Retailers face jail, unlimited fines as PEGI games rating system takes over

Retailers that sell inappropriate video games to children in the UK are now liable to be fined or even imprisoned, after the old British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) system was ditched in favour of a stricter new set of rules provided by the Pan European Game Information scheme (PEGI).

For the first time, the sale of games given a 12-rating to underage buyers is punishable with monetary penalties and even prison sentences, with vendors found breaking the new laws liable to be docked up to £5,000 and spend a maximum of six years in jail. Those who sell titles without the appropriate certificate will be looking at an unlimited fine and up to two-years in chokey.

Previously, the BBFC and the PEGI had existed side by side, with only 15 and 18 certificates being subject to the law. Supporters of the change say that the move to a single system will avoid the confusion generated when the two authorities ventured different assessments in the past, thus helping to ensure that parents and consumers are reliably and consistently informed.

"Today's simplification of the ratings system benefits both industry and consumers and will help ensure that the millions of games sold in the UK each year are being played by the audiences they were intended for," said culture minister Ed Vaizey.

Game ratings of 3 and 7 will also be in place but won't fall under the law. In addition, small diagrams will be introduced to give shoppers specific guidance on content, with sex, drugs, fear, gambling/online gaming, bad language, discrimination and violence levels all indicated.

The final ratings themselves will be determined by the UK's Video Standards Council (VSC) under the PEGI system which, although a Europe-wide initiative, will allow the VSC to offer a rating that conflicts with other age designations if it is particular to 'UK sensitivities' – for instance, a game that involves beating up royals might have a higher rating in monarchic countries than in republics.

"This news is very welcome and finally gives us the mandate to undertake the role of statutory video games regulator in the UK," said Baroness Shepherd, the VSC's chair.

"The VSC is fully prepared and ready to carry out the vital role of providing consumers with a single, straightforward games rating system whilst ensuring that child-safety remains our first priority," she added.

According to the PEGI website, the 12 certificate will be applied to video games that "show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy character[s] and/or non graphic violence towards human-looking characters and recognisable animals." It will also take into consideration "nudity of a slightly more graphic nature" while bad language must be no worse than "mild."

The move to the PEGI scheme began back in May, when the government commenced the Parliamentary proceedings necessary to affect the change - though discussion about sole implementation of the pan-European system dates as far back as 2009.

In the past, games like Grand Theft Auto, Assasin's Creed, and Manhunt have been slapped with the highest 18 rating, while titles like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, The Amazing Spiderman, and The Sims 3 have fallen under the 12 designation.

There will be a transitional period to ensure the new regulations are properly understood with a view to ensuring long-term compliance.