The Video Standards Council, administrator of the PEGI classification system in the UK, has revealed that the new age-ratings system for videogames is unlikely to be implemented before "early autumn".
Speaking exclusively to our sister site Eurogamer TV, in the body's first full interview since PEGI was chosen by the previous Government, executives explained in detail what must now happen before the system, passed on the eve of the general election as part of the Digital Economy Act, can be put in place.
"At the moment there is no difference whatsoever," said Peter Darby, VSC director of operations. "The law still remains as it was prior to the Act being passed because what the Act has actually done is given the Secretary of State the power to change it when he feels he wants to, so our particular sections have not been made effective as of yet."
"The Secretary of State has to be satisfied that everything has been put in place before he presses the green button," added Laurie Hall, VSC director general. "There are various arrangements that have to be put in place: a statutory instrument for dealing with packaging regulations; the Secretary of State has to be happy that the arrangements that the VSC itself has put in place to carry out its statutory duties are in order before he designates us.
"When exactly will all this happen? We don't know. Our best guess is the early autumn, possibly September."
Before the new system – in which all games rated PEGI 12+ and above become legally-enforceable – is rolled out, a number of key questions remain, including what the role of the BBFC, the current statutory regulator, will be.
"The dialogue with the BBFC and Government officials has continued throughout the election period and as we speak," Hall said. Before PEGI was selected, both sides clashed in a bid to secure responsibility, but the VSC insists this did not impact the working relationship.
"Now that the matter has been resolved the relationship is very professional and very happy," said Darby. "It was a bitter war of words but underneath that we still maintained a working relationship. We had to because there was still work to be done that we assist each other with."
Speaking to Eurogamer TV earlier in the year, the BBFC's senior policy advisor, David Austin OBE, said: "We've been talking to them pretty much constantly since the decision as to how it's all going to happen. We'll be working in parallel forever, as long as there's a VSC and PEGI, because we will still retain responsibility for certain types of game and because game and film content are moving closer."
While the details are still being thrashed out, it is understood the BBFC will retain responsibility for rating the small number of pornographic games requiring an R18 rating. What else the body will retain responsibility for remains unclear. The BBFC recently suggested it expects to continue working closely with PEGI until at least September.
Meanwhile, the VSC rejected suggestions from critics of PEGI that self-regulation could leave the system vulnerable to self-interest. Hall said: "We are and we always have been strictly independent and we could not be and never have been leant on by the industry. And I think we would react not favourably to anything like that."
The comments come in Episode 2 of Eurogamer TV's documentary series on the UK games industry. The new programme, released today, investigates all sides of the age-ratings debate: offering unique insight into the transition from BBFC to PEGI; seeing how self-regulation works in the US; learning how the UK's biggest games retailer trains staff to prevent underage selling and advise parents; working undercover in-store to experience first-hand how well the system works; and asking why so many parents still ignore game ratings.
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