Mobile Mavens

The Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss the value of age ratings for mobile games

Age old question

The Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss the value of age ratings for mobile games

In the light of Microsoft's deal with European game rating outfit PEGI with respect to Windows Mobile games, this week we asked the Mavens:

Do you think this is a good thing to drive the maturity of the industry or a backwards step in terms of how digital content is now consumed?"

In the UK, this is a well-trodden argument; 19th century liberals such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham would probably be shocked we still had what amounts to an official censor.

That said, this censorship is both extremely mild - rarely banning anything - and in this case, putting a voluntary age warning on access to content that could be inappropriate for children of a certain age.

Only three Mavens stepped up to deal with this challenging topic, but as they each wrote an essay, we're going to feature them in depth.

Jon Hare - Tower Studios

Jon Hare's contention was that age ratings provided both responsibility and freedom.

"It's obviously a sensible and mature step for our industry to maintain a degree of responsibility as to the nature of content that children are exposed to," he said. "Equally a high age rating gives us greater creative freedom to express ourselves without fear of too much recrimination."

Seemingly supporting the ratings agencies, Jon expressed his own tastes about the current crop of leading console games calling them "mindless gratuitous violence... dull and lacking in imagination".

He also didn't see the demand for pornographic games, given the availability of free online pornography, though like many in the UK, he retained a fondness for games involving sex and humour, saying it was "worth some exploration in the best British tradition".

Despite this, he felt that the agencies limited expression in certain ways.

"Personally I would like to see much more use of challenging language, the breaking of edgier political, religious and cultural taboos and a general widening of the type of mature content available in games. It's in this area that I have the biggest problem with censors and the underlying violation of freedom of speech that they represent."

His ultimate problem with the rating agencies was with their fragmentation, across territories and platforms, which consumed both time and money, increasing the costs of entry into the market unnecessarily.

"Surely as an industry we can come up with just one set of values that fits all platforms in all territories?" he questioned.

Matt Meads - Herocraft

On the other hand, fellow Brit Matt Meads, thought it was a strange move, because rating agencies are irrelevant to the modern game user.

"In my opinion, the various ratings boards have failed to move with the times and have become almost insignificant in today's 'stream, download and share' marketplace," he said.

"The way we consume content has changed and we can no longer rely on the guy at the video store or the game store to enforce ratings and keep kids safe. Parents have little control over what their kids are downloading or viewing, if not on their own device, on a friends'."

He also pointed out that, even where there is an enforced rating system, the creators learn gradually how to game the system. "Hollywood has got better and better at subverting the ratings system, knowing exactly which buttons to press and how hard, to get a film released as a 12A/ or 15 rating. I've no reason to believe games developers aren't equally savvy at sneaking their content under the radar."

His conclusion? Microsoft's move isn't so much about rating games as making the public aware that Microsoft cares about age ratings.

"I believe this to be more of a PR exercise than anything to help further the industry, perhaps this ties into last week's Mavens' question since Nintendo has forged itself a family friendly brand over the last 10 years and Microsoft probably wishes it had that level of trust from consumers."

Joony Koo - mSonar

Bringing a unique perspective to the argument was Joony Koo, who's lived in Europe, the US and Asia. He pointed to the Korea age rating system, which is so limiting there simply isn't a game category in either the Korean Android market or Korean iTunes.

"The No.1 Android market in Korea is run by SKTelecom, the leading Telco. The reason [there's no central market] is because the rating system just does not fit in with Apple or Google's globalised market system," he said.

With that in mind, he thought the Microsoft move was good and bad, as it allows for mature content but put limits on its ability to attract developers who have to go through this process.

"Microsoft launching with the European age rating system, however good the cause, will be a set back for Window Phone. Microsoft needs to persuade iOS and Android developers to make games for Window Phones. It needs a lot of content to compete against iOS and Android."

He also agreed with Hare that, if we should have a rating system, but thought there were problems with it being international.

"The system needs authority so it can actually prevent underage users using or downloading such apps. Also, there are cultural differences. Some countries regard casino-related apps (even if it isn't gambling with real money) as over 19 content. The system will need to be a global one that works universally on all countries, not just the EU."

He wasn't convinced this was possible.

A backroom operator, Dan works behind the scenes to source and proof content for; if you notice Dan's work, then something has
gone wrong. Dan's background is in writing about politics, tech and the games industry, and he's addicted to social networking and board
games. His favourite mobile games are Carcassone, Neuroshima Hex and Catan
(though he laments its lack of online multiplayer).