, lastly will be a conclusion, this will attempt to answer the question posed - 'Is video game regulation adequate and does it work?'
In order to appreciate the importance of video games and the regulation of it, the industry must be recognised as an important form of entertainment, while many enthusiasts by their nature accept the importance of video games the world at large is still reluctant to do the same, it is for this reason the size and impact of the industry in the UK and the US must be discussed, although these posts are primarily in relation to the laws of the UK the US must also be discussed as it has one of the largest markets for the medium and the success and impact of the games in the US is mirrored in the UK.
Since the days of Pong, Pac-man and Frogger the video game industry has spread like a wild fire and evolved into the largest and most lucrative entertainment industry today. The varied content available through the video game medium means that it is constantly attracting more consumers, even the most casual layer of the industry is accumulating a substantial amount of revenue and attention;
'The casual game industry is a USD 2.25 billion a year market, currently growing by 20 per cent annually, according to the 2007 market report released by the Casual Games Association ... men made up 48.3 per cent of casual gamers, although women accounted for 74 per cent of paying casual game players ... Solitaire, Tetris, and Bejeweled are the most popular casual games, according to the report' (Mark Androvich, 'Casual Games a $2.2 Billion market', Gamesindustry.biz, 29th October 2007)
Although games are thought of as being a somewhat niche medium and appealing to a very specific market of people the recent renaissance in casual games has drawn in a whole new demographic, classic games such as Tetris, Zuma and Bejeweled now have far more appeal in large-part thanks to the various streamlined content delivery methods, mobile phones and online console networks such Xbox Live and Playstation Network mean that games are far more accessible and approachable, the immense popularity of the Nintendo Wii, DS and to some extent PSP has further added fuel to the fire through making these casual titles portable. Games such as Brain Training and My Word Coach appeal to a different audience because they deliver what some would perceive as being a 'non-gaming' experience, Brain Training purports to keeping the brain healthy and My Word Coach teaches different languages, these non-conventional games are drawing in audiences such as teenage girls, women and even the elderly;
'... the pastime's explosive growth outside its traditional demographic base of young men ... the industry's growth is coming largely from everyone else' (Seth Schiesel, 'Casual fans are driving growth of video games', New York Times, September 11th 2007)
'In 2007, 24 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999' (Entertainment Software Association, 'Top 10 Industry Facts', theesa.com)
Complimenting the emergence of a new casual game audience is the long-standing hardcore video game enthusiast market; the majority of the revenue accrued by the medium can be traced to these dedicated players. In 2005 the video game industry contributed over $10 billion to the entertainment revenue in the US (Candrall, Dr Robert W & Sidak, Professor Gregory J, 'Video Games: Serious Business for America's Economy', Entertainment Software Association, 2006).
On September 5th 2007, Bungie Studios and Microsoft released 'Halo 3' for the Xbox 360 console, in the US the sales reached over $300 million (Paul McDougal, 'Halo 3 Sales top $300 million', Information Weekly, 2007) within the first week, breaking a number of industry records, over 2.7 million gamers played the game over Xbox Live in that same week.
The UK sales of the game were just as impressive; Halo 3 sold 84 million pounds ('Halo 3 Sales', BBC News, Thursday 27th September 2007 ) within the first 24 hours of release. The importance of the video game medium in the modern age can be seen through comparing the two biggest entertainment launches of 2007 Spider-man 3 and Halo 3, Halo 3 surpassed records set by Spider-man 3 making it the highest grossing entertainment launch in history.
As well as the importance of the actual video games the consoles they are found on also have a large part to play, consoles no longer exclusively play games, they are now also used for their multimedia capabilities.
The latest multimedia centric video game consoles are being developed and marketed as the center of home entertainment, the Playstation 3 hardware contains an integrated Blu-ray player, the Blu-ray format has recently won the next-generation format war and taken over as the dominant next-generation disc based format, it is now poised to become the high-definition media format of choice. The Xbox 360 is being marketed as the downloadable media console, Microsoft have shown this by integrating a film rental system into the console, the importance of these two formats means that very soon a large majority of homes will have one or both of the consoles and in turn will be exposed to video games in some form, this increase in exposure to games makes it vital to ensure that particular attention is paid to regulation and certification of games.
It is clear that video games are no longer the niche medium that it once was, the mainstream success of casual games, the Wii and DS, and the evidence provided by the popularity of games such as Halo 3 make it abundantly clear that video games have become an important medium, a medium that is permeating the everyday lives of people in the same way that movies, television and music has.
The rise in the importance of video games as an entertainment medium brings with it new challenges, much like films, TV and music the subject matter of video games varies and can include elements which could be deemed as inappropriate for some, it is important therefore that special attention be paid to the regulation and certification of video games to ensure the diverse content of games can only be accessed by the appropriate audiences.
The mainstream popularity of video games, broad appeal and the mature content of many games provide the rationale for legislation and regulation of medium, currently video games are regulated through the law as well as regulatory bodies.
The next post will look at the various UK laws that are relevant to video games as well as the regulatory bodies involved.
I'm way to excited to articulate myself so I'll be brief, decided to try MGO just to see how far I'd get and i did get into a game, here's the character creation process and skills sets video that i took, sorry for the bad quality i only have a crappy phone. I'll put some gameplay vids up later. So far my impressions are; Its slower than I expected, controls are extremely refined, the stealth stuff is now context sensitive button presses.
Being a transient insomniac does have its upsides; it gives me plenty of time to listen to the plethora of video gaming related podcasts available on the internet. Last night I decided to listen to the latest episode of CAGcast, the Cheap Ass Gamer podcast. In the podcast CheapyD and Wombat talked a little about Limited Editions of video games and it got me thinking.
It used to be that only a select few games would also have a limited edition, these, unlike their modern counter-parts were actually limited editions, there would be a relatively low amount of these games circulated and more often than not theyíd be almost impossible to find after the day one release. In a stark contrast, these days almost every game that makes enough noise to attract even the smallest amount of attention is released with a not-so-limited ďlimitedĒ edition, even the triple AAA titles follow along the same lines. The effect of this is that it takes away from the personal satisfaction gained from having a limited edition of a particular game and more importantly it makes you look like a complete idiot when you pull out Halo 3 LE to show off to friends or the internet at large, since everyone has it and itís not particularly difficult to track one down itís hardly noteworthy.
Looking through my stack of games I can only find 5 special editions; God of War 2, Shadow of The Colossus, Bioshock, Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil 4, most of these were purchased a little while after their initial release when the price had dropped, although I picked up Bioshock and DMC4 on day one this was mainly because the price difference between the standard and LE was insignificant, I just wasnít interested in buying a limited edition of a game when nearly every other person on the planet had it, it makes me sound a bit pretentious and snobbish but if you think about it having so many that even months after the release of a game thereís a sizeable amount of them floating about defeats the purpose of having a limited edition. As I mentioned earlier most of the limited editions these days donít have the ďwowĒ factor they once had, and most people who buy these games either intend on keeping them for the memories (which will always be a little tarnished unless they bring it upon themselves to embark on a crusade to wipe out every other copy in an attempt to make their copy more valuable), or they get them to sell later, and considering the value is linked to the rarity of the item, they probably wonít get much for it.
The thing that makes limited editions impressive these days are the ridiculous prices, and itís not usually the actual product that impresses, itís normally the fact that you were dedicate enough (or stupid enough depending on how you see it) to pay the ridiculous price to get it, not everyone is that crazy, therefore you are one of few people insane enough to have the limited edition, props to you.
Even though I knew that companies put out Limited Editions because there are always people crazy enough to buy them even if theyíre marginally different from the standard edition it still doesnít explain why smaller companies with games that donít exactly warrant a special edition do it, you can usually tell whether your product is going to sell well or not which logically should dictate whether or not to release a limited edition but that isnít usually what happens, games that arenít exactly poised for success still have limited editions. After thinking about it for a while Iíve come up with a theory, like all of my theories itís farfetched and bordering on unbelievable, but that wonít stop me from talking about it.
Itís a well known fact that most retailers these days make their money from the used games market, whereas ordinarily a portion of the sales of new games revert back to the developers and publishers selling returned items as used game allows retailers to make money for themselves, this is one of the reasons that retailers arenít too happy about the internet as a content delivery method.
This used games market is something that developers and publishers are also aware of, which is why I think theyíre all too willing to release limited edition versions of games. I think that these limited editions are used as a form of guaranteed revenue, since most people who intend on buying a limited edition wouldnít settle for a used limited edition itís pretty rare to find limited editions in the used section or the bargain bin, for developers and publishers itís ideal, keeping the limited editions around the same price as the standard edition is usually a compelling enough reason to pick it up, if these limited editions do sell it pretty much guarantees the money from it will come back to them, and also limits the money retailers earn from selling games used.
At this point I only buy the limited edition versions of games to support the developers, provided that theyíre at a reasonable price that is. Itís too late to pick up the GTA IV Limited Edition but maybe Iíll get the Metal Gear Solid 4 version Ė let Kojima know that if he told me to jump off a building, by god Iíll do it and do it well.
According to CVG Microsoft have been talking smack about the PS3 version of GTAIV with their sights aimed at the 5 minute install time. The 45 minute Devil May Cry install time caused a fuss which I thought was unnecessary but nevertheless a valid reason to point and laugh. It looks like Microsoft have picked up on this and attempted to instigate the same response for GTA, the problem this time around is that firstly, it's five minutes and secondly most of the points Microsoft are bringing up aren't exactly true. For those too lazy to click the link (people like me) here's the post;
"MS has fired out on an email taking a cheap shot at the reported five minute install time on the PlayStation 3 version of GTA IV.
"With the OXM review hitting streets today, and your own preview impressions which are looking great, hopefully you'll all be a bit wiser as to the ins and outs of GTA IV now.
I'm sure you've all seen the chatter from the 1up GTA IV Preview on the PS3 install time....just a few thoughts on what you could do in this time if you were actually playing the 360 version from the moment you insert the disc....
Steal your first dozen or so cars and test out the improved vehicle handling?
Check out the cool features on your mobile phone?
Rack up a 5 Star Wanted Rating?
Have a blast of your first MP game on Xbox LIVE?
Ditch the tracksuit chic and buy some new clothes?
Unlock your first GTA IV Achievement and boost your Gamerscore?
....Or just start downloading a film from Xbox LIVE Video Store to watch later - check out the latest batch of arrivals this weekend!"
Arrogance has somehow erased any memory of the plethora of ridiculous issues that the 360 has and is currently facing, the failure rate of the console, regular Live downtime (expect issues with live when GTA comes out), Marketplace filled mostly with sub-par games, games requiring hard drives with console SKU's that don't actually include a hard drive or a memory unit with the adequate storage capacity
I'm not a fan of corporate slander but it feels especially dirty when it's video game companies doing it, i think it's because the industry is full of fanboys who make it their personal business to slag each other off at any given chance, so when the leading companies in the industry resort to juvenile name calling and nitpicking it's hard to expect anything else from enthusiasts generally.
I'll be buying GTA for the 360, not because I prefer the system but because many of my friends and family have 360s, ideally I'd like to get it for the PS3 because I'm not currently living in fear of it unlike the 360 which I am afraid might explode every time turn it on. Microsoft should probably jump off it's high horse and take a look around at it's own laughable situation before attempting to make the opposition look bad.