The pan-European voluntary system, which has been announced by The Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) will introduce five age categories: namely, aged three and over; seven and over; 12 and over; 16 and over and 18 and over. The age ratings do not relate to the complexity of the game. The intention of the new system is to ensure that children are not inadvertently exposed to content that is deemed unsuitable, for example scenes of a violent, sexual, frightening or discriminatory nature or those that contain images of drug use or strong language. In addition to the age categories, where an upper age rating applies, packs will also show up to two symbols, indicating the nature of the content.
The ISFE system has been designed to meet varying cultural standards and attitudes across Member States and is supported by the majority of relevant Member State Government Agencies and all interactive leisure software trade organisations in Europe including the UK, as represented by The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA).
The new European system will replace the current voluntary age rating procedure in the UK, which was introduced by ELSPA in 1994. The ELSPA system was the first voluntary age rating system for any entertainment medium and has provided the template for the new European system. The ELSPA system has proved extremely successful. Since its introduction over 95% of all leisure software products have complied with the ELSPA voluntary code. Over 60% of all games given an ELSPA rating by the Video Standards Council (VSC) are rated as suitable for all ages (i.e. given a rating of age three and over) and it is expected that this will remain the same under the new system. The new system will be administered by the Netherlands Institute for Classification of Audio-visual Media (NICAM). Whilst ELSPA will not be responsible for the ongoing administration of the ratings under the new European system, it is responsible for the launch in the UK. The VSC, which currently approves the rating of computer and video games in UK, will retain a monitoring role to ensure that the new European ratings comply with the requirements of the Video Recordings Act in UK.
The new ISFE age rating system will be introduced throughout Europe in Spring 2003, with the exception of Germany, which will retain its own rating system, following recent proposals of their Government to make them mandatory. ISFE aims for full implementation across all European Member States by mid-year. Finland and Portugal have not yet signed up for the new system but have indicated that once the scheme is up and running, they will pursue its introduction.
Commenting on the new European rating, Roger Bennett, Director General of ELSPA said:
"This is a very important development in that the computer and video games sector is the first entertainment media that has developed an age rating code to which different European countries agree. The purpose is to provide consumers throughout Europe with intelligible, easy to act on, information about the age categories for which the content of a product is deemed suitable. The overall objective of the new system is to protect minors from inadvertent exposure to unsuitable material. It also meets the European Commission's twin objectives: of making it easy for businesses to sell cross-border and domestically, also making consumers feel as comfortable shopping cross-border too".