Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association spoke to MCV about the global future of the games industry.
You would have seen a vastly different side of E3 to a lot of people. What kinds of issues were being discussed on a global level for the industry?
Well, the first day we had a meeting with the International Apps Rating Council. We were looking at the option of providing a global solution to app classification, because every territory has certain obligations (as well as certain sets of confusion) concerning how apps should be classified.
So, the US have been trialling a service where there’s a series of questions that go through the various classifiable elements on a yes/no basis, and at the end, it will give you a classification.
At the moment, we’re trialling it with PEGI and ESRB. Based on those two sets of criteria, we determine where each title sits on each of the two rating scales. It’s being trialled with the three platform holders and with 6 mobile providers in the US for their online offerings.
The plan is that as this intuits, and as we flesh it out a little bit more, we can offer it to the likes of Google and Apple so that there’s a consistent classification system globally for all apps.
And is there much incentive for the likes of Google and Apple to get on board with such a system?
There’s not much motivation at the moment because there’s no obligation on their part to classify. Any system we come up with has to be friction free, has to also be free (or close to free), and has to offer them some kind of value that they’re not getting now.
That value may be that as we move forward, a lot more countries are starting to become more sensitive about what’s available online, and are looking for proposed solutions. If an industry as a whole can offer a solution in advance, it works better for everybody than each territory trying to create its own solution.
How much support is there for this scheme so far? Both here and abroad?
Well, we’re already in the trial phase, we were lucky enough to have someone from the Attorney-General’s department and the Classification Board sit in at the meeting to review our work on the scheme.
There’s a lot of global interest in it, and a willingness to look for a solution. The big elephants in the room are Google and Apple, and neither of those are going to jump first. It would need to be everybody in or nobody in.
Is R18+ something which gets discussed in that kind of global context at E3?
R18+ is generally an issue which only specifically affects us, but then in a global sense we realised that this proposed classification system can only work if Australia has a full classification regime. It’s a given that we’re going to get an R18+, it’s just getting there which is the obstacle now.
What about in countries like Germany where they have their own classification idiosyncrasies which may render them out of line with a system like this?
Well, in places like Brazil you’ve got lines of thinking which are similar to Australia and Germany, but then both countries were also in attendance and were in agreement that this may very well be a solution, and that we should continue working towards it. There’s no hard resistance to it at the moment.
So it’s more a matter of when, than if?
Yes. The classification review we just had suggested that we have a deeming provision anyhow, wherein decisions made by the ESRB would (or could) apply in Australia. PEGI can stretch across 30 countries in Europe and satisfy all those requirements, between countries where it’s not been fully legislated, where it is legislated and where it’s co-legislated, and it seems to work in harmony. Why we can’t have a similar scheme here doesn’t make sense.
Were there discussions about copyright law at E3 as well?
There were a number of discussions around that, including things like where our industry sits on things like free trade agreements, ISP liability and responsibilities, what our view is on Technological Protection Measures (TPMs). We mainly spoke about that in the context of messaging and about trying to ensure that as an industry we have a global position on those issues, so we’re clear and we can articulate them.
We may not have solved that problem yet (because each territory has a different set of stakeholders), but as an industry we need to figure out where on that line we sit. So far, we’ve tended to sit roughly in the middle and be rather moderate as far as copyright is concerned.
As opposed to the harder lines drawn by the music and movie industries?
Yeah. We’re lucky enough that we were born into a digital era, so we get it. From the start, we’ve had examples of free exchange like with the Unreal Engine, where we said to consumers “Here, take it and do what you want with it”, so I think we’re much more adaptive to the digital environment, and we’ve been able to take key learnings from music and film as well.
What other emerging issues were discussed while you were there?
Privacy is one of the big emerging issues, so there was a lot of attention being given to that, and what that means as far as in-game geolocation, storage of data, personal information (how much you actually need versus how much you don’t), what we ought to do if that kind of data is leaked in some way and how we should react.
Accessibility was another, so exploring what that means and what gaming means for people with certain handicaps. Each of the members tend to be addressing it differently, so it’s a difficult one to be able to say what the standard should be.
There was a lot of talk around digital taxation and in-game ownership. What happens if you ‘own’ something in a game? What does that mean? Do you really own it? How can you trade it? Are there protections in place for in-game commerce?
Those were the sort of conversations which were had this year, mostly about highlighting what we, as an industry, see as the emerging trends we’ll need to tackle in the future.
Thank you for your time.
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