A big bill, called the Digital Economy Bill, is to be heard in the UK's parliament tomorrow. The bill proposes numerous changes to laws related to the Internet and Internet access, amongst some other topics. One area the bill touches on is changes to the way video game ratings are handled.
For starters, all games sold in stores that are designed for ages 12 or above will be required to carry an age rating. Following the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) guidelines, which is currently used in many EU states, a UK Video Standards Council will be in charge of issuing game age ratings. The PEGI system has different age categories for the ages 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18. The new set of laws will make it illegal for any retailer to sell games to under-age gamers.
Because there is so a great deal of content in many games, game developers will have to submit a 'highlight reel' of all the most graphic, or possibly offending parts of a game. If the game company messes it up and forgets to submit something that may affect their age rating awarded to the game, then they could face a fine of up to 500,000 euros.
With more and more restrictive rating systems like this coming in, it will be interesting to see if games, in general, have their violence levels turned down. Although the average gamer is aged over 18, teenagers are still a huge market for gaming, so it makes good business sense to make games accessible to them. These rating systems also make the prospect of any in-game nudity a long-shot for any game that isn't specifically designed for adults. So no more Mass Effect side boob, we suppose.
This bill does not seem to apply to games that are digitally distributable. Full details of the bill will be released later this week.
In addition to changes to the game rating system, the UK will be giving greater tax breaks to the game industry, to help compete with countries such as Canada, which offer fairly massive tax breaks to the game industry.