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.