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Viviane Reding

Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media

Self regulation applied to interactive games : success and challenges

ISFE Expert Conference
Brussels, 26 June 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to speak this evening on the occasion of this conference, where you are launching of PEGI Online.

The protection of children as users of online technologies is of great importance for the Commission. I have had the privilege of contributing to that policy first as Commissioner for Education and Culture and now for Information Society and media.

PEGI Online is the logical development of PEGI to which I have given support from the start and the Commission provided co-funding for the PEGI Online project under the Safer Internet programme. For the past 10 years the Safer Internet programme has been dedicated to addressing issues related to children's safe use of the internet and new online technologies.

The Internet has added a whole new dimension to the various forms of media consumption. This includes video games. In just a few years, the Internet has turned into one of the most dynamic communication tools the world has ever seen. It facilitates the free flow of information that strengthens democratic processes and stimulates economic growth. It fosters freedom of expression.

The Commission presided by José Manuel Barroso stands for Internet as an open and censorship-free zone where the world's citizens can communicate freely with each other. The Internet offers opportunities to extend and value cultural diversity within the global village. It provides us with a high degree of freedom. Obviously, the "flip side" of the coin is the potential for spreading illegal and, notably for minors, harmful content.

Video games increasingly constitute one of the favourite leisure activities of Europeans of all ages and social categories. In that context, I believe that Europe needs a strong interactive games industry. Indeed, interactive games now sell more, in terms of value, than films in Europe’s cinemas. The European interactive games industry is also very much a cultural industry; it is often mentioned that games scenarios originating in Europe display a distinctly European flavour, in the way that European films, TV and music do as well. Hence, this industry can also be an opportunity for cultural diversity.

The total value of online exploitation of video games through fixed and mobile platforms in Europe was €699m in 2005, of which about 48 percent was accounted for by the mobile sector. This compares to a physical retail market of €5,5bn in 2005. By 2010, it is expected that the online exploitation of video games will grow to €2.3bn – 33 per cent of the total games market. And if one looks at how popular mobile phone games are in Asia, we have here an enormous growth potential in Europe.

Moreover, online games are probably the best example of what is called Web 2.0 as, compared to other types of content (for example, only 0.16 % of You Tube users upload videos whereas the others only watch them), they are truly interactive.

At the inauguration of the PEGI Boards of Governance and Appeal back in 2003, I stressed that self-regulation should have teeth and that PEGI should ensure that their rating system is effective.

As demonstrated by a specific new provision in the audiovisual media services directive, the Commission is a strong supporter of co- and self-regulation- regimes that are broadly accepted by stakeholders and provide for effective enforcement.

One of the conclusions of the independent “Study on the rating practice used for audiovisual works in the European Union”, published in 2003 and commissioned by my services, was that there is a lack of pressure from either the industry or the consumer for homogeneity of rating systems.

In this respect, I want to stress that it is a considerable achievement that the self-regulatory Pan European Games Information age-rating system PEGI replaced a significant number of existing national age-rating systems with a single system that is identical throughout most of Europe!

Moreover, I believe the fact that PEGI has been designed to meet varying cultural standards across the participating countries and that representatives of society such as consumers, parents and religious groups were involved in the setting up of the PEGI system, is very important. Obviously, it must be ensured that this involvement of main societal groups remains.

One central feature of PEGI is that it does not merely give an age rating for an interactive game, but that it describes the content of a given game, through the PEGI symbols. PEGI is a classification system: it supports informed adult choice but does not censor content. Indeed it is not for a self-regulatory regime to decide upon what is illegal.

In Europe there is wide acceptance that measures taken to protect minors and human dignity must be carefully balanced with the fundamental right to freedom of expression as laid down in the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union. However, recent incidents in EU countries, linked by the media to video game consumption, have raised concerns on the part of public opinion and policy makers. A crucial point is that age- or content-rating does not preclude under-age sales of video games that may be harmful to certain age-groups.

Some of these video games are obviously unsuitable for minors, notably because of the level of violence they contain, or because of the harm they could cause to the mental development of minors. Sometimes it is more the climate of the game than the level of violence which is harmful.

Personally, I was appalled when I was first confronted as mother of three sons with ultra violent or with sadistic video games, even if I am well aware that video games are not just geared towards children and teenagers and that there are also books and films which I might find similarly shocking.

As demonstrated by cases around two games in the last few months, there are growing concerns in Europe and in the US, especially among policy makers, about the effects upon minors of violent video games. Although such games generally receive an 18+ rating under the PEGI age rating system, digitally illiterate parents often do not realise the harmful effect such a game may have on minors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Freedom of expression is one the foundations of our society. So how do we ensure that minors are protected from unsuitable or even harmful content, while making it possible for adults to see, read and play what they want?

Personally, I think there is a renewed need for industry, including retailers and proprietors of games arcades, to shoulder its responsibility in this respect. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to find adequate, flexible solutions to the problem of under-age sales of video games and to regularly redefine classification criteria. In this respect I do believe that adding a contextual criterion in PEGI is an important added value.

The Commission, through legislative proposals as well as through its other actions, has endeavoured to support such a responsible approach.

Rating and labelling are included in the modernized Recommendation on the Protection of Minors and Human Dignity which was adopted in December 2006. This Recommendation calls for action concerning media literacy and co-operation among bodies which deal with rating or classification. Later this year, the Commission plans to organise a workshop of cross-platform rating agencies to exchange best practices.

Furthermore, the INSAFE network deals with awareness-raising about children's use of new media including video games. INSAFE is co-funded by the Safer Internet Plus programme managed by the Commission.

In 2002, the EU Council of Ministers adopted a Resolution on the protection of consumers, in particular young people, through the labelling of certain video games and computer games according to age group. The Council was concerned about the consequences, particularly on minors, of certain video and computer games and stressed the need to provide clear information regarding the content of these games and to develop a rating system, segmented by age groups.

It considered appropriate labelling to be a good way of achieving this objective and of ensuring greater transparency, whilst ensuring the free movement of these products. In addition, the Council considered it useful to promote the development of clear and simple rating systems in all the Member States. It considered self-regulation to be a useful way of supplementing national legislation and welcomed the Commission’s intention to carry out a study on existing rating practices, which was subsequently published in 2003.

In addition, the Council stressed the importance of cooperation between all interested parties, whether institutional, public or private, and suggested stepping up this cooperation, particularly in terms of the exchange of information and experience.

Since the adoption of the Council Resolution five years ago many developments have taken place: PEGI has come into being, we have Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games or MMORPGs; online communities such as Second Life blur the border between games and community websites; and the European Union has 12 more Member States.

Therefore, it is my intention to work together with my colleague Meglena Kuneva on a Commission report to the Parliament and the Council on developments such as progress on the labelling of video and computer games according to age group since the adoption of the 2002/952/EC Council Resolution. To this effect, last month, the Commission sent a questionnaire to the Member States. The report should be available before the end of 2007.

Also in the last quarter of 2007, the Commission intends to adopt a Communication on media literacy. It will include a stocktaking exercise on the development of media literacy in Europe and will analyse and define media literacy objectives and trends. Its main objective will be to highlight and promote good practices in media literacy at European level and to propose possible actions in the field.

These actions supplement the stocktaking exercise recently carried out at the initiative of my colleague Franco Frattini and of the German Presidency. This exercise concludes that, as regards illegal content in video games, existing legal provisions are sufficient.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is still work left for us to do.

I am a strong believer in self- and co-regulation. However, for a self- or co-regulatory system to be effective, the public has to be made aware of its existence. If the parents are not aware of the system and how it works, they will not be able to use it to their children’s advantage.

In my assessment, one of the key points which PEGI should address in the near future - and I have said this before - is how to increase the awareness of the PEGI age rating system, especially among parents who do not play interactive games themselves and among retailers.

Therefore I would like to ask you to take action on the information and commitment of parents and games retailers and, as regards the new PEGI Online, to work with all internet stakeholders notably ISP and consoles makers, to make it work effectively, addressing the specific needs of online games.

Indeed, in the case of online games, a player easily interacts with several other players that he or she knows little or nothing about. The players can create their own characters as the game goes along and no one will know what person is really behind a character. This creates special challenges for protecting young players and PEGI Online has answers to them.

Therefore, I find the response given by PEGI Online promising, with in particular:

  • a safety code, which lays down rules to be followed by the providers who have signed up
  • a logo, which can be used by providers to show that they have signed the safety code
  • a Web site, where users will go at a click to the logo, and which will give them a whole range of information about PEGI Online and about playing games online safely.

The system is aimed at ensuring input not only by industry but also by all other stakeholders including regulators, child welfare NGOs and child psychology experts who were consulted in the design of the system and are represented in the structure set up to run PEGI and PEGI Online.

This is a good example of an industry initiative developed in co-operation with other stakeholders which allows a rapid and flexible solution to the problems of new technologies and greater safety for our children and I ask you to report regularly to the Commission and to the public about the take-up of PEGI Online.

Let's keep working together! Thank you for your attention.

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